Johnson, Chiefs Still Far Apart

Last night a report circulated on NFL.com that the Kansas City Chiefs and Larry Johnson had begun the final stages of negotiations. According to a source within the Chiefs organization, that isn't the case, as the two sides have yet to cross the line in the sand.

The news was leaked by Johnson's inexperienced, wet-behind-the-ears agent, Alvin Keels, a man who is trying to make a name for himself with NFL General Managers.

He has a name, but it's somewhere beneath that of Ethan Locke's, who held out Dwayne Bowe only to see his client receive a contract that was basically the same as the one the Chiefs offered at the onset of training camp.

Keels isn't any different, but he doesn't know any better because he's yet to successfully negotiate a contract for any of his clients.

That's right. Thus far in 2007, he's 0-4.

* Wide receiver Koren Robinson recently had a room reserved for him in a Minnesota County jail. Robinson's vacation will keep him out of the NFL in 2007, so Keels is off the hook there.

* Cornerback Asante Samuel has refused to sign his one-year tender with the New England Patriots and is planning on sitting out until the last week of the preseason.

* Running back LaMont Jordan is unhappy because the Raiders have asked him to restructure his contract, so he's been moping in camp. This happens all the time but Keels thinks it's a slap in the face.

* Running back Larry Johnson is under contract, and the Chiefs have been fining their star player over $14,000 a day since July 28.

I do believe Larry Johnson deserves big money. He just doesn't deserve gigantic money. There is little doubt that he's the second-best back in the game today.

He's a notch above Seattle's Shaun Alexander, and he's miles ahead of San Francisco's Frank Gore, who received a contract based on potential rather than supreme talent. Alexander, on the other hand, is very similar to Johnson. He's paid his dues while piling up yards and touchdowns.

Both Johnson and Alexander have a similar NFL life expectancy at this point. Alexander has been in the league for eight years, amassing over 8,700 yards rushing and scoring 107 touchdowns. In four NFL seasons Johnson has rushed for 4,205 yards and scored 52 touchdowns.

To put the Chiefs contract offer in perspective, Gore has rushed for only 2,303 yards in a pair of NFL seasons, with 17 touchdowns. But he's the third-highest paid running back in the league, and will earn $14 million in guaranteed dollars from the 49ers through the 2012 season.

Alexander ended up signing an eight-year contract worth $62 million, with $15 million guaranteed. Johnson, as everyone knows, wants $25 million guaranteed.

This is where Mr. Keels needs to pay attention. Johnson will never receive that kind of money.

The Chiefs aren't trying to lowball Johnson. They are willing to give him more guaranteed money than Alexander received. If he plays three or four more years, his earnings will easily exceed the $25 million he's demanding at the moment.

Last night on the local Chiefs broadcast, President Carl Peterson indicated he was ‘optimistic' that the deal could get done, but the fact is that the two sides are miles apart right now.

The problem with all of this is the fact that each day Johnson sits out not only costs him money, it costs him an opportunity to bond with his teammates.

Four years ago, running back Priest Holmes wanted more coin, but he came to camp, lobbied for a deal, practiced and was able to get the guarantees he was looking for.

As each preseason game passes, the need for Johnson will dwindle. Michael Bennett is playing with a purpose, and looked good Saturday night. The rest of the young backs clearly struggled at times, but if one of them emerges as a reliable fill-in back over the next three weeks, the Chiefs can go into the regular season without Johnson.

But that's not the best thing for everyone, as it hurts the Chiefs to some degree and hurts any leverage Johnson thinks he has at the moment. But regardless, sooner or later the Chiefs will tell Keels to accept a take-it-or-leave-it offer. That day is fast approaching.

Keels is trying to load up his NFL resume with something other than contractual stalemates. I'll give him credit for one thing - he's kept the dialogue open at all times with KC's brass.

He just isn't a very good negotiator. His track record is testament to that fact, as he's asking for a price that no team - not just the Chiefs or Packers - is willing to pay for a running back that will soon be 28.

The Chiefs will stay on their present course and prepare to play football games this season without Johnson all the way up to the 10th week of the NFL season.

You see, Johnson needs the Chiefs far more than they need him at this point. He's a great back, but he's a luxury car at the moment - kind of like having an extra Mercedes in the garage. He's reliable, durable and runs like a machine.

But the Chiefs don't mind using Michael Bennett, their Jaguar, or bringing out a few of their BMWs - like Kolby Smith and Marcus O'Keith. If they really get into a bind they can roll out their 1973 Mustang Convertible – Priest Holmes - to gain a few yards this season.

All of these cars have one thing in common that separates them from Johnson's Mercedes at the moment. Herm Edwards has the keys to all of them. Meanwhile, the Mercedes sits in the garage, collecting dust. It may eventually become a classic that never reaches its full value in Kansas City.

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