Don't Believe The LJ Hype

Nothing gets Chiefs fans worked up like trade rumors surrounding running back Larry Johnson.

If I had a dime for every time someone has called Johnson a "malcontent" or a "locker room cancer," or stated that he hates Kansas City and wants to play on the east coast, I'd probably have amassed riches approaching the value of his upcoming contract.

So when Warpaint Illustrated's Nick Athan reported on Friday that the Chiefs are seriously shopping Johnson around the league, the resulting fallout among fans was both predictable and discouraging.

Why are people so quick to cast aside the finest player this franchise has seen since Derrick Thomas? It's almost like Chiefs fans don't feel they're entitled to a player with Johnson's talent.

Fortunately, I think there's very little chance of LJ being shipped out of town anytime soon. The whole idea that General Manager Carl Peterson would dump one of his greatest draft picks in the prime of his career is completely ridiculous.

Let's examine the facts.

Is Johnson a malcontent? No. As Athan reported Friday, Johnson is working out with the team, has not threatened a holdout and hasn't demanded a trade (unlike some other players).

Why is it seemingly impossible for Johnson to shake this "cancer" label? Some people simply can't forgive or forget the past. LJ's 2003 domestic incident may end up haunting his entire career – even if he continues to keep his nose clean, as he's done since his rookie season.

Compared to a legitimate cancer like Baltimore's Willis McGahee, Johnson is an angel. Bills fans, almost across the board, despise their former running back for his behavior off the field, his lack of effort on the field and the way he shunned the city of Buffalo.

So far, Johnson hasn't come close to demonstrating any of these character flaws. He hasn't even disparaged Kansas City restaurants (I know you're reading, Steve).

The Chiefs aren't going to trade Johnson. As I pointed out before, he's one of Peterson's best draft picks. If you look at Carl's history with players like Thomas and Tony Gonzalez, he holds on to his biggest hits.

It took a coaching decision to get Donnie Edwards out of town, and Carl snapped him up via free agency as soon as he was available this offseason. I realize that Neil Smith wasn't re-signed in 1997 and left for Denver, but that was a money issue. The Chiefs have no other big superstar at the moment competing for money with Johnson, as Smith was with Thomas. Furthermore, the Chiefs' cap situation is in great shape, especially after the bargain contracts they wisely handed out in free agency this offseason.

Now look at the Priest Holmes contract situation following 2002. Priest was a 30-year old running back coming off a major injury. But once he proved he was healthy, Carl gave him a big contract with a $10 million signing bonus.

Johnson has no such hang-ups. He's in his prime, has had no injuries, and after carrying the load as the starter in 2006, has absolutely nothing to prove. My gut feeling says Carl will pay up.

LJ is KC's meal ticket. Without him, they'll be lucky to finish 6-10 next season. The same couldn't be said of Holmes and the Chiefs in 2003, when the offensive line was so dominant it allowed Derrick Blaylock to flourish and Trent Green to post Pro Bowl numbers.

When you really examine the situation, there's just not a whole lot of good reasons to ship Johnson out of Kansas City.

So what's really going on? This is all one big smoke screen for the draft. The Chiefs are doing an excellent job of concealing what players they're interested in, and with an attention-grabbing story circulating - like the possibility of trading their star running back – their true intentions are even better masked.

Of course, this could be about money. Athan reported that Johnson possibly desires a contract close to the value of the eight-year, $60 million deal Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson signed in 2004.

You can't make a serious argument that Johnson doesn't deserve a comparable contract. The Chiefs are being cheap if they don't give him a deal that makes him the highest-paid player in team history.

Guess what? The Chiefs aren't cheap and, despite their hang-ups, the fans will forget about all this nonsense when Johnson scores his first touchdown of 2007 – in red and gold.

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