When the Tennessee Titans released running back Chris Johnson earlier Friday, each NFL Nation reporter was polled on his or her team's chances of signing Johnson. For the Bills, I said their interest was 'low,' because of the presence of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield.
Then came news Friday afternoon from ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky, who reported that the Bills and Miami Dolphins were the two teams closest to making a move with the Titans before Johnson was released.
It's a nugget that could be as much about C.J. Spiller as it is about Johnson.
With Spiller and Jackson, there would be few opportunities for Johnson to get carries. That wouldn't be the most efficient use of Johnson, who has rushed for at least 1,000 yards each season since being drafted in 2008, so something would have to give.
Both Spiller and Jackson will become free agents this season. Jackson is 33 -- and has faced injury issues in both knees -- but he performed much more consistently than Spiller last season. It would be almost unimaginable for the Bills to move on from Jackson, their offensive captain, in favor of Johnson.
That leaves Spiller, who never got into a groove in first-year offensive coordinator Nate Hackett's system. Although Spiller averaged 4.6 yards per carry, he averaged fewer than three yards per carry in six games. On plays with at least five yards to gain for a first down, Spiller lost yardage on 14.4 percent of his runs, the worst rate among NFL running backs with a qualifying amount of carries.
Hampered by an ankle injury, Spiller played 34 percent of offensive snaps, considerably less than Jackson's 56 percent and the fewest since Spiller's rookie season. Spiller's 185 receiving yards were also the fewest since he was a rookie.
Spiller said following the season that he would not request a trade.
“A trade? Nah. I don’t have any reason to. [I’m] satisfied,” he said on Dec. 30. “You know, I don’t have any, you know, bad feelings with this organization or with [CEO] Russ [Brandon] or with, you know, [general manager] Doug Whaley. You know, I like Coach [Doug] Marrone and I like [running backs] Coach [Tyrone] Wheatley, so I have no reason to go nowhere else, but you know that’s stuff I can’t control. But I wouldn’t go up there and ask for one.”
Spiller has a $5.9 million cap hit this season, the sixth-highest on the Bills' roster. However, trading Spiller would only save about $1.8 million. Still, there would be incentive for the Bills to trade Spiller this offseason instead of losing him to the open market next offseason.
Now that the Titans have released Johnson, the Bills have the opportunity to sign him without having to give up anything in a trade. If they choose to pursue Johnson further, it would continue to cast doubt on Spiller's future.