The Debate is Over and Johnson Wins

This off-season the Kansas City Chiefs made a decision one that was a familiar debate in the 90's when they let Rich Gannon sign with the Oakland Raiders and they kept Elvis Grbac. This time the team made the right choice in keeping running back Larry Johnson over Derrick Blaylock.

We should all be thanking the New York Jets. In March, the Jets did the Kansas City Chiefs a huge solid by signing running back Derrick Blaylock to a five-year, $11.2 million deal. Thus this brief debate between Larry Johnson vs. Derrick Blaylock ended before it hit a full head of steam. Blaylock got the contract he wanted and deserved for a back-up. The Chiefs got the better running back, and based on the money Blaylock raked in, the better bargain.

Seven months ago, those statements would have seemed, well, foolish. In November 2004, Johnson was two months removed from Diaper Gate. He did not play in the first six games and had one carry through the first seven.

After serving as an emergency replacement for Priest Holmes in a 34-31 loss at Tampa Bay, Johnson racked up two more DNP's in Weeks 10 and 11. Eleven carries, 40 yards, four receptions, and 38 yards in 10 games. Not exactly Hall of Fame material. Heck, that's not even Ki-Jana Carter material.

If not for injuries to Holmes and Blaylock, Johnson might have been in the press box eating the nachos Priest craves.

Yep. The Chiefs can thank the Jets for taking a running back controversy off their hands. Carl Peterson can take credit for drafting Johnson and locking him up with a seven-year deal worth a little more than $1 million per year. Not bad for a guy who ranked among the league's best over the last six weeks of the season.

The Chiefs cannot, however, take credit for "discovering" Johnson. After rotting on the bench for the better part of two years, knee injuries finally introduced LJ to coach Dick Vermeil.

Off came the diapers; on came the war paint, shoulder pads and helmet; out went the concern that the Chiefs didn't have a prayer without their Priest. Blaylock performed admirably while spelling Holmes and taking over momentarily after the nine-year veteran sprained ligaments in his knee, rushing for 539 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 25 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown in 12 games.

But Blaylock couldn't sustain the early success - notably a 186-yard outing at New Orleans and a four-touchdown explosion against Atlanta. Ultimately, a deep thigh bruise and knee injury gave Johnson the opening he needed.

It didn't help Blaylock's cause that the Chiefs had little to play for two-thirds of the way into the season. Playing Johnson more was a gamble the team could afford - and needed - to take.

Once Johnson hit his stride; it became apparent that the Chiefs had rolled sevens. In Week 13 against Oakland, the Diaper Dandy piled up 174 total yards and a pair of scores. One week later, he had 123 yards and two touchdowns on just nine touches.

Johnson exploded the following week with Blaylock on the sideline and Holmes in cozy suite munching on concessions. He had 151 yards and two TD's against Denver in a 45-17 rout, added 122 total yards and two touchdowns against Oakland in Week 16 and finished off the year with 161 yards and three scores at San Diego.

In just five games, LJ accumulated 541 rushing yards, 240 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns - Holmes-like numbers.

Against Denver, Johnson proved just how much he wanted to play, a passion some questioned during his first year and a half with the team.

"He's a big, strong guy. We were going to take him out at one time," said Vermeil, "and he asked if he could stay a series or two more, so we let him stay in."

The Chiefs had a choice to make this offseason. They know Holmes is coming back, probably for one last season. The also know he can be injured at any time. So it came down to Johnson or Blaylock. They couldn't keep both and get the help the needed on defense.

Their options at running back?

Pay Blaylock $2 million a year - the market for a steady 25-year-old back - or keep Johnson - a 25-year-old star-in-the-making - at $1 million.

Better numbers, fewer dollars and more production from LJ? Not much of a debate there.

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