Tennessee Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said Thursday that he's ready to make Chris Johnson the highest-paid running back in NFL history. All Johnson must do is show up to training camp so they can finalize the deal.
Reinfeldt told The Associated Press on Thursday that Johnson's agent, Joel Segal, was the first person the Titans called once the NFL lockout was lifted last month. The Titans reworked Johnson's contract a year ago to give him more money in 2010 and promised to talk to him again one year later.
But the Titans want Johnson in training camp before completing a new extension.
"Even though he has two years left on his contract, we'd like him to go in," Reinfeldt said. "He could go to meetings, get to know the new coaches, he can learn the scheme. He doesn't have to practice, but it's something we want to get done.
"Again, we're willing to make him the highest-paid running back in the history of the NFL. That's kind of where we are."
All that's news to Johnson.
"I am surprised at (Mike) Reinfeldt's statement about offering to make me the highest-paid running back," Johnson, who has missed 11 days of training camp during the holdout, told The Tennessean.
Reinfeldt said the sides already have discussed the framework of a new deal, and the team believes the extension could be wrapped up in a couple of weeks.
But Johnson told the newspaper that "neither me nor Joel have received any offer from the Titans at all." Johnson also said he's in great shape, "but I have to take care of business first."
Segal wasn't immediately available for comment. He has declined to comment in the past.
Johnson has refused to report to the Titans until he receives a new contract, although he did participate in a two-day player-organized minicamp in June. Johnson mentioned last year that he'd like $30 million guaranteed in his new deal. He's due more than $1 million instead of the $850,000 originally scheduled, thanks to the Titans' revisions last season.
In comparison, the Carolina Panthers recently gave DeAngelo Williams a five-year deal valued at $43 million with $21 million guaranteed. Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings is in the final season of his original five-year contract and will receive more than $10 million this season. Steven Jackson received a six-year deal worth $44 million with more than $20 million in bonuses from the St. Louis Rams in August 2008.
But Johnson, the 24th overall draft pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, has more rushing yards (4,598) than any other running back in the NFL over the past three years. In 2009 he became the sixth player in league history to run for at least 2,000 yards. Johnson also is a three-time Pro Bowl pick.
Johnson's holdout has been a hot topic among fans since training camp opened July 29. Some have called the Titans cheap on talk radio, Twitter and message boards for not paying Johnson what he wants. Others point out Johnson is under contract and should show up.
Titans officials generally don't publicly talk about contract negotiations, and they never confirm salary information. Reinfeldt said they don't want to poison any relationships.
"The reality is you hope those players are with you for 10 years, and what you don't want to do is destroy a 10-year relationship over a two-week contract negotiation," Reinfeldt said. "People get upset at some point, we all come back, we're all family.'
Reinfeldt was in the Seattle Seahawks' front office when left tackle Walter Jones held out for all of training camp, reported on the Friday before the team's season opener, then started all 16 games and earned a Pro Bowl berth. But Reinfeldt said the Titans' new coaching staff is the key reason why Johnson should report.
"With his position, it's important he's here meeting people," Reinfeldt said. "I don't think he needs to carry the ball 30 times in the preseason to be ready for the regular season. For a running back, it's more important he's here to learn his teammates and learn the offense. Beyond practice time, he's got the natural ability."
Titans fullback Ahmard Hall was excited to hear of Reinfeldt's comments. Hall said he talked to Johnson two days ago and planned to call him Thursday night, thinking this latest development will give the running back incentive to come to Nashville.
"I think he'll come in," Hall said. "As long as they're expressing they're willing to give him something, I think he'll come on in."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.