Further doubt added regarding David Johnson’s future in Arizona

Dec 20, 2019, 4:52 PM
Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs out to the NFL preseason game against ...
Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals runs out to the NFL preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at State Farm Stadium on August 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Maybe David Johnson isn’t what we feared: checked out, cashed out, sated by success, too blessed to be stressed by the rigors of professional football.

Maybe he just doesn’t get it.

In this case, we’re talking about Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, the illusion of complexity, and how Kenyan Drake can learn it in days while Johnson hasn’t grasped it in months.

Johnson is still running confused, which only appears cowardly. He is still missing holes, when he actually touches the ball. He is still missing blocks, which is why the Cardinals can’t trust him on a football field. And on Friday morning, something very interesting occurred:

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said the team most definitely wants to sign Drake for the 2020 season and beyond.

“I would certainly love to have Kenyan Drake back,” Keim said during his weekly radio appearance on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I think he fits in this offense and really, really has given us a spark in many ways.”

That means Johnson is surely going to be traded, right? A four-win team certainly can’t afford both Johnson and Drake. Not with massive holes to fill all over their leaky ship. Not when Johnson still shows little aptitude for what’s going on around him.

He was benched in the second half after losing a fumble in Tampa. He played nine snaps and received zero touches the following week against the 49ers, even though Kingsbury claimed he was coming off his best week of practice, where the head coach was “proud of his effort and focus.”

Johnson revealed his surprise with one word on social media: Welp. And during last week’s win against the Browns, when Drake scored four touchdowns and Johnson had just four touches, the former NFL star actually volunteered to return a kickoff.

The latter clears up any doubt whether Johnson still wants to play football for a living. And the whole thing is kind of sad, if you ask me.

If Johnson has the skill but is struggling with the concepts of Kingsbury’s offense, do you invest a full offseason of tutoring and mentoring, hoping to get Johnson right? Would the player be amenable to such commitment now that he’s married with children?

To the contrary, if Johnson no longer has the juice that made him one of the NFL’s most dangerous weapons, the acquisition of Drake might seem prescient. And if Keim can pull off an offseason trade, it will be a deft recovery from a running back who lost his swag overnight.

Johnson might be a fit in Tampa, especially if Bruce Arians can play the role of savior, rescuing one of his guys floundering in Arizona. And maybe that’s why Johnson is not being deployed by Kingsbury on gamedays, when the Cardinals fear he could get hurt or look even worse to potential trade partners.

Johnson might eventually go down as collateral damage, the price of installing a new offense extremely familiar to the rookie quarterback but extremely foreign to a former MVP candidate.

Clearly, Johnson is not built for the RPOs in Kingsbury’s offense, where Kyler Murray can put the ball in the belly of running back and remove it at the last possible second, depending on the reaction of a single defender. It’s too much moving furniture for a small-school running back like Johnson, a versatile athlete who is eager to please but has always struggled with mental errors.

This transition is hard on the eyes and the heart, especially for those who loved Johnson’s rags-to-riches story. How he came from Kurt Warner U. How he sent his cleats to the Hall of Fame after his first month on the job. How his charitable efforts help our children and works against bullying.

Either way: It sounded like Johnson was traded on Friday, and all that’s missing are the details.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Further doubt added regarding David Johnson’s future in Arizona