Larry Leaving?

Now that the Chiefs have solved their problems at general manager, head coach and quarterback, it's time to turn our attention to other things that ail the franchise. Most notably, Larry Johnson.

After his off-the-field actions a year ago, and his desire to skip out on Kansas City, there's no question Johnson must be regarded as a problem. Something must be done before his presence casts a negative light on all the positive things that have happened to the Chiefs this offseason.

While Johnson stated he wanted out at the end of the 2008 season, and has reiterated that desire since, one might think the new direction of KC's franchise could entice him to stay. But based on a recent report, the fresh look at Arrowhead means little to Johnson, and he's won't take no for an answer.

According to our source, Johnson recently met with Pioli and Haley and made it clear to both men he didn't want to play for the Chiefs.

While Johnson is under contract, the thought that Haley or Pioli might ignore his demand seems unlikely. Based on everything we know, especially about Pioli, they're not about to let a disgruntled player take his toll on the locker room. So far, both parties have shown little desire to make much of a commitment to remnants from the Chiefs' past, either.

Put it this way – if Haley and Pioli are willing to trade Brian Waters, or at least treat him as if he didn't matter, how will they handle Johnson? Waters is a four-time Pro Bowler, has been with the Chiefs longer than Johnson, and arguably has accomplished more in his NFL career.

Can you think of a good reason for Pioli and Haley to make any effort to hang onto a disgruntled running back who has rushed for under 1,000 yards in two consecutive years? Certainly the Patriots were never attached to any one running back under Pioli. And if the Chiefs are moving to an offense that emphasizes the pass over the run, how truly useful is Johnson?

So we know Johnson still wants out of Kansas City, and it seems logical the people running the Chiefs might not have much use for him, either. The question now becomes, what do the Chiefs do without Johnson?

There are currently four other running backs on KC's roster: Jamaal Charles, Kolby Smith, Dantrell Savage, and Jackie Battle. All have question marks as full-time starting running backs.

Charles may not be big enough to carry the load, had some injury issues as a rookie, and fumbled the ball too much. Smith has injury problems of his own, and didn't inspire much confidence with his 2.9 yards per carry a year ago. Savage and Battle played mostly on special teams and may be too inexperienced to be relied upon in any meaningful way.

The Chiefs already missed the boat on several talented free-agent running backs. Derrick Ward, Fred Taylor, Maurice Morris, LaMont Jordan, Correll Buckhalter, Cedric Benson and J.J. Arrington are all off the market. The pickings are slim among the remaining running backs, though it's not a group totally devoid of talent:

Shaun Alexander
Tatum Bell
Reuben Droughns
Warrick Dunn
DeShaun Foster
Samkon Gado
Ahman Green
Rudi Johnson
Kevin Jones
Deuce McCallister
Michael Pittman
Dominic Rhodes
Aaron Stecker

Failing free agency, there is April's draft, but this year's crop of running backs does not appear to be particularly strong. Only four backs ran 40-yard dashes under 4.5 seconds at the combine last month, and the biggest name of them all, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, clocked in at an unimpressive 4.61. There doesn't appear to be a Chris Johnson or a Steve Slaton, the marquee rookie runners of 2008, in this class, and there certainly doesn't appear to be an Adrian Peterson-type prospect.

But if Johnson is truly set on leaving the Chiefs, it's unlikely the team can stand pat with what's currently on the roster. That raises more questions about the future of Kansas City's offense entering 2009, and another problem for Pioli and Haley to fix.

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