The Buffalo Bills continued making free agency moves on Monday, March 21, seemingly finding their replacement for running back J.D. McKissic, who had a “change of heart” and last-minute backed out of his agreement in order to return to the Washington Commanders.
In his place, ESPN‘s Adam Schefter reported that Buffalo was signing former Miami Dolphins running back Duke Johnson to a one-year deal, per his agents Drew Rosenhaus and Robert Bailey.
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The 28-year-old running back, who joined Miami’s practice squad halfway through the 2021 NFL season, eventually appeared in five games for the Dolphins. He had two games with over 100-yard performances, and a total of 330 rushing yards, three touchdowns on 71 carries. The former third-round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft averaged 4.6 yards per carry, and as for his receiving game, Johnson added another 41 yards on four receptions.
The news of Johson signing with Buffalo was hit with mixed reactions on Twitter. While Bills analyst Bruce Nolan appeared neither excited nor upset about the move, other NFL reports and fans had stronger reactions.
Nolan tweeted, “The Duke Johnson signing after missing out on McKissic signals the #Bills weren’t just looking for RB depth: they were looking for a very specific TYPE of RB. They wanted someone better equipped to be involved in the pass game.”
While not everyone is convinced that Johnson is fast enough to be instrumental in the Bills’ pass game, many believe he will be serviceable.
Cover 1 host Greg Tompsett tweeted, “Neither JD McKissic nor Duke Johnson are lead backs in an NFL backfield. Both are productive role players who can play on game day. Both are upgrades to Matt Breida in a tier above him. I preferred McKissic… but am not upset nor think that Johnson is a downgrade. Good fallback.”
While Bills analyst Thad Brown called Johnson’s signing “a decent to solid McKissic consolation prize,” WGR 550’s Nate Geary was not impressed by the Bills’ latest free agency addition at all and believes this move means Buffalo will need to look for a speedy running back during the 2022 NFL Draft.
Geary tweeted, “I am FAR less enthused about the Duke Johnson signing than I was for the McKissic signing. I think this just means you can BANK the Bills drafting a RB. But with holes still remaining at CB, WR, IOL and now RB.. prioritizing all of this could be tricky for Bills GM Brandon Beane.”
Johnson Will Be Far Less Cheaper Than McKissic
Overall, there was far less enthusiasm over Johnson joining the Bills than McKissic. While Buffalo offered Washington’s running back a two-year, $7 million contract, it’s predicted that they were able to snag Johnson for way less money.
While contract details were not made immediately available, SB Nation’s Matt Warren wrote that “it would be a surprise if this move was for more than the veteran minimum.”
Johnson, who turns 29 in September, was initially drafted out of the University of Miami by the Cleveland Browns, where he stayed for the first three seasons of his professional career. In 2019, he was traded to the Houston Texans and finished the season with 410 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. He also tallied 44 receptions for 410 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns.
On September 6, 2021, Johnson joined the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad but was released 10 days later. He signed with the Dolphins practice squad in late October and was elevated to the active roster on December 19.
The Bills Also Signed Ex-Dolphins OL Greg Mancz
The Bills double-dipped from their AFC East rival on Monday. In addition to reportedly agreeing to a deal with Johnson, the team officially announced they were signing former Dolphins offensive lineman Greg Mancz.
After going undrafted in 2015, Mancz was signed by the Texans in 2015 and by the following season, was a full-time starter. Houston released the 29-year-old guard/center prior to the start of the 2021 season, after which he was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens traded the University of Toledo alum to the Dolphins before the season started, where Mancz appeared in five games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.