The New England Patriots need to bolster their stable of running backs, and Chris Johnson just hit the open market.
Johnson fits what the Patriots need, since he can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield, but the three-time Pro Bowl selection might be too expensive for New England, even after a down season in 2013.
The Patriots already have two starting-caliber players in Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, which is why they were showing interest in low-priced veterans such as Maurice Jones-Drew and LeGarrette Blount. The Patriots need another piece to the puzzle, not a game-breaker.
Johnson still has the potential to be one of the NFL’s best running backs. He flashed that promise in 2012 when he ran for 1,243 yards on 276 carries with six touchdowns and added 36 receptions for 232 yards. Johnson had just 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, however, and with Ridley and Vereen entering contract years, the Patriots need someone who’s guaranteed to contribute beyond 2014.
It makes the most sense for the Patriots to invest in a running back in the draft — preferably someone who’s big enough to carry the load but has soft-enough hands to also contribute on third down.
Johnson could have a bounce-back season, but he’s probably not worth the risk since the Patriots would be wise to carry some money into the 2014 season — they have multiple players with on-field incentives, which could make the team’s salary-cap rise. Another team will be willing to overpay for what Johnson could contribute.
Flashy free-agent signings are fun, but running backs have a short shelf life, and Johnson will be 29 years old next season.