The once vaunted Houston Texans running game, which steamrolled opponents from 2010 to 2012, was rendered as useless as a ventilated condom in 2013. Ranked as high as 2nd in the league in 2011, the Texans running game tumbled to 20th in 2014. Star runner Arian Foster missed most of the season due to injury. Supposed star in waiting, backup Ben Tate, fared little better, disappointing through his seven starts before also succumbing to injury. In their places the Texans trotted out a rabble of no names led by Dennis Johnson, an undrafted
scrub free agent they signed and cut in training camp. The Texans will have to replace Tate (who signed with the Cleveland Browns on March 15) either in the draft or through free agency, because their current roster of backups are band aids at best. Extra urgency is added due to Foster’s steadily decreasing yards per rush and injury history. The average career of an NFL player that makes the roster in his rookie year is 6 years and Foster will be entering his 5th year with the Texans in 2014. He has been a workhorse, touching the ball almost 400 times in 2012 alone, leading some to speculate entering the 2013 season that he was headed for a fall. And fall he did, as injuries limited him to 121 rushes for 542 yards and 1 touchdown. With this in mind, the Texans need to either find a long term replacement or a complimentary back who can split the workload with Foster in 2014.
When it comes to long term replacements, you’re talking about picking a RB in the draft. Nobody is going to trade you a stud first or second year back because, you know, having a good young runner is kind of a valuable thing. Unfortunately the Texans needs are many, especially at QB, and GM Rick Smith already has quite a decision to make with their first pick. If he takes Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick you can bet he’ll be grabbing a QB with the second. That will leave an already underwhelming list of RB prospects even smaller. Its likely that with all of their other question marks at LB, RT, G, CB, and WR, the Texans will be better served looking in free agency for a RB2.
Enter Chris Johnson, aka CJ2K, late of the Tennessee Titans. Five years removed from what some considered to be maybe the best season for a RB in NFL history, Johnson finds himself on the open market. Johnson’s and Foster’s careers have followed parallel paths. Both entered the league in 2009. Both have had monster years for their teams and were at separate times considered in MVP voting. Both have been workhorses who have seen their production steadily drop. As they both enter the twilight of their careers, they could benefit from each others remaining abilities. Neither, in my estimation, has the ability to be the featured back for their teams anymore, any attempt to do so would put either on the injured list. But both are still very talented and can occasionally take over a game. By splitting the carries between the two, the Texans can effectively manage the workload of both players, keeping them fresh for the end of games. Now would either player sit well with such an arrangement? Johnson has stated that he wants to go somewhere where he can be the featured back. It would be quite a sales job for Smith and new head coach Bill O’Brien to convince Johnson to accept the arrangement and to keep both players happy for the entire season. Not to mention the fact that Johnson appears to think he’s still worth top dollar. But if they can do it, it could make team owner Bob McNair (and his now infamous “win now” declaration) a very happy man.