NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rashad Johnson spent last week in the Dominican Republic, surrounded by some of his long-time teammates with the Arizona Cardinals.
"It was kind of a last goodbye with a really tight group,'' Johnson said.
Over the weekend, the new Titans safety invited his family to his home in Phoenix for one last visit. His mom, aunt, nieces, and cousins packed the house. Heading into his eighth NFL season, Johnson played in 100 games over the past seven seasons with the Cardinals, starting 51 games at safety.
"They love it out here, man'' Johnson said. "They are all in the pool now."
But in Johnson's mind, he's headed home. And he couldn't be happier after agreeing to terms with the Titans on Friday.
TitansOnline.com looks at the NFL career of former Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson. (AP Photos)
A native of Sulligent, Ala., Johnson played college football at Alabama, and he recently bought land in Huntsville, where he'd already planned to build a home. Landing with the Titans was a big development for Johnson on a personal, and professional level. Johnson said he began thinking he wanted to move closer to home after his father, Randy, went through some health complications recently.
"I can't wait to get back to the South, and when this opportunity came, it seemed surreal," Johnson said. "There were two big factors that really made it great. The Titans showed a lot of interest, and it is always good to feel wanted. The coaching staff made me feel wanted. I felt welcome, I felt at home.
"And a lot of people don't know this, but my dad was really bad sick last season around November, almost to the point where we thought we might lose my father. When free agency started, he was like, 'If there's one place I could pick you up and put you at, it would be Nashville, with the Titans. You don't get those opportunities too often where you can go home and your parents can watch you play. To go through that experience with him, it made me want to get back closer to him."
Johnson said his father is improving, but "he still has some bad days."
"They found out he has tumor on his pancreas so he had to have a 13-hour surgery. It was intense, and really scary,'' Johnson said. "It was cancerous, but thank God they got all of it, no chemo. But you never know about that cancer, it's something you have to fight for a while. I'm glad I'll be a lot closer to him now."
Johnson said he's ready to make an impact with the Titans, where he'll replace veteran safety Michael Griffin. Already, new teammates like Jason McCourty, Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo have reached out to him.
Johnson, who played under new Titans secondary coach Deshea Townsend in Arizona, has recorded 15 interceptions in his career, including nine in the last two seasons.
Johnson started 30 games for the Cardinals over the last two years, and he's played in at least 10 games for Arizona since entering the league as a third-round pick from Alabama in 2009.
"I know Michael, he's a great player. I always watched his game. He's been ballin' for a long time,'' Johnson said of Griffin. "For me, I just want to come in and step in and do whatever I can to help the team win. I am going to come in and bring my hard hat, like I told coach (Mike) Mularkey. I want to come in and help the guys. I feel like I can bring some leadership to the back end and some different wisdom. Heading into my eighth season, I feel like I can help."
Johnson has proven to be a playmaker, and a tough guy, in his career. He famously lost the tip of his left middle finger in a game against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 22, 2013. He returned to action three weeks later, and since that time, his 12 interceptions are tied for second in the NFL among all players, trailing only Reggie Nelson's 13 thefts.
Johnson's also proven to be resilient. He was a walk-on running back at Alabama who went on to become a two-time team captain as a free safety. Johnson didn't receive any offers from big schools coming out of high school.
In Tennessee, he feels he has something to prove after signing a one-year deal several weeks into free agency.
Johnson, however, said that's part of his story.
"Coming into free agency, after the years I've had, I was thinking the buzz would be a little hotter than it was, and I had a conversation with a friend of mind and he was like, "That's the story God gave you.' And I look back at it and it's true,'' Johnson said. "I've been given a story to have to overcome a lot of things, and I embrace it. I know the blueprint, and I know how to come in and make plays no matter what people think.
"When you look at the free agency deals this offseason, you look and some guys grabbed some really nice deals early and myself, looking at the years I had, I would have thought I'd be in that group as well, but for some reason or another I wasn't. But that's more fuel to the fire. I am really fired up about it. I talk to kids a lot and I always tell them, 'You can look at your experiences and they can either be fuel, or they can be weight. It can be the fuel that pushes you forward or it can be the weight to keep you where you're at.' So I always use it as fuel. I can't wait to get to the 2016 season."