Chris Johnson could be answers Cards seek at running back

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On Monday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he and general manager Steve Keim would meet to discuss running backs.

The result was Arizona offering Chris Johnson a one-year contract, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini. As of late Tuesday morning, Johnson had yet to accept. Adding Johnson could play out in one of two ways for the Cardinals, whose running back room has been thinned because of injuries. Arians hasn't been impressed with the players who remain, he said Monday.

Johnson, who rushed for at least 1,000 years in his first six seasons before a disappointing 663-yard effort in 2014 with the New York Jets, could come into camp and look like the CJ2K of old. Before his 1,077-yard season in 2013, in which he averaged 3.9 yards per carry, he never averaged less than 4.0. Even last year, he gained 4.3 yards per rush.

By comparison, the Cardinals averaged 3.29 last season -- the lowest in the NFL.

If Johnson were to return to his pre-Jets level -- which included a 2,000-yard season in 2009 -- he’d make Arians’ job easier in 2015: He’d be the feature back, no questions asked. While Andre Ellington is electric, he’s proven he’s too injury-prone to carry a full load. The Cardinals need Ellington to be healthy, so lessening his between-the-tackles load could be the answer. Johnson has been doing that for his entire career. And with rookie David Johnson having missed every padded practice during training camp, the jury on him remains out. As Arians said Monday, he’s still unproven.

Having Chris Johnson on the roster could be a major benefit for Ellington. They’re both similar in size. Ellington is 5-foot-9, 195 pounds. Johnson is 5-11, 203. Ellington would have a veteran running back (whose been at the top of his position at times) to learn from. He hasn’t had a great back to be mentored by yet.

Ellington said Monday he wasn’t surprised the Cardinals may be adding another back.

“We need as many guys as we can,” he said. “Our room’s getting short. Guys have injuries, a little banged up, so we need as much of it as we can get.”

Keim has hit home runs on signing veterans in camp before. John Abraham and Eric Winston are perfect examples. But sometimes those signings end up like Max Starks, who was signed last camp but struggled to get in shape. He still provided motivation for the other tackles, who thought he may take their job.

Chris Johnson could be the same way.

He could just be a fuse for Ellington and David Johnson to get in gear. Competition breeds competition, and Ellington would certainly be competing with Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson does come with off-the-filed issues. He was arrested in Orlando, Florida (officials decided not to pursue charges) and, in a separate incident, was shot in the right shoulder during the offseason.

For now, the Cardinals wait on Johnson’s decision, knowing they’ll have a new toy to add to the offense or someone who can help light a fire under Ellington.