Most of the Vikings’ free agents aren’t exactly sure where they stand with the team, but a week from now the process of figuring that out will happen during meetings with general manager Rick Spielman and others in the front office at the NFL Scouting Combine.
While Johnson’s future may be a bit uncertain – he is a restricted free agent – his self-confidence is certain.
“I’m cool. I’m chillin’, man. Whatever happens, happens. I’m confident in my abilities,” he late last week as he helped the team with their annual Vikings Winterfest. “I’m confident in whatever decisions are made. All I can do is control what I can control. I know whatever happens I’m going to be OK.
“I’ve just got to approach it that way and know that I’m going to be alright. I know I can play this game at a high level. It’s all about opportunity and the right situation. I’m happy to be here, I’m blessed to be here and we’ll see what happens.”
Last year, Johnson entered the season as a starter and did so for the first two games. However, as other options – like Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen (who are both free agents as well) – emerged, Johnson started just five of the next 14 games.
He averaged 45 snaps in those first two games, then less than 20 over the next dozen contests. For the season, he played in less than 40 percent of the offensive snaps.
He finished the season with 20 catches for 232 yards after a career-high 31 catches for 475 yards in 2014, his first year in Minnesota.
Despite those figures, he said he believes the opportunity to earn playing time exists with the Vikings.
“It’s been kind of crazy the last couple years, but I think it certainly is [possible for more time]. I’m a confident individual. I feel like there’s so much more that I still have to touch that I haven’t touched in my own game and I feel like there’s so much that I can do that other people don’t think I can do,” he said. “I’ve just got to reach that maximum ability and find that in myself. If I’m able to do that, I think the sky is the limit for me. I’ve just got to go out there and continue to be me and not worry about anybody else.”
As a restricted free agent, the Vikings hold the ability to submit him a qualifying offer before March 9 and retain the right of first refusal on any offer sheet he might sign with another team. But just as there is some uncertainty about where the Vikings stand with Johnson, they have several decisions to make at the position in free agency.
Thielen is a restricted free agent, Patterson is unrestricted, and Jarius Wright is scheduled for a salary in excess of $3 million after having his playing time severely slashed in 2016.
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But Johnson believes his combination of size (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) and speed continue to make him a valuable and desirable asset.
“I’m a bigger body. I’m fast,” Johnson said, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn quickly testified to Johnson’s speed.
“I’m just a natural receiver,” Johnson continued. “For as big as I am, my route running is pretty good. I know how to gain separation.”
Because of that, it would seem his separation from the team could be avoided, but at this point the Vikings hold the decision in their contract-writing hands.