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Arizona Cardinals offseason: David Johnson, Andre Ellington and the outlook at running back

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We look back and look ahead, too

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Next up in our positional review is the running back position. It was a very good year and a very frustrating year all in one. Let's look back and loko ahead.

Looking back at 2015

Entering this past season, the goal was to be a more balanced offense -- to run the ball more and better. Mission accomplished. They rushed for over 1900 yards as a team -- the most since 1988. But how they did it was interesting.

This was supposed to be the season for Andre Ellington. After an injury-plagued 2014, he was supposed to be that guy and do what he did the last half of his rookie season, but only better and for longer. Injuries hit again.

They brought in Chris Johnson in training camp and he got hurt. No one knew what he was going to do. They drafted David Johnson, a guy they were thrilled about but who had played at a small school.

Ellington started off well, gaining 69 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. He got hurt, though.

Enter Chris Johnson, who had tweaked a hamstring in training camp in his first practice. He was a godsend. He rushed for over 100 yards in ffour of the next seven games and was on pace to reach the 1300-yard mark, which was part of a contract incentive that no one thought was possible. I laughed at it myself. Then he slowed down and then fractured his tibia against the 49ers, ending his season.

Andre Ellington had a shot to tak eover. He had been very productive in a limited role. He had ripped off some good runs as a change of pace guy...but -- would you know it -- he got hurt within a few plays.

The ball was handed to David Johnson, who had been getting very, very limited looks and had been a touchdown machine. He broke out. He had 99, 92 and 187 yards in his first three starts. He scored 13 touchdowns on the season.

It was a team effort, but the running game was consistently good, even though they couldn't keep one guy set the whole season.

After a 3.1-yard per carry 2014, they averaged 4.2 in 2015. Every back -- including Stepfan Taylor -- all averaged more than the team did a season ago.

Contract statuses:

Chris Johnson: He is an unrestricted free agent

Stepfan Taylor: He is signed through next season. He will make $675K and count a little more than $725K against the salary cap.

Andre Ellington: He also is signed through next season, the final year of his rookie deal. He will also make $675K and will count a little more than $700K against the cap.

Kerwynn Williams: He is signed through 2016 and will make $600K. He can be cut with no hit to the cap.

David Johnson: Entering Year 2 of his four-year rookie deal, he will make $525K in salary and count less than $685K against the cap.

Marion Grice: He was signed to a future contract for next season after spending the last few weeks on the practice squad. He will make $525K. If he stays with the team, he will be an exclusive rights free agent next offseason and the Cards will retain him if they want.

Robert Hughes: He also signed a future contract for 2016. He will make $600K. If he stays with the team, he wil lbe a restricted free agent next offseason.

Looking ahead in the offseason:

We don't know what Chris Johnson has in store. He obviously did well, but he also got hurt late in the year. At his age, who knows what kind of interest he will draw around the league. The Cards would probably like to have him back, but it will depend on how much he wants to make and what role he wants. He would no longer be the starter and bell cow back like he was until he got hurt.

David Johnson will enter the offseason as the starter. Andre Ellington will be a backup and change of pace guy.

Stepfan Taylor, Robert Hughes, Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice will battle for roster spots. Taylor and Hughes are essentially the same player. Grice has a skill set the team likes if he can get the mental side down.

If Chris Johnson returns, the team will likely not bring in another free agent back. If he leaves, they could possibly target a veteran to add to the room.

In the draft, it is likely the Cardinals will look at the position. After all, one of the things Bruce Arians said he wanted for next season was another David Johnson. Maybe that is Grice -- he has the ability to do good things in the run game and passing game -- or maybe they draft another guy. After all, Taylor and Ellington both will be free agents after the season.

Pretty much we know this -- David Johnson is staying, Ellington is staying and after that it is unknown. Johnson is on his way to being a star, but he has to take the next step. Arizona has traditionally not had that happen with their young backs. They flash for a season and then break down. Year 2 will be huge for him.