The Tennessee Titans were able to effectively placate star running back Chris Johnson last year and entice him to report for the 2010 season by adding an additional $1.5 million to his $500,000 base salary.
The situation will come to a head again this summer whenever the NFL lockout ends, and the solution is bound to be more complex.
Johnson, set to receive just $800,000 in 2011, is preparing for a much more prolonged holdout if need be and remains committed to joining the game's highest-paid running backs, according to those who have been in contact with him.
The idea of another "band-aid" deal, after three highly productive seasons, isn't appealing to Johnson, and a contract in the range of the $5 million per season extension that Jamaal Charles signed with the Kansas City Chiefs last season isn't what he's thinking, either.
Johnson has talked in the past about wanting to join the ranks of those garnering $30 million in guaranteed money, and if the free-agent cash begins flying around in a furious manner post-lockout, don't expect his desire to wane.
Johnson is signed through 2012 on his rookie contract, and although that deal doesn't provide fiscal leverage, his presence is imperative to the Titans' offense. Tennessee is in a tricky spot, with quarterback Vince Young departing and rookie Jake Locker perhaps in line to start right away despite losing all offseason to the lockout. And top wide receiver Kenny Britt has had off-the-field trouble throughout the offseason, making Mike Munchak's first year as coach already more unusual than anyone would expect as he steps in for the departed Jeff Fisher.
All those subplots could hang over the Titans entering training camp, but Johnson's situation would be paramount among them. This impasse has the potential to rival cornerback Darrelle Revis' protracted standoff with the New York Jets last summer unless the sides can agree to a compromise soon after the lockout. It's difficult to envision a running back of Johnson's stature playing for less than $1 million per season.
Eventually, the sides will have to find common ground on more than a year-by-year basis. Perhaps they can find a two- or three-year solution, with guaranteed money on the front end, to bridge the gap. Regardless, whenever the lockout ends, expect this dance between Johnson and his employers to be renewed.
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