There is no doubt this situation must be addressed. It's just a matter a how "big," big is. Players of Johnson's caliber and pedigree don't play for $800,000 per season, especially at a position as demanding as running back.
The Titans have to know as much, too. This situation calls out for more than a one-year band-aid. That won't work two years in a row. Now, I'm not saying you go out and a give a running back the $30 million guaranteed Johnson has talked about in the past. At the same time, there's no way something like the $8 million guaranteed Jamaal Charles got upfront is going to get it done, either.
Maybe there is a way to do something in the guaranteed range of $16-$20 million for three or four years, with an average of about $7 million per season. The Titans would be buying Johnson's most productive years and, if for any reason they have to release him with a year or so left on the deal, then so be it.
CJ2PAY is what I'm going to call Chris Johnson in this debate, because he needs to be shown the money. First off, he's earned it. CJ2PAY out-performed his rookie deal and arguably is the best running back in the NFL (although Adrian Peterson is my choice).
The successful teams tend to reward over-performance and get ahead of the game in locking down their core players. The longer they wait, the more contentious things become. Instead of focusing on winning championships, individual priorities disrupt chemistry.
Other players in the locker room also pay attention to how teams treat their stars. If teams don't handle things professionally, other players project how they'll be treated and some start planning exit strategies. That's why it's important that Tennessee do right by Johnson.
Johnson is the Titans' franchise player. Within four seconds, name another player on the Titans off the top of your head? Jake Locker, maybe? He hasn't taken a snap. Who else? Kenny Britt? Cortland Finnegan? I'd venture you had to go through a mental rolodex before they popped into your head.
Other than Johnson, there are no other real weapons on offense. He's where their bread is buttered. The Vikings should be re-tooling Peterson's contract once the lockout ends, and maybe the Titans are waiting for that to set the market. There's no need to do that, though. Tennessee should understand Johnson's value and take care of him.
As big of a deal as it might seem like now, two years from now it probably will seem like a bargain.
Whether they like it or not, the Titans have to pay Chris Johnson big money. Consider C.J. Spiller saw $3.7 million in his first season between bonuses and salary and never did a thing, while Johnson has 5,606 total yards from scrimmage and 38 touchdowns over the past three seasons. Plus, Johnson is scheduled to make $800,000 this season. He needs to be working off the Jamaal Charles deal, which averages $5.8 million during the first three years, or more reasonably the Maurice Jones-Drew deal that averages $8.5 million over the first three years. Johnson is going to be 26 this September and should play another four years.
Yes, and it's because they'll have to. I believe Chris Johnson is willing to sit and wait for the right deal, and it's hard to begrudge any tailback -- with the short shelf lives they have -- staging such a holdout.
The Titans need Johnson for the same reason they need the troubled Kenny Britt. It's simple: On a team without a lot of high-end talent, Johnson is elite. Like with any workhorse, long-term viability is an issue, and the 674 carries Tennessee has put on his 191-pound frame the last two seasons is reason to wonder how long No. 28 can hold up, even if he is elusive enough to avoid the big hit in a Barry Sanders kind of end.
Ultimately, Johnson can help the new staff control the pace of games and aid in the development of Jake Locker simply by taking the burden of carrying the offense off of the rookie QB (ask Sam Bradford how much Steven Jackson's presence helped him). Since Johnson will just turn 26 in September, he could wind up being a major cog if and when Tennessee's retooling effort starts to turn the corner.
Ordinarily, I'm not a big believer in tying up a great deal of money in a running back. We have debated ad nauseam about how the position has been devalued, that the best production is split among up to three ball carriers, yada, yada, yada. However, there are the special ones. The ones who can change games and keep defenses thinking about how to stop or limit them, even in weeks when they are not on the schedule. Chris Johnson is one of those backs, and until the Titans develop a quarterback that can be the focal point of the offense, then CJ2K is the offense for Tennessee. Pay for play, pay for excitement, pay for a chance to win.
The Titans are going to need better PR advice than what LeBron James got before he announced his "Decision," because whether the fans in Nashville like it or not, Tennessee can't break the bank to keep Chris Johnson.
Let me be the 4,879,203rd person to point out that the NFL is now a passing league. Johnson is a running back. A great one, maybe, but also one who's slightly built. His greatest virtue is his raw speed, so when that starts to diminish, he's done. When will that be? History says fairly soon. I know, I know: I'm a cynic, but the odds are long that he'll ever come anywhere close to repeating his 2009 season.
It gets tough, though, if Johnson goes for, say, 1,700 yards, 15 touchdowns and the Titans collectively exceed the very limited expectations people have for them in 2011. Then the team would be morally obliged to pay Johnson his asking price. In other words, it's the "Police Academy Effect:" The people involved didn't actually want to keep making those six sequels, but the movies kept doing too well to stop. Same goes for Tennessee: If Johnson has a great season, the Titans will have to give him whatever he wants even though they know they'll look bad in the long run for doing so.
This should be a pretty good indication of why the NFL needs a rookie wage scale, because under the NFL's antiquated rules Jake Locker figures to make more money than Chris Johnson this season. Hopefully that will change.
Johnson is set to make $800,000 next season. That just doesn't seem like enough. I understand that investing in running backs can be as shaky as putting your money in Las Vegas real estate, but what choice do the Titans have? Vince Young was a bad investment. Kenny Britt is engaging in the weirdest offseason training ritual I can remember. The Titans need to reward the one guy who fans can count on.
I mean, congratulations on passing on Albert Haynesworth, feel free to splurge on Johnson.