Trumaine Johnson has a lot to prove in Jets’ backfield


As the Jets get close to training camp, I am examining the roster and giving you my top 25 players. Each weekday, we will reveal another person on the list, leading right into camp. I am not including rookies on this list because I do not feel it is possible to fully evaluate them before they play a game.

No. 9: Trumaine Johnson

Last year’s ranking: 2

Position: CB

Age on Opening Day: 29

How acquired: Signed a five-year, $72.5 million contract as a free agent on March 16, 2018.

Years left on contract: 4

2019 Salary Cap figure: $12 million

Looking back at 2018: Johnson arrived with big expectations thanks to the large free-agent deal he signed in the offseason. He struggled with a quad injury that resulted in him missing five games and affected his play.

Johnson finished the year with four interceptions, one for a touchdown, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, five passes defensed and 40 tackles.

Many view Johnson’s first season with the Jets as a failure, but I think he was graded harshly because of the big contract. Was he great? No. But he also was not as terrible as some people made him out to be.

Pro Football Focus graded Johnson 24 out of 112 cornerbacks.

Johnson only had four penalties, but they were all memorable. He committed pass interference on the first defensive play of the season in Detroit. Then he had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Cleveland for shoving the ball into Jarvis Landry’s stomach after a third-down incompletion. Later in the year, a facemask call against the Titans and a pass interference penalty against the Packers directly contributed to those late losses.

Johnson ended the season on the inactive list against the Patriots after former coach Todd Bowles sat him down for disciplinary reasons.

Outlook for 2019: Johnson is reunited with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who he played for with the Rams and had his best season. That reunion should help Johnson improve upon last year.

Johnson did not handle the scrutiny that came with his big contract very well last year. He refused to speak to reporters after one game and had an outburst at reporters on another day. He should be more comfortable in year two of the contract and with other stars on the team now taking some of the attention away. However, if he struggles the microscope will be right back on him.

The Jets are counting on Johnson to be their No. 1 cornerback and to shut opposing receivers down. With the unproven Darryl Roberts expected to start opposite him, there will be a significant amount of pressure on Johnson again this season.

The team will face a decision on Johnson after this year. His 2020 salary of $11 million becomes guaranteed in March. If the Jets decide to walk away from Johnson after this year, they would take a $12 million hit in dead money against the salary cap, but would save $3 million in cap space. That is a large amount of dead money, but if Johnson is a headache for new coach Adam Gase, the Jets might find it bearable.