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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Chris Johnson Contract Dispute


Eric Dickerson
He has been compared to some of the greats at his position and has posted similar numbers the greats such as Eric Dickerson (who could forget those goggles and that Jheri Curl?) and Emmitt Smith. So it’s only right that he has a similar holdout just like those players. Dickerson had his holdout moment in 1985 just two years into his contract (Just like Johnson) and Smith had his infamous spat with Jerry Jones back in 1993. Ultimately both Dickerson and Smith received multi year deals to suffice them but they had to go to extreme lengths for ownership to reward them their just due. Chris Johnson is now in the same capacity as these two Hall of Fame running backs. I guess if you want to be comparable you have to emulate the greats who came before you, on and off the field right?

Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt
The Chris Johnson contract dispute has to give every Titan fan a moment of trepidation as the best player in powder blue and navy has a legit beef with his deal and is putting the Titans in a tough situation. This isn’t your run of the mill contract dispute either, as both sides have valid points and appear to have dug their feet in the ground as neither side wants to budge in a positive direction. What is so fascinating about the Johnson contract squabble is the fact that still has two years left on a contract that is clearly outdated due to his performance on the field. Everyone in the state of Tennessee, and for that matter everyone in the world, knows that Johnson is worth more than his scheduled $550,000 he in line for this year. The craziest thing about his contract situation is that his backup Alvin Pearman is due to make $630,000 this year. That's right, his backup makes more money than Johnson does which is just preposterous to think This has the makings of an extended holdout as Johnson has reason to stay away from the Titans until he is compensated the amount that he thinks he should be. However that may be hard considering the hefty 30k fine a day fine for missing camp. And of course, Johnson’s absence hurts the Titans as they look to begin a new season under a new QB and new coaching staff. For the sake of continuity, it would be beneficial for the Titans to have their best player at least show up at camp and be in the mix with his teammates.

Above all at this moment is the stalemate in the front office on Johnson. The Titans know that running backs have a short shelf life in the NFL. Most peak around 29 and go all down hill from there. Don’t believe me you say? Well take a look at this excerpt the

“Earl Campbell carried the ball over 1,000 times in his first three years, averaging 4.9 yards a carry. In year 4, he still carried it a lot (361 times) but dropped to 3.8 yards per carry and was never the same. In today’s NFL, he would have played to the end of his rookie contract and earned little compared to his value to the team. Barry Foster had 390 carries in his third season, then got hurt, and never made it past five seasons. Terrell Davis blew out his knee in his fifth season. Gerald Riggs had 1,093 carries for the Falcons from age 24 to 26, and never had more than 203 in a season after that. Larry Johnson had 416 carries in year 4 in the league, the same as CJ this year, and then was done.”

It kind of puts things in perspective about running backs. One thing I will counter that argument with is how the style of Johnson isn’t as physical as the players on that list. Most football fans know that Earl Campbell was a human wrecking ball and Terrell Davis had bad knees to begin with. CJ’s style is more of the quick and elusive types that don’t take on as much visceral damage as most running backs do. He has the speed and finesse to stay out of harms way on most occasions. He is only 5’11 181 pounds for goodness sakes and knows that his meal ticket isn’t trying to run over guys as much as it is to run around them. So I believe he will be able to sustain a longer than average career at his position for that reason alone.

Samari Rolle

Another equally interesting facet of this is that the Titans also haven’t been this embroiled into a contract dispute since 1997’s Samari Rolle holdout. He missed organized workouts in May and then left the team for several days near the end of training camp as he sought a long-term contract. It was less than a week after he rejoined the team that he signed a six-year, $37.5 million deal. So this isn’t uncharted territory for the Titans even though that was back in ’97 when Floyd Reese was the GM and Jeff Fisher the coach, not incumbents Mike Reinfeldt at GM and Coach Mike Munchak. Johnson wants a deal reportedly north of $30 million dollars and has seen the recent deals awarded to running backs such as Deangelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers, Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville and Steven Jackson of St. Louis, All of these players have received compensation of at least $30 million and none of those players have had the success that Johnson has had.

As an illustration take a look below:

Johnson ran for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season after his 2,006-yard, 14-touchdown 2009 campaign. In just three NFL seasons, Johnson has racked up over 5,500 all-purpose yards and 38 touchdowns.

He has made three straight Pro Bowls and was named the offensive player of the year by The Associated Press in 2009.

Became the sixth player to ever rush of 2,000 yards in a season

So this goes back to the point that Johnson has clearly outplayed his rookie contract but in the defense of Tennessee, it’s only so much they can do. The league only allows a 30-percent limit on how much a player's base salary can increase from one season to the next. Tennessee could restructure a deal with guaranteed signing bonus money at the risk of what would amount into a front loaded guaranteed deal upwards of $40 million. In other words that isn’t happening as it would restrict the Titans cap flexibility over the upcoming years.

In summarizing, there are no real bad guys in this situation, its just business for both sides. Johnson is at the peak of his career and deserves a new deal after outplaying his rookie contract. As we have already discussed, the short life of a RB in the NFL has been well chronicled. Johnson knows that this is his opportunity to cash in before things could change in the future. The Titans know that no matter what Johnson does, they still have under contract for another two year and could possibly franchise him for a third. They also know the history of RBs with the type of work load that Johnson has had in his first few years could eventually wear him down. Of course they would love their best player in camp to start the transition from the Jeff Fisher/Vince Young era and to give new QB Matt Hasselbeck the ultimate weapon but due to the league’s salary limitations, they are hamstrung on making a significant offer to Johnson that wouldn’t hinder there future cap space. This one has the makings of a doozy but eventually one side will have to cave and more than likely it will be Johnson. He still has two years left on his contract and can’t do much besides sit out the whole season, which would be detrimental to him as well as he would lose his free-agent accrual by one year.

I predict a deal will get done by the end of pre-season and Johnson will be available by the first regular season game. I just can’t fathom Johnson sitting out an entire season of football. He and the Titans will get a deal done but each day he misses only will make things worse in Nashville. The Titans run the risk of alienating Johnson to the point of no return i.e. Carson Palmer and the Bengals. Stay tuned as the saga is sure to grip all of Titans nation for the rest of the summer.

Palmer has vowed to never play again for the Bengals.

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