As the Tennessee Titans cleaned out their lockers Monday and closed the book on a disappointing 2013 season, a pair of former No. 1 picks left knowing that it was probably their final time in the locker room at St. Thomas Sports Park.
Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt, first-round picks in 2008 and 2009, respectively, were supposed to be cornerstones for the franchise for years to come. Instead, both are likely headed elsewhere to resurrect their careers in 2014.
As reporters caught up with Johnson on Monday, the running back took sort of a philosophical approach to his future. CJ2K was barely CJ1K in 2013, going over the milestone in the final game of the season with one of his best performances of the year – a 127-yard effort in the win over the Texans.
That left Johnson with 1,077 yards on the season, a far cry from his 2,000-yard performance in 2009 and an effort that the Titans almost assuredly won't pay $8 million next season. That is CJ's base salary, and the running back is not inclined to take a pay cut.
“I'm just enjoying being around my teammates for the last day,” Johnson said. “That's always the case, no matter if it's the last day of school or whatever like that. It's just a situation where I don't really know what's gonna happen. Right now, I'm not really trying to worry about it. I understand the business side of the game, so if it happens, it happens.”
Johnson was unrelenting on the issue of a pay cut Monday.
“I know what I'm worth, and if they feel like I'm not worth that here, then I know I'll be with another team,” he said.
However, the thought is that if Johnson leaves the Titans, he might not necessarily have the featured back role he has had with the Titans for six years. There is a thought that some team could use him as a change-of-pace back in the mold of Reggie Bush.
While Johnson's productivity declined after signed a $53 million extension in 2011 following a lengthy holdout, Britt fell completely off the radar this season.
When the Titans drafted Britt with the 30th overall pick in 2009, they thought they might finally be getting the game-breaking receiver they had long coveted in the mold of Randy Moss or Calvin Johnson. Instead, Britt teased with his talent and showed issues of immaturity with repeated brushes with the law.
On the field, Britt was never the same player after a 2011 knee injury that eventually required two surgeries, plus a clean-up procedure on his left knee as well. When he started off with drops and penalties this year, it seemed as if the Titans were ready to turn the page, handing his playing time to Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and even former practice squad player Michael Preston.
After an 11-catch performance during a contract year, and being a healthy scratch for his final game Sunday, Britt knows he has no future in Tennessee. But he says being a No. 1 receiver somewhere is still his goal.
“I really don't have any plans of being back,” Britt said. “I'm mostly looking out there and seeing what my options are, my best options for me and my family. If you want something in life, you have to go get it, and that's what I want to do. I want to be a No. 1 (receiver), and I wanted to be a No. 1 here for a couple of years, and I plan on going and getting it next year.”
Britt, while saying he wanted to keep most of his feelings about 2013 to himself, did say he thought there was a double standard for him and other receivers who had also had drops at times.
“There were definitely drops throughout the season, but was I the only one dropping balls throughout the season? There definitely was (a double standard),” Britt said. “...If you go back and see film, and look at how they treated me and everyone else throughout the year and at the beginning of the year – the first two games – I could say that.”
As it is now, the Titans stand ready to turn the page on CJ and Britt, who were supposed to be part of a trio the franchise's offense would be built around, along with 2006 first-round quarterback Vince Young, who washed out of the NFL two years ago, and hasn't stuck on a roster since.