Chris Johnson, who joined an elite and select group of running backs in the 2,000-yard club last season, wants a new deal that will pay him like the difference-maker he is. The Titans, however, are shackled by the 30 percent rule in what they could give to Johnson, even if they were willing to rework his deal.
Johnson has a legitimate gripe as the $550,000 he’s slated to make this year is nowhere close to his production. He’s certainly the best player in Tennessee, is a top-three (at least) running back, and could even be considered one of the best overall players in the entire league.
However, aside from the fact that the Titans offense would struggle mightily without him, Johnson has no leverage in his cold war with the Titans.
He still has three years left on his rookie deal, and the owners are very shaky about giving anyone a new contract — regardless of talent or status — due to the uncertainty surrounding the labor talks.
Bud Adams is certainly no exception to that and doesn’t want to be stuck paying Johnson a ton of money in 2011 if the owners decide they’re going to lockout.
As I said, Johnson could hold out and watch the Titans struggle without him, but that presents a few very, very big problems for CJ2K.
First of all, if he’s unhappy with the $550,000 he’s slated to make, he’ll be a whole lot less happy when the Titans fine him into the poorhouse. He can be fined an astronomical amount for every day of mandatory minicamp and training camp he misses, and can be fined even more for games, as well as being suspended without pay.
Secondly, sitting out an entire season would be the NFL’s equivalent of a redshirt season. He would not earn a year towards becoming a free agent, and would have to wait even longer for that second big contract. In order not to lose a year of eligibility, he would have to play in at least six games.
Thirdly, it’s going to send a very bad message to the guys in the locker room with you. Players usually try to separate business from personal and team matters, but sitting out an entire year is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way and it could cause him to be alienated by the team altogether.
Right now, Johnson is in a lose-lose. He’s vastly underpaid and understands that NFL players, especially running backs, have a very short window to make as much money as possible. Were he to play in 2010 under such a minimal contract and suffer a career-ending injury, it puts him in an enormous bind for the rest of his life.
But it’s looking like that’s going to have to be a chance he takes — whether he wants to or not.
Perhaps once things are settled with the CBA the Titans would be more willing to sit down and talk with him, but I don’t see it happening anytime before that. His best bet would be to play out this season, play well, and go at them again next offseason.
Then, he’ll at least have the majority of the Tennessee fanbase behind him after showing he’s willing to compromise and play one more year on a contract that everyone can see he outplayed the first time he took the field.
It’s certainly a sticky situation as both sides have legitimate arguments, but Johnson is fighting a battle he has absolutely no chance of winning.