When we presented “The Case For Larry” two weeks ago, fans spoke out in favor of Johnson, who soon thereafter went public (through his agent) with his newfound love for Chiefs football. Coincidence? We’re not that naïve. There's no reason to doubt the sincerity of Johnson's statement, but it’s rather idealistic to dream about a world where Larry Johnson skips through green meadows, arm in arm with his fans.
The Chiefs themselves, apparently, are also not that naïve. They went ahead with “The Case Against Larry,” and won. Three days have passed since the courts ruled against the accused in “The Kansas City Chiefs vs. Larry Johnson.” But despite speculation that he might be immediately released by the team in such an event, Johnson remains on the roster. Will he stick?
We have to assume the relationship is far from mended. By going after his money, the Chiefs have made it clear – they are through playing games (metaphorical ones, at least for now) with Larry Johnson. But what exactly does that mean? And what would really be best for everyone involved?
Let’s examine the first question. Absolutely, unequivocally, even if some don’t like it, this appears to be Johnson’s last chance to flourish as a Chief and end his career in Kansas City on a high note. Any more suspensions or nighttime altercations, and there would be no reason to keep LJ around. It simply wouldn’t be worth it.
Of course there is more to this than simply what Johnson does off the field. Limited mileage or not, we can’t ignore the fact that he will turn 30 this November. If he can’t carry the load, average at least four yards per carry and reach the end zone consistently in Todd Haley’s new offense, there really would be no reason to keep LJ around. It simply wouldn’t be worth it.
But let’s assume for a minute that A)Larry takes up bingo as a new evening pastime and B) can continue to produce at a level appropriate to his contract. Before we explore the ramifications of that assumption, allow me to explain the usage of the term “continue.”
There are some people who believe Johnson is washed up, that Herm Edwards squeezed the last blood out of that rock in 2006. Those people are wrong. There was proof on the field last season, even though Johnson produced only 874 yards rushing.
“Washed up” running backs don’t average 4.5 yards per carry behind Rudy “M.D.” Niswanger, Adrian “Thanks, Herm!” Jones and Damion “Thanks, Carl!” McIntosh. It’s simply not logical, at any level, and we really don’t even need to get into the absurd way LJ was under-used in the “Pistol” offense. If the Chargers can commit to LaDainian “3.8 yards per carry” Tomlinson after 2,657 career carries, then it makes complete sense for the Chiefs to at least keep featuring Johnson after 1,243 carries.
So yes, continue is the appropriate word. With the way he bounced back from his 2007 foot injury last season, we have no reason to believe Johnson can’t produce at an acceptable level in an offense being constructed by a former championship-level offensive coordinator (Haley).
Now that we’ve cleared that mess up (the anti-LJ faction can send grumbles to email@example.com, because we love a good sideshow, especially in April), let’s go back to our assumption. What if Johnson is capable of rendering KC vs LJ a moot point?
How about a full acquittal?
A productive, happy Larry Johnson has a place in Kansas City, especially on a rebuilding football team. With as many holes as the Chiefs have on the roster at the moment, does it really make sense to create another one? There are no other legitimate starting running back candidates on the roster, unless Jamaal Charles suddenly becomes Clinton Portis, or Kolby Smith develops the ability to pick a hole at the line of scrimmage.
What if the Chiefs can get something in trade for Johnson? Would it be worth it? Perhaps, but only if that draft pick (or picks) brings a replacement. However, we can’t really doubt Scott Pioli’s draft prowess at this point. No one would say no to a younger, cheaper option in the backfield. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be a great year to pick up a running back.
Is it the right year to dump one? We’ll find out in the coming months, as KC vs LJ draws to a close.