David Johnson has arguably endured the biggest free fall in production over the course of the 2019 season than any other player in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals running back is being paid like a top tier player at his position, but is barely seeing the field.
The 2016 All-Pro seemed to hit rock bottom in Week 11, playing in just nine snaps against San Francisco. Kenyan Drake has seemingly taken over as the starting back in Arizona and with Chase Edmonds now returning from his injury, Johnson’s role in the backfield is a mystery.
“It’s obviously been hard,” Johnson told Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com. “In the past I was in the majority of the snaps. It’s been rough. I’ve just got to move past it and make the most of every opportunity.”
Johnson noted that he has spoken the the coaching staff about his unclear role within the offense, but elected to keep those conversations private. His role for this weekend’s game against the Los Angeles Rams is still undefined.
Injuries have played a part in Johnson’s fall from grace as he did miss time this season due to an ankle injury and has missed substantial time in previous years. Since coming back into the fold this year, the 27-year-old has just 10 total yards from scrimmage over two games. He also fumbled against the Buccaneers in Week 10.
Even with injuries becoming more a part of Johnson’s story since his breakout seasons when he first entered the league in 2015, he still believes that he has the same explosiveness.
“No, I don’t,” Johnson said when asked if feels like he is a lesser player now than earlier in his career. “Obviously I was dealing with injuries, and that’s rough, but that’s part of football. Everyone has injuries, especially toward this time of the year, so it’s really how you play with the injuries.”
From here, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cardinals do with Johnson going forward. He is signed through the 2021 season and has a pretty hard contract to trade heading into next year. In 2020, Johnson has a $14.25 million cap hit and a $16.2 million dead cap hit. That does subside in the final year of his deal as his dead cap drops to $3 million, but still has a cap hit of $12 million.
Kenyan Drake, meanwhile, is set to enter free agency this spring.
It’s always possible that the Cardinals try to re-sign Drake to an affordable price and attempt to move Johnson this offseason with some draft picks attached to him, but those big cap numbers will make it awfully hard to do so, which makes this entire situation murky.