It might seem silly to lead off a football column with a quote from a science-fiction film, but in this case, it's appropriate.
Cast GM Carl Peterson in the role of The Dark Lord. Larry Johnson is Lando Calrissian, and he's being treated unfairly.
If it's true that the best contract offer Johnson will receive came on Wednesday, before the Chiefs departed for River Falls, and if it's true that Peterson hasn't budged much from last week's reported offer of $14 million in guaranteed money, then it's clear something is just not right here. This is no way to treat the shining star of a franchise, especially after he carried an entire team on his back and into the playoffs a year ago.
Larry's initial demand in negotiations was reportedly $34 million in guaranteed money. While most scoffed at that number, it was a good starting point. Give Johnson and his agent, Alvin Keels, credit for playing ball with the Chiefs, and lowering their demands to a more reasonable figure - $25 million last we heard.
Meanwhile, according to Warpaint's Nick Athan, the Chiefs and Peterson started negotiations offering $12 million. If that's the case, they've barely budged an inch over the last few months.
And now we're hearing that KC's offer will decrease every day that Johnson holds out? Are the Chiefs insane? Do they not realize what Johnson means to this franchise, and how pitiful it might look this season without him carrying the load?
The Chiefs are juggling a ticking time bomb. It might just blow up in their face if they aren't careful. My recommendation? Defuse it immediately with fat stacks of cash.
As if all this wasn't enough, Wednesday's reports of Priest Holmes' return are the biggest slap in the face of all. The Chiefs act as if they've just secured an enormous bargaining chip, slapping Priest's mug right on the front of their website and using phrases like "he'll make a significant impact on the offensive side of the football."
In reality, it just makes them look pathetic. What's next – is Willie Roaf going to show up in Wisconsin to serve the team gumbo twice a day?
Holmes is no threat to Johnson's legacy. He's not a feature back, and won't elevate KC's Johnson-less platoon of running backs (featuring Michael "Hammy" Bennett and rookie Kolby Smith) to some kind of dynamite tag-team offensive force. Not after a year and a half away from the game, playing chess and munching on nachos.
One wonders how effective he'd even be in Herm Edwards' smash-mouth offense. I'm guessing he wouldn't last long running predominantly between the tackles, and 416 carries are certainly out of the question. Priest Holmes was a system back. Larry Johnson IS the system.
Holmes' best value to the Chiefs is as a third-down back, but would he really come back just to hurl himself in front of blitzing linebackers a few times a game? That's no way to treat a living Chiefs legend.
Likely, Holmes just wants to soak up the limelight of HBO's cameras in River Falls next month. The fans will welcome him with open arms. It'll be a good show.
But it's not appropriate. If Chiefs fans thought Trent Green was a distraction, Holmes' presence in River Falls will hang like a giant neon sign over every practice. Is that really good for the team? I can't imagine Edwards would condone it.
Furthermore, Johnson has done everything asked of him. It would have been simple for him to demand a new contract last offseason, but he acted like a team player. He's given the Chiefs the best years of his life – and can still give them more. They just need to show him a little loyalty – you know, the kind they showed Holmes by bankrolling his vacation over the last year and a half?
If Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu, a safety, is worth $15 million in guaranteed money, Johnson, the league's second-best running back, is worth at least that and just a little bit more. It's only fair. Unless, of course, the Chiefs aren't really interested in competing with teams like the Steelers. In that case, freeze LJ in a slab of carbonite and ship him off to Green Bay (wouldn't a Johnson/Chiefs showdown make for interesting drama on Nov. 4 when the Packers visit Kansas City?).
It's time to end this game. A season – and a franchise - is at stake.
Johnson and Keels have done their part. It's time for Darth Carl and the Chiefs – and team owner Clark Hunt – to do their part, and meet halfway.
June 6, 2007. This is the day the water-cooler, message-board and radio-talk-show conversation…