David Johnson’s contract makes it very hard to release him
An ESPN.com item aimed at conjuring one prediction per team for the offseason took on a life of its own this week, with some incorrectly interpreting the predictions as something more than that. One prediction in particular definitely should not be regarded as something more than that, primarily because it was premised on inaccurate information that has yet to be corrected.
As to the Cardinals, ESPN.com predicted that running back David Johnson will be cut because "[h]e’s scheduled to earn $10.2 million in 2020, with the entire amount guaranteed on the third day of the league year.”
Actually, the $10.2 million in base salary already is fully guaranteed, thanks to a term in the contract that vested the guarantees a year early. It’s a genius provision that gives players much more security than rolling guarantees, like the $15.7 million in base salary for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo that doesn’t become fully guaranteed until April 1.
Thus, the Cardinals already are stuck. Johnson is getting $10.2 million this year, and he has no reason to restructure his contract. If he’s cut, offset language would save some money for Arizona based on what he makes elsewhere, but there would be no reason for a new team to offer him more than the minimum, since Arizona will be paying the difference between the minimum and $10.2 million.
Then there’s the cap charge that comes from cutting Johnson. It would be $16.2 million, minus whatever he earns elsewhere. Keeping him comes with a lower cap charge of $14.1 million.
Although the Cardinals would like to keep Kenyan Drake, a free agent who supplanted Johnson after a trade that brought Drake from Miami in October, it could make sense to just keep Johnson around. Running back injuries happen all the time; the Cardinals ultimately may need Johnson.
Another possibility could be a trade, pursuant to which the Cardinals pay some of the salary and the new team pays the rest, possibly with net draft-pick compensation flowing to the team that takes on the contract, like the Brock Osweiler hot-potato trade from Houston to Cleveland. (At least Osweiler will be remembered for something.)