The art of any negotiation is knowing when to flinch. In the case of Larry Johnson vs. the Kansas…
Larry Johnson will not be a Chief in 2007.
How do I know this? I guess, technically, I don't. It's just a hunch. I realize there's been little to no news concerning LJ's contract negotiations recently. But if you take stock of the events that have passed of late and mix them with what seems like a gag order at One Arrowhead Drive concerning Johnson's contract, the truth seems clear.
The Chiefs can't afford Larry Johnson. Signing him to the largest contract in team history is a huge step for a franchise in transition, and Carl Peterson and company simply aren't willing to take such a gigantic leap of faith.
The time to act has passed. The right time to sign Johnson was weeks ago, before he went public in the Kansas City Star about his intentions to hold out (way to play your trump card early there, LJ).
By waiting, the Chiefs allowed the Colts an opportunity to ink Dwight Freeney to a massive contract which only further weakens their position in negotiations with Johnson. Freeney received $72 million and $30 million in guaranteed money. As Star columnist Jason Whitlock so aptly pointed out, that deal should make dollar signs light up on LJ's pupils.
And now Detroit's Cory Redding has received a deal comparable to the one Trent Green signed in 2003, with $16 million guaranteed and almost $50 million over the life of the contract? All this for a player who, so far, is nothing more than a one-year wonder on the NFL's 28th-ranked defense? The Chiefs have missed the boat.
Not only that, they're still standing at the dock and haven't even booked tickets for the next one. According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Chiefs took the past week off from negotiations for a "vacation."
For what reason? Training camp is right around the corner. This isn't the time for KC's front office to dig their toes in the sand and sip Piña Coladas. The sooner this deal gets done, the better. Unless, of course, the Chiefs took a week off for another purpose.
The Packers have been mentioned as a trade partner in a potential exchange for Johnson all offseason long. Did the Chiefs take a week off to talk turkey with Green Bay GM Ted Thompson?
It makes sense. The timing of Freeney's new deal and Carl's "vacation" are eerily coincidental. One could argue the Chiefs saw the Colts throw a giant suitcase of money at their star defensive end, lost their nerve and threw up their hands. Did they move to Plan B?
As I said back in April, this is an intimidating situation for the Chiefs. Giving Johnson a mountain of money lets them into the NFL "big boys" club. They'll move into the same metaphorical "tax bracket" as the Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons, teams that rewarded their superstars with gigantic, trendsetting contracts. This is a situation Kansas City really hasn't had to deal with before.
Sure, they signed Derrick Thomas to a seven-year contract in 1997 that made him the highest-paid defender in the NFL, but that was a different team. The Chiefs were contending for division championships at the time, and wound up as the AFC's top seed that year. Not signing the face of the franchise – heck, the town – would have led to fan mutiny. It would be like the Colts dumping Peyton Manning today.
This Chiefs team is in no such position. As great as he is, the fan base isn't exactly in love with Johnson the way they were with Thomas. For a team that won't contend for the Super Bowl this year, trading LJ is a move most fans will forgive.
Maybe I'm way out of line with all this. I guess it's possible the Chiefs are just taking their sweet time and making Johnson sweat it out. After all, they do hold most of the cards in this poker game.
But if that's the case, why is Derrick Johnson, not Larry, plastered all over a banner promoting seasons tickets on KcChiefs.com?
I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but I can't shake the feeling that Johnson's ticket out of town is all but stamped.
Do the Chiefs care more about money, or about winning?
We're about to find out.
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