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Cutting RB David Johnson ‘not an option,’ Cardinals GM Steve Keim says

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a 24 yard touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on December 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Steelers defeated the Cardinals 23-17. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Cutting running back David Johnson is “not an option” for the Arizona Cardinals, general manager Steve Keim told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Keim added that Arizona has discussed a contract extension with fellow running back Kenyan Drake and it’s been made clear to Drake that the Cardinals want him back.

Drake will reach free agency in March when the 2020 league year begins, and his return would make for a running back battle between he, Johnson and Chase Edmonds. As for Johnson, well, he will have a role even if he remained on the roster and Drake or Edmonds won the starting role.

“Cutting him is not an option,” Keim said Friday. “Not only the cap hit but you’re still paying the cash. It wouldn’t be responsible for me or the organization to do that. If David Johnson isn’t the starter, he still has a significant role. The guy still create big-time mismatches in the passing game. He still brings kick return ability. You can’t just have one back — you have to have a platoon of backs. There are enough carries to go around there.

“We have a lot of faith in David and think he can continue to play well and go back to what he did in 2016. The guy has got great skill, and a lot of times when people fail, I think you look back and you say, ‘He doesn’t work hard enough, he wasn’t a good guy, he wasn’t committed to it.’ None of that applies to David.”

Johnson averaged 3.7 yards per carry for 345 total yards and added 370 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a pass-catcher in 2019. He lost his starting job after Arizona traded for Drake, who never let go of his No. 1 running back role even once Johnson and Edmonds returned from respective injuries.

In the last half of the season, Johnson never played more than 43% of the snaps.

Drake, on the other hand, in eight games with Arizona accounted for 643 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He had eight rushing touchdowns to Johnson’s two, adding 171 receiving yards.

Keim said it was natural for head coach Kliff Kingsbury to lean on the “hot hand” of Drake in the final eight games of the year.

“I still have a lot of faith in David,” Keim said. “I think it’s one of those things when you look at the big picture, Chase got hurt, David got hurt, we made the trade, and then Kenyan Drake came in and he got the hot hand. In any sport, you see guys have success, and the way coaches are wired, the way you’re wired to want to win and do well offensively, you go with the hot hand. And that’s what happened last year.”

Keim wouldn’t speak on any potential trade discussions regarding Johnson — a reunion of the running back and his former head coach Bruce Arians in Tampa Bay has been considered as a potential solution for the parties to part ways.

Assuming that doesn’t happen and assuming the Cardinals are able to retain Drake, who is the top Cardinals running back for 2020?

Said Keim: “To me that’s a simple answer, which is, the guy who is under contract and the guy who earns it.”

Phillips Law Group

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