Chiefs Need Johnson

Last week I said the Chiefs should make running back Larry Johnson the highest-paid player in team history.

Judging by a report from ESPN's Michael Smith on Wednesday, that's exactly what LJ wants to be.

Apparently Johnson is seeking an eight-year, $80 million deal with $34 million guaranteed. That's a sizable chunk of change for any player, regardless of his talent. Is Johnson worth that payday?

Yes. The simple truth of the matter is that Johnson is more worthy of that deal than most. The Chiefs should be the team to give it to him and, quite frankly, they owe him more than any other team in the league.

Johnson has racked up 4,292 yards from scrimmage (more than LaDainian Tomlinson) and 40 total touchdowns over the last two seasons. He's taken a relentless pounding during that time frame but has not missed a quarter, let alone an entire game. He has done all of this while being paid peanuts in return – according to NFLPA.org, Johnson barely made $1.3 million combined in 2005 and 2006.

The Chiefs owe Johnson, just as they owed Priest Holmes after the 2002 season.

But more importantly, they owe themselves and they owe the town of Kansas City. As I stated on Friday, Johnson is KC's meal ticket. The team is a collection of past-their-prime veterans, average journeymen and inexperienced young players without him, and will be lucky to win six games should he depart.

Johnson is worth far more to the Chiefs in red and gold than he is in any other uniform. Even if he's traded for a few draft picks (and the Chiefs won't get much in return, probably not even so much as two first-round picks), that's no guarantee of future success.

When the Colts traded Marshall Faulk following the 1998 season, they received second and fifth-round picks in return. Those picks became linebacker Mike Peterson (now a Jaguar) and defensive end Brad Scioli (now a nobody). The trade was really of no benefit to Indianapolis, as it wasn't until eight seasons later that they won the Super Bowl – and they didn't even accomplish that a year ago with Faulk's successor, Edgerrin James. They missed the best years of Faulk's career.

The Chiefs aren't even in a position to pick a player like James, should they dump Johnson. The Colts were extremely fortunate to hold a high pick in the very same offseason they traded Faulk. Kansas City will be forced to play an unproven rookie behind a patchwork offensive line or, even worse, go to a running back by committee system featuring the glasslike Michael Bennett and a host of other spares (perhaps Donnell Bennett is available).

And how about the town? The Chiefs are already a second-tier franchise in the grand NFL scheme of things. They weren't awarded a primetime game at Arrowhead Stadium this year. The deal to bring a Super Bowl to Arrowhead Stadium fell through a year ago.

Without a marquee player, the Chiefs and Kansas City fall completely off the NFL map. Right now Johnson's mug is slapped all over a banner promoting season ticket sales on KcChiefs.com. Without him, who do the Chiefs promote as their main draw?

Tony Gonzalez has scored a whopping seven touchdowns over the past two seasons and is on the decline (who knows what sort of coverage he'll draw without Johnson). Ty Law is at the tail end of his career and will soon be replaced.

Without Johnson, the Chiefs become the Houston Texans (come and see the spectacular DeMeco Ryans!), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (our quarterback's father won a Super Bowl in 1990!) and Cleveland Browns (Jim Brown is still around here somewhere!).

To put it bluntly, they become the Kansas City Cheaps.

On a positive note, trading Johnson might breathe new life into KC's rivalry with the Oakland Raiders. That is to say, the Raiders might actually beat the Chiefs a few times this decade.

It's not surprising that the Buffalo Bills are the team reportedly expressing the most interest in Johnson. They have no marketable stars (Marv Levy!), a stadium badly in need of retirement and a fan base that's quickly becoming disgruntled due to a tightwad owner (Ralph Wilson).

Johnson puts the Bills on the map. If they are willing to pay him, the Chiefs should honestly be ashamed not to.

This is the new NFL. Peyton Manning got almost $100 million. Michael Vick got $130 million. Johnson isn't perfect, but neither are those two players. Manning's teammates carried him in the playoffs last season (has Johnson ever turned the ball over three times in one game?) and Vick…well, let's just say he gave a whole new meaning to "the dirty bird" down in Atlanta. His play speaks for itself.

49ers' cornerback Nate Clements is currently making more than Johnson. Chiefs' defensive end Eric Hicks was paid more over the past two seasons. It's a slap in the face to deny LJ of what is rightfully his.

The Chiefs have no other mega-superstars. Really, they haven't had one in a long time, no one that commanded a contract in this league. It's not hard to see why they're so intimidated by this situation.

Chiefs President/GM Carl Peterson and Clark Hunt need to pay up. Peterson's legacy may be defined by how he handles this situation. This is Clark's first big hurdle as the owner.

Is giving Johnson $80 million scary? Yes.

But it's even scarier to think what the Chiefs will become without him.

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