NEW YORK — The New York Jets are saying C-Ya to CJ2K after just one season.
The Jets announced Saturday they will not exercise their option on running back Chris Johnson, making him an unrestricted free agent next month and saving the team $3.5 million on the salary cap this year.
The team will, however, exercise the contract options on veteran linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Babin.
New York had until Monday to make a decision on Johnson, who was due a $500,000 option bonus that would have kicked in if he remained on the roster past that date.
Johnson was scheduled to make a base salary of $3.5 million, with a salary cap hit of about $5.25 million. He will now cost only around $1.75 million against the cap. Johnson will be free to sign with any team when the NFL’s free agency period begins on March 10.
The Jets will also likely be in the market for a running back during that time or in the draft. Chris Ivory and Daryl Richardson are the only other Jets running backs under contract for next season; Bilal Powell is scheduled to become a free agent.
The 29-year-old Johnson was signed to a two-year, $8 million deal by the Jets last April after six years with Tennessee to provide a versatile presence in the backfield. But, he was coming off offseason knee surgery and had his worst statistical season while splitting time with Ivory in then-offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s system.
Johnson, who will be 30 in September, ran for 663 yards — his first season under 1,000 — and one touchdown, while catching a career-low 24 passes for 151 yards and a score. Johnson’s 4.3 average per carry was respectable, but he hardly looked like the guy who ran for 2,006 yards in 2009, earning him his CJ2K nickname.
Known for his blistering speed and ability to break off long plays at any moment in a game, Johnson ran for 100 yards just once — when he had 105 on 17 carries, including a 47-yard scamper, against Miami last December.
He also didn’t get as many touches as he had been used to with the Titans, eclipsing 15 carries in a game just twice. Ivory led the Jets with 821 yards on 198 carries as New York finished third in the NFL in overall rushing while Mornhinweg used a committee approach.
While it likely didn’t play a major role in the Jets’ decision, Johnson also was arrested in Orlando, Florida, in January on a misdemeanor weapons charge. Orlando police said Johnson was pulled over after he ran a stop sign on Jan. 9. When an officer approached Johnson’s vehicle, he said he saw a firearm between Johnson’s feet. Openly carrying a gun is generally banned in Florida.
Johnson has rushed for 8,628 yards and 51 touchdowns in his NFL career after being a first-round pick out of East Carolina in 2008.
Both Pace and Babin are 34, so they are no locks to make the Jets’ roster next season. But the team exercised their $250,000 options on each of the linebackers, who could provide veteran leadership on new coach Todd Bowles’ defense.
Pace, who has been with the Jets since 2008, started every game last season for the fourth straight year. He had five sacks, giving him 43 since joining the Jets. Pace also had four tackles for loss and three passes defensed last season. He spent his first five NFL seasons with Arizona.
Babin signed as a free agent last July and had two sacks while playing in all 16 games. The two-time Pro Bowl selection has also played with Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tennessee and Jacksonville.