NASHVILLE -- Chris Johnson has said this is where he wants to be. And on Wednesday he was indeed with Titans officials in Nashville.
But he's no closer to wearing the uniform now than he was before arriving in the city Tuesday night.
At this point, the Titans and Johnson have fundamental disagreements, significant ones at that, on just about every aspect of a potential new contract. The worst sign, at this point, might be that the feeling coming out of the meeting seemed to be one of resignation, not resentment. The two sides want their partnership to continue. They just can't make it work.
The Titans are on the record as saying they'd be willing to make Johnson the NFL's highest paid back. Trouble is, the numbers for Steven Jackson and DeAngelo Williams, the two players atop the market at the position, sit between $8 million and $9 million per year. And Larry Fitzgerald, who's about as valuable a skill-position player who doesn't take snaps can be, just checked in with a new deal at $15 million per.
Johnson has taken to being classified as a "playmaker" rather than a running back, and Fitzgerald's payday gave him every reason to stick to his feeling on that one.
But an even stronger motivator could be the position he plays.
Ten of the top 20 rushers on the all-time list came post-Emmitt Smith. Of that group, only Curtis Martin had more than eight 1,000-yard seasons, with 10. Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Corey Dillon and Ricky Watters all had seven, while Warrick Dunn and Shaun Alexander had just five.
So here's the point. Say Johnson does play out his five-year rookie contract. Say he posts two more huge seasons. At that point, he'll have exceeded quadruple digits five times. That's great, unless you're the team where he's seeking a long-term commitment. That club would have to be responsible and look at the above history in considering extending him. Then, the franchise tag could come into play in decision making.
You get the idea. Johnson's value will likely never be greater than it is right now, unless you count last season, when he was coming off a 2,000-yard campaign.
"CJ's the best back in the game," Titans fullback Ahmard Hall said. "He makes everybody's job that much easier. You go out there, you just have to get in front of your guy, get a good connection with your guy, and he's gone. Everybody's seen it around the nation."
Chances the Titans can bank on him being that guy for another three or four years? Pretty good. Chances they'll be able to count on him doing it for another three or four years in 2013, after his current deal expires, when he's going on 28 and has another 600-700 carries on his legs? Not nearly as good.
That's the key. To fork over $30-35 million guaranteed, it's important for a team that a player remain productive through three or four seasons, at the very least, and it's still very reasonable for the Titans to believe they'll get that much out of Johnson now, much moreso than it will be in 2013. So, as such, Johnson has to go get that now, which is what he's in the process of trying to do.
Every player's reason to hold out is different, of course. But it's difficult to blame a tailback for wanting to get paid. For most, the big set-yourself-up-for-life contract is the second one -- when the player is still young enough for the team to invest long-term, but old enough to have a track record.
Johnson has a track record of having asserted himself as a unique talent, with the ability to cover 40 yards in 4.24 seconds and transfer that speed and make it functional at a very high level on the field.
But also, given his position, it's easy to surmise that he's got a short shelf life.
That explains his commitment to get this thing done now, rather than later, and also his toying with the idea of holding out in 2010, before Tennessee agreed to throw incentives into the existing deal.
It's hard to blame Johnson. And, as such, it's just as hard to see an end in sight to this whole affair.