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Cardinals say they won't be cutting RB David Johnson, but what comes next?

Not that something said on Feb. 14 in a radio interview is an unbreakable contract, but Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim made it clear on Friday that running back David Johnson will not be cut.

That still doesn’t seem to be the end of the story.

Johnson, who was once one of the NFL’s most exciting players but virtually disappeared in the Cardinals offense last season, was rumored to be a cut possibility. That never made sense considering the vast amount of dead money it would cost on the salary cap.

But what will the Cardinals do with their once-star running back?

Cutting David Johnson ‘not an option’

Keim put to rest any notion Johnson would be released.

Since cutting Johnson would cost a $16.2 million dead-cap hit according to OverTheCap.com, that’s not a big surprise. But it eliminates an option.

That doesn’t mean the Cardinals will definitely have Johnson next season, though they may have no choice.

Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (31) is coming off a poor 2019 season. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Johnson signed a huge deal two years ago

Johnson is another example of large running back extensions not working out.

In 2016 he was amazing. Johnson had 2,116 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns. That was his second season. He looked like a superstar. In September of 2018, Johnson signed a three-year, $39 million extension that takes him through 2021.

Since Johnson’s breakout season, injuries and ineffectiveness have held him back. In the three seasons since, he has 2,191 yards and 16 touchdowns. Over his last six games last season he had 17 carries for 45 yards. Kenyan Drake took over lead back duties after a trade from the Dolphins. Drake is a free agent but after what happened late last season, you’d have to imagine the Cardinals would want him back.

It would be easier to re-sign Drake without Johnson taking up $14.2 million in cap space. The Cardinals will likely try to trade Johnson, but that won’t be easy. Teams won’t take on Johnson’s salary after the last three seasons. The Cardinals would have to take on a good amount of his salary in a trade, and at some point it doesn’t become worth it to eat a large chunk of the salary but not have the player anymore.

We do know Johnson won’t be cut, or so the Cardinals say in mid-February. They just have to figure out what happens next.

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