Is the Tennessee Titans' season really going to be over before it even begins?
The possibility is at least worth considering.
The Titans' best player is embroiled in what is shaping up as a contract dispute with no hope for resolution. Their quarterback was involved in what, at the minimum, is an embarrassing incident.
For the time being, the Titans are without Chris Johnson, who is staying away from their minicamp, and perhaps without a leader, a part of Vince Young's role that might very well have been squandered when he received a misdemeanor assault citation at a Dallas strip club early Sunday.
Johnson has a legitimate beef with his salary, but he's seeking the sort of increase that he has virtually no hope of receiving from the Titans. Coach Jeff Fisher has said that he wants a meeting with Johnson designed to clear the air, but unless that session includes serious talk about the NFL's 2009 rushing leader receiving a contract in the neighborhood of $40 million, it isn't likely to last very long.
That is, if it happens at all.
Johnson could very well stage a season-long holdout. If he does, the Titans will be without the one player who gives them their best chance to compete in the highly competitive AFC South. Meanwhile, he won't be paid and would lose a year he'll never get back while a fresh class of running backs enters the league.
Johnson could very well decide to play for his current deal, which is due to pay him more than $500,000. But he almost certainly would do so under protest, and likely make himself a disruptive force. His own performance could suffer in the process.
Young's situation is troubling on multiple levels.
» One, he is clearly aware of the extremely dim view that commissioner Roger Goodell takes of players who behave badly. Young just saw what happened to fellow quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose involvement in a sexual-assault case didn't result in charges but was strong enough for him to be suspended. Unlike Roethlisberger, Young is in trouble with the law for the first time, which probably will keep him from receiving a suspension. Like Roethlisberger, he is, at a minimum, guilty of poor judgment.
» Two, Young is supposed to be making his case to Fisher that he truly is more mature than he was in the first game of the 2008 season, when he experienced a meltdown while hearing the wrath of the hometown fans for throwing two interceptions and opened the door for Kerry Collins to be the starter the rest of the year. After winning the job back last season, Young presumably set the stage to solidify his No. 1 status. This incident has the potential to cause a setback.
» Three, although Young has publicly apologized to his teammates, coaches, and fans, he felt the need to reveal to reporters that a "friend" talked him into going to the strip club. That isn't how a leader handles himself, even when trying to explain a misdeed. Young did take responsibility for his actions, but he should have left it at that.
Young can rebound from his transgression. But you have to wonder if he genuinely understands his role. You have to wonder just how much he embraces the idea of being a primary representative of the franchise.
Hunt's pioneer story to be penned
Few owners of professional sports franchises lend themselves to being interesting book topics. Fans typically see them as the boring "suits" whom they prefer to simply finance the entertainment they receive from the action on the field and remain in the background.
But there are exceptions.
One is late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who established himself as a sporting pioneer. He is best known as the founder of the American Football League, but he also was responsible for naming the NFL championship game the Super Bowl, being the driving force behind the AFL-NFL merger, and ushering in professional soccer and tennis.
Thanks to his surviving family members who still operate the team, an official Hunt biography is in the works. It is being written by renowned author Michael MacCambridge, who is a natural choice. While researching his highly acclaimed "America's Game," the definitive history of professional football, MacCambridge spent more than 25 hours interviewing Hunt. He considers him a catalyst not only for the growth of pro football but also for the post-1950s expansion of all pro spectator sports South of the Mason-Dixon Line and West of the Mississippi River.
"He really detonated the push West and the push South," MacCambridge said. "When you take a look at the measure of his life, you've got somebody who just loved the notion and the idea of spectator sports and envisioned it as a much more central role in American culture. And when you look at what spectator sports has become, this glue in American popular culture, you can't tell that story without looking at Lamar Hunt's impact."
MacCambridge said he expects to complete the book in the fall of 2011.
» Given that the Pittsburgh Steelers will play at least a quarter of their season without Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu has reason to expect the team to feature the core elements whose absence he felt cost them dearly last season -- a dominant defense and a strong running game.
» Good news for the Chiefs: They might not have to place all of their offensive eggs in Matt Cassel's basket after all. So far, reserve quarterback Brodie Croyle has managed to turn heads with his performance during offseason workouts. New offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is getting a great deal of the credit.
» Although free-agent running back Brian Westbrook would seemingly be a natural fit with former Philadelphia Eagles teammate Donovan McNabb in Washington, don't expect the Redskins to bring him aboard. Westbrook's concussion history seems to be discouraging the Redskins and other potential employers from acquiring him. Besides, Washington already has an abundance of aging backs.
» Maybe, just maybe, the Carolina Panthers finally have found the big-play complement to No. 1 receiver Steve Smith for whom they've seemingly been searching forever. He is rookie Brandon LaFell, their third-round draft pick from LSU who has been making the most of the ample opportunity he has gotten in offseason workouts to secure that role.