David Johnson missing a mandatory three-day minicamp in mid-June probably isn’t cause for concern but for a team with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and three new quarterbacks, it probably doesn’t help.
“David is not here and we have to keep going,” said head coach Steve Wilks after Tuesday’s opening day. “This is the National Football League, men. It doesn’t stop for myself or any other player.”
Johnson is reportedly holding out for a new contract. The 26-year-old, who led the NFL with 20 touchdowns in a breakout 2016 season before missing all but one game with a wrist injury last year, is scheduled to make $1,882,500 in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract.
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“I try not to focus on (players who aren’t here),” Wilks said. “I’m trying to focus on the guys that are here. Again, looking to get better with the ones that are here.”
Johnson participated in the Cardinals voluntary off-season workouts and OTA’s in April and May but it’s clear now Johnson and his agent are trying to send a message by skipping the team’s first mandatory minicamp.
“Dave has been here,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “He’s been here pretty much the entire offseason. He wasn’t here today, but I’m not worried about David at all. He’s a tremendous player. Whenever he gets back here I know he’ll be in shape and he’ll be ready to roll.”
“He wants a new contract,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said. “Especially the position he plays. Obviously, we know running backs, they have a short span here in the league. That’s all. He just wants him and his family to be stable. We get it. I respect it. I support it. I think anybody would.”
Johnson had 2,118 yards of total offense in 2016, behind only Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott among NFL running backs. He had 1,239 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns that season.
The Cardinals have a reputation of taking care of and locking down players they feel are vital to the team’s success on the football field. Johnson clearly fits that description.
When healthy, Johnson is one of the best running backs in the NFL but this a contract extension that will take some nuance and negotiating. Johnson will be 27 years old by the time the 2018 season concludes. He suffered a major knee injury at the end of the 2016 season and in 2017, Johnson played in only one game before suffering a season-ending wrist injury.
The Cardinals turned to Adrian Peterson and Kerwynn Williams to pick up the slack on an 8-8 team that also lost quarterback Carson Palmer to a season-ending broken arm in Week 7.
The Cardinals finished 30th in the league in rushing yards last season, coach Bruce Arians’ last. Neither Peterson nor Williams is back this season.
Bethea said that since the Cardinals are running a new system, “there are going to be some things that you miss” by not attending.
“But it is not anything that he is not going to be able to pick up,” he said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s been playing running back all his life. He’ll be fine.”
Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa in 2015, had 15 straight games with at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 2016 after opening the season third on the depth chart. That tied Barry Sanders for the longest one-season streak in league history.
Johnson had 90 yards of total offense — 23 rushing, 67 receiving — against Detroit last year before being lost in the third quarter.
The Cardinals must be fair to Johnson but also consider the team’s long-term salary cap implications.
Discussions of a new deal between Johnson’s representatives and the Cardinals are reportedly ongoing.
Wilks mentioned second-year player D.J. Foster and rookie fourth-round draft pick Chase Edmonds out of Fordham as running backs who caught his eye Tuesday. Foster played on the 2016 New England Super Bowl championship team and saw action in seven games with the Cardinals last year.
“When you look at what we try to do offensively, there is a rotation back there,” Wilks said. “You want a guy who is going to be able to step up who can give you the same elements from a standpoint of a three-down back.”
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