NASHVILLE — The CJ2K era is over in Tennessee, just the latest step by the Titans in their franchise makeover.
The Titans told Chris Johnson they are releasing him Friday after six seasons to avoid paying $8 million the running back is due in 2014, along with the final three seasons left on the $53.5 million contract he signed in September 2011. His release comes before the Titans start their off-season program Monday with new coach Ken Whisenhunt.
General manager Ruston Webster said the Titans thank Johnson for his contributions, setting so many franchise records and being durable over his six seasons with Tennessee.
"We have had an open dialogue with Chris’ agent, Joel Segal, over the last few weeks, and we appreciate the patience and professionalism they have shown throughout this process," Webster said in statement. "We made an effort to trade Chris but were unable to do so."
The Titans have been busy working to replace Johnson, who turns 29 in September. They agreed with Dexter McCluster on a three-year deal at the start of free agency after signing Shonn Greene in March 2013. The Titans also re-signed Jackie Battle recently, along with reaching a one-year deal for kick returner and running back Leon Washington on March 11.
Adding another running back in the May draft also is expected.
It didn’t help that Johnson repeatedly said he wouldn’t take a pay cut. The Titans didn’t face a deadline that would have guaranteed the $8 million Johnson was due in 2014 until the first week of the regular season, but Johnson planned to report for the start of the off-season program Monday.
He flew into Nashville late Thursday night to meet with the Titans on Friday.
"I’d like to thank all of my teammates, the fans, the staff and the coaches who have supported me throughout my journey with the Titans," Johnson said in a statement." I have grown so much as an individual and as teammate over the past few years, and I am excited about the opportunity to bring my experience and talents to a new organization. I’m looking forward to the next chapter and can’t wait to contribute to my new team."
Johnson got that big contract in 2011 after holding out through the preseason, calling himself a playmaker who deserved to be paid. He does have the most touchdown runs of 80 yards or longer in NFL history with six — twice the total of anyone else in a group including Adrian Peterson, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson. He also has 12 career TD runs of at least 45 yards, trailing only Sanders (18) and Jim Brown (13) in that category.
He is just the sixth player to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, along with Sanders, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Eric Dickerson and Corey Dillon.
But Johnson has fallen far short of the 2,006-yard season he posted in 2009, the sixth man to rush for at least 2,000 yards. He earned the nickname CJ2K for such exploits, but last season he went until the final game to top 1,000 and finished with 1,077 yards — the second lowest total of his career. He also had a career-low 3.9-yard average.
He was at his best catching 42 passes for 345 yards with four TDs, including a long of 66 yards.
Greene, speaking on SiriusXM radio Friday, called Johnson a great teammate he had hoped would be back. Greene credited Johnson with teaching him a lot.
"I still think he has a lot more, and he’s going to prove that," Greene said.
The Titans have been remaking the franchise this off-season since owner Bud Adams died in October. His son-in-law, Tommy Smith, took over as president, and the Titans fired coach Mike Munchak in January. Whisenhunt was hired to get this franchise back into the playoffs after a five-year drought, and he kept Sylvester Croom as the Titans’ running backs coach.
Durability remains Johnson’s best attribute. The 24th pick overall in 2008 out of East Carolina, Johnson has never missed a game because of injury. He had surgery after the season to repair a torn meniscus that he played with most of the year.