June 6, 2007. This is the day the water-cooler, message-board and radio-talk-show conversation…
What Will It Take To Sign Johnson?
In one corner you have LJ, who wants to be the highest-paid running back in the NFL. In his mind, Johnson is the second coming of the great Jim Brown. They have similar running styles, they love the life away from football and, even though they grew up in different eras, money was a contributing factor to the length of time each played and - in LJ's case - will play pro football. In the other corner is the tag team of Carl Peterson and Denny Thum. This dynamic duo is strong and unified. They are in charge of manipulating the salary cap to maintain a budget that allows the Chiefs to spend money when they have to and conserve it when they need to. They are in the business of negotiating contracts that favor the organization. Generally, they win these matches. In March, the Chiefs began contract talks with Johnson's young NFL agent, Alvin Keels. He's an entertainment guy who's trying to get his foot in the sports world. When Keels first approached the Chiefs he presented an eight-year contract worth $80 million with $35 million in guarantees. Kansas City came back with an offer containing somewhere around $12 million in guaranteed money. That wasn't the same money that Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander received after he threatened to hold out, but it was close enough to make their point. Keels balked at the offer, but came down to $28 million. The Chiefs then slid up to $14 million. Since then, Johnson and Keels have come down to $26 million and the line in the sand is now drawn. The two sides stand that far apart after months of dancing, and are coming to the realization that this contract is hardly any closer to getting done than it was when talks began. Over the next few days a few more proposals will be exchanged, but this situation could get ugly before it's resolved. The problem facing the Chiefs is really two-fold. They know they need Larry Johnson if they want to win more games than they lose in 2007. But Johnson turns 28 this season. He might only have three more seasons before his body can't deliver the same results it has. But despite that fact the Chiefs are willing to make Johnson a rich man. But that might not be enough for LJ, who has proven himself as one of the top backs in the NFL. Regardless of what he desires, the problem facing Johnson and Keels is that the best contract offer they'll receive will come this Wednesday. At that point the Chiefs will play hardball. Johnson will have to decide if he can live with losing $14,000 a day in fines and a portion of his signing bonus. In all, he could lose over $650,000 if his holdout goes into the regular season. But the other issue at hand is that the Chiefs, as the holdout rages on, will reduce the guaranteed money they offer in an effort to get Johnson chasing a deal that is far better for the team than their starting running back. Johnson has really no options in this deal. If he holds out, he'll lose. If he accepts a contract lower than $25 million in guaranteed dollars, he'll be bitter about it. Those feelings could linger into the season and through the balance of the agreement, because the Chiefs didn't meet his initial demands off the bat. So what happens if the Chiefs can't sign Johnson? Can a trade be worked out? To date the Green Bay Packers have gone from offering a third-round pick on draft day to a pair of draft picks this month, but that's not enough. It will take three first-day picks for the Chiefs to trade Johnson. The problem is nobody really believes Johnson is worth paying elite dollars. The fact that only the Packers have shown lukewarm interest in making a trade indicates there isn't a team out there willing to offer him LaDainian Tomlinson money. The Chiefs work in real numbers. They just gave tight end Tony Gonzalez an $18-million guarantee and I can't see Peterson give LJ a penny more. That's more than he's worth considering his life expectancy in the NFL. Some believe Johnson really isn't all that keen on Kansas City despite what he says publicly. He wants to play in a bigger market, but those teams aren't calling. In fact, they're shying away from him because in other NFL locker rooms, some players believe Johnson's attitude falls somewhere between Terrell Owens and Randy Moss. That means he's not a team guy. I've seen events in KC's locker room over the last two seasons that contradict that belief. But if he had a different reputation, perhaps he would be getting more interest around the NFL. So if he wants that to change, Johnson needs to work on his image in the next few days. If he truly wants to be a Chief, then he needs to act like it and honor his current contract, show up for training camp and tell his agent to get a deal done. Unfortunately, that probably won't happen.
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