The Tennessee Titans and their star running back, Chris Johnson continue to squabble over his contract, and that has now apparently cost him a year in terms of free agency eligibility. According to ESPN, Johnson failed to report to Titans camp on Tuesday, which means that he missed the chance to accrue a year of service time toward becoming a free agent. This is a sticky situation that doesn’t have a clear black-and-white solution as far as I can see.
On one hand, Johnson is under contract and would have become a free agent after two more seasons. Generally, athletes look pretty childish when they hold out and often find their performance suffering as a result. Certainly, Johnson wasn’t as productive last year after holding out in camp and receiving a small salary increase, but who knows for sure if the late start contributed to his reduced numbers? One line of thinking is that players should just honor their contracts, do their best and reap the rewards later on the open market.
On the other hand, though, running backs don’t have very many prime years, and one hit can pretty much end a career. Johnson is at his best right now, or he may have even peaked in 2009. He routinely carries the ball more than 300 times per season, and that kind of pounding will diminish even the best-conditioned athlete after a while. In that light, it’s hard to blame him for trying to turn his most productive seasons into his most lucrative seasons, too. Add in the fact that players can be cut, without pay, at any time, and Johnson’s case becomes even stronger.
In the end, I think the Titans really need to redo Johnson’s contract right now, try to get him locked up through his prime years and get him in camp yesterday. The team already set a precedent by giving him a bonus last year in order to entice him into camp, so there is no reason for him to expect to be playing for his 900K salary this time around. If I were a Titans fan, I’d be pretty nervous about this team without Johnson, and I might be camping out on Bud Adams’ doorstep with my picket sign.
Of course, as a Colts fan, the longer Johnson holds out, the better it is for my team. Go Bud!