Commentary: Titans' best move with CJ is to avoid repeat of others' dubious departures

It is understandable that the Tennessee Titans would rather turn the page on Chris Johnson than lock the doors to him.

Two of the franchise’s more embarrassing incidents in the last decade or so involved players who expected to take part in offseason workouts at times when their days with the team ultimately were numbered.

The next phase of the Titans’ offseason program is set to begin April 7. That has prompted speculation that Johnson, the record-setting running back who has led the team in rushing in each of his six seasons, will be released before then if talks with other teams do not produce a trade.

Johnson, who has three years remaining on his current contract and is scheduled to earn $8 million in salary this season, told The Tennessean last week that he planned to take part in scheduled offseason activities with the team.

"Yeah, I plan on being there," Johnson told the newspaper. "If I haven't been traded or released by that time, I will show up in Nashville and be ready to go from day one with the team. There's been a lot of speculation about the future, and where I'll be. But I am under contract with the Tennessee Titans. That's my team. And whatever team I am with when the offseason program starts, that is where I am showing up.

"I want to run and lift with the team and do what I can to make the team better. If April 7 gets here and I am on the Tennessee roster, then I am going to show up ready to go."

It’s doubtful that franchise leadership wants to see him.

In 2003, after he accepted a pay cut to stick with the Titans, linebacker Randall Godfrey was escorted from the practice field during an offseason workout. Shortly thereafter he was released.

In 2006, quarterback Steve McNair was asked to leave the team’s training facility altogether rather than work out in the weight room or even spend time in a meeting room. Before that offseason ended McNair was traded to the Baltimore Ravens.

In both cases, then-franchise officials took the unusual — not to mention disrespectful — steps to ensure that neither player would be injured. Had that happened, it would have had salary cap implications at times when the team had little financial leeway.

Current General Manager Ruston Webster was not with the Titans for either of those instances but it is unlikely he wants to connect with that dubious legacy. The expectation since the end of the 2013 season has been that Tennessee would not keep Johnson for the coming campaign. To that end, Webster thus far reportedly has explored trade possibilities, but the optimum window to deal is closing.

Absent a trade, the Titans can keep Johnson all the way through training camp before they release him and the effect on the salary cap is the same.

That, however, would create the awkward situation of what to do with him during conditioning, position drills, organized team activities, minicamp sessions, training camp and preseason games. If team officials are not willing to pay what his contract demands, they certainly have no interest in paying it so that he could spend the season on injured reserve rehabbing an offseason injury.

History has shown, after all, that ‘protecting’ players from offseason injury is ugly business.

It’s best for everyone that the Titans conclude their business with CJ and before it comes to that, even if it means they get nothing in return.