BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – After spending seven years with the only NFL team he’s ever known – the Arizona Cardinals – safety Rashad Johnson is moving on to the Tennessee Titans.
Johnson joined Rich Gray and myself on “The Blitz” on NBC Sports Radio AM 1060 on Monday, and he explained why he decided on signing with Tennessee for one year.
“Went in on a visit, loved the way the direction of the organization is headed, and it felt like home,” Johnson said. “It felt like the right move for me and my family. (It was an) opportunity to be closer to home (Johnson’s hometown is Sulligent, Ala.), and I was wanted. It’s good to feel wanted. It’s good to feel like you can come in and make an instant impact, and that was part of the decision.”
It was a bit offsetting to hear that the Cardinals didn’t even reach out to Johnson, and put an offer on the table once free agency started. It shocked Johnson that there was zero dialogue between him and the team, but he’s got no ill-will toward the organization, nor anyone in it. He realizes it was just a business decision, and nothing more than that.
“I was cool with that,” Johnson said. “Things worked out for me on my end to get closer to home. There’s no hard feelings between me and the Cardinals organization. I spent a wonderful seven years here. (Cardinals head) coach B.A. (Bruce Arians) gave me an opportunity to be a full-time starter for the first time in my career, and I loved every minute of these last three years, it was a wonderful ride.”
Johnson mentioned the fact that he’s that much closer to his hometown. He’s also that much closer to his father, Randy, who’s had some health issues lately. Mr. Johnson sat his son down and, in so many words, told him if there’s any team he’d like to see him play for, it would be the Tennessee Titans, and Mr. Johnson’s wish came true.
“A lot of people don’t know my dad went through a very, very serious surgery at the end of the season last year,” Johnson said. “Things were kind of tough to be all the way in Phoenix, and my dad facing surgery, to where he was having that tumor removed from his pancreas that was cancerous. So it was a long battle for a month-and-a-half to where he finally got out of the hospital.”
“For him to say that, and for him to want me to be closer to home, and for this opportunity to come, for me, it was like God was speaking to me, like, ‘I’m giving you some more time with your pop, and you should take this opportunity, even if it’s for a year, to go and spend some more time (with your father and the rest of your family), and enjoy the little things in life that you’ve missed out on (for) these past seven years in Arizona,’” Johnson said. “I was excited about that opportunity, and the phone rung, and it was that team (the Titans).”
Once Johnson gets back to Nashville, Tenn., he’ll see a familiar face in new Titans defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend. Townsend was the Cardinals assistant defensive backs for the 2011-12 season, so he and Johnson worked together very closely that season.
Johnson’s not only excited to be reunited with Townsend, but he’s also excited for the fact that he gets to be taught by a living defensive legend.
“Yeah, yeah, that played a part in it (joining the Titans) as well, knowing Coach Townsend, but also (Titans defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau,” Johnson said. “I saw the opportunity for me to be able to step in, and help the team, but also to grow as well. I feel like I’m still in the prime of my career. I have some great (foot)ball ahead of me, and just to have the opportunity to play under a legendary coach like Dick LeBeau, and a guy like Deshea (Townsend), that’s been in the league for 13+ years. I can gain so much more knowledge from them, and help my game as well.”
Ray Horton has moved on from the Titans, where he spent two years (2014-15) as their defensive coordinator. He’s now the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, but his influence is still being felt on Tennessee’s defense. The schemes LeBeau has drawn up for his players is similar to what it was when Horton ran the Titans defense those two seasons, and when he ran Arizona’s defense in 2011 and 2012, when he was their defensive coordinator – something that really intrigues Johnson.
“Aggressive 3-4 scheme, some fire zones, (and) different things of that nature,” Johnson said. “Then, for me, I feel like I can help on the back end, as far as the communication (goes with) lining guys up, (and) allowing my instincts, and my knowledge of the game just to help everyone else around me be better. What they’re looking for me to do is come in, and tighten that group up a little bit. I think they (have) some great players on the roster, but last year, there were some opportunities where guys were running free, and (there) was miscommunication there.”
“That’s what I thrive on, I thrive on being a communicator, thrive on making sure everybody’s on the same page, and at that point, we can play fast man,” Johnson said. “I think I bring those qualities to that secondary, and that defense.”
Johnson is moving on, but not without packing seven years of memories in along with the rest of his belongings for the trek to the great state of Tennessee.
“I think what will stick out to me the most is after I signed with the Titans, all the love that I got from the fans, friends, and most importantly, my teammates,” Johnson said. “I always was just a guy that wanted to serve people, to help people, (and) to love on people, and just bring out the best in everyone that I was around, and to receive that back from my teammates, and know that I really impacted them in a way other than football, that’s the thing that I’m going to hold on (to) for the rest of my life.”
“At the end of the day, this game is going to end some day for all of us, and to know that I was able to touch their lives in a way that’s going to impact their lives, that meant the most to me,” Johnson said. “Not only them, but the fans as well. I’ve had several people reach out on Twitter, and text message, and (on) Facebook, just to share their love (and) what I’ve done in their lives. I’m just thankful for that.”