"Apparently he wasn't fitting into the plans of the Kansas City Chiefs," Mike Vrabel said of Johnson's release. "That's what's been kind of the message since the beginning of Scott (Pioli) and Todd (Haley), their time here. They want guys that are going to fit into what they want to do and their plans, and try to develop a team."
If Vrabel's remarks didn't make it clear enough, Haley reiterated the same team-first, organization-first message.
"We made a decision to release Larry Johnson from his contract," he said. "Over the last couple weeks, Scott and I have expended a lot of time and energy, along with Clark Hunt in talking about this and trying to figure out the direction we wanted to go, and we decided it was in the best interest of the Kansas City Chiefs organization to move forward at this time."
What was the overriding factor in releasing Johnson? Was it the homophobic remarks directed towards fans and the media, the questioning of Haley's head-coaching credentials, Johnson's 2.7 yards per carry, or a combination of all of the above? Which sin was the most heinous and forced the Chiefs' hand?
"I think that it wasn't any one thing," said Haley. "It was the totality of the situation, and even before I was around here."
Haley's quote stirs up more questions. When he arrived as the new head coach, Haley granted LJ, and supposedly everyone, a clean slate. Their prior offenses were wiped away.
For Johnson, that meant his squabbling over playing time with Dick Vermeil was null and void. His repeated alleged skirmishes with women, annulled. His expressed interest in leaving Kansas City, ignored.
Now, it appears that allowance was a mistake.
"Every decision we've made here…has been for what we thought was best for the football team," said Haley. "Some of those decisions might appear real good at times, a lot of them might appear real bad at times. Again, each and every one of the decisions made was made in the best interest of the Chiefs at the time it was made, as this one is right now."
The decision to keep Johnson in the spring and the decision to release him in the fall both illicit the same justification– it's what was in the best interest of the team at the time. Was Haley duped by Johnson's new-found sense of team pride and humility when he arrived, or did he and Pioli make a calculated wager?
Before you label the LJ drama a preventable mistake on the part of Haley and Pioli, take a step back and weigh their realistic options. Johnson was a running back one year removed from an injury that's devastating for any athlete, let alone a running back. He was also fresh off a season filled with off-the-field drama, which included a four-game suspension. On a good team, the decision is easy - cut him loose, because he's not garnering anything of value on the trade market.
However, when you're manning a team that's won just six games in two seasons, the player in question also happens to be one of the most talented on your roster, and you've got a third-round pick, a blown knee, and a bevy of undrafted free agents to stand on in Johnson's place, it complicates things.
If you release Johnson and he rips off a 1,500-yard season in another uniform, not only do you look foolish, but you give up the possibility of getting something in return. The upside to that scenario is Johnson no longer has an influence on your team. He's no longer consorting with players who are currently indispensable. If you think the entire Chiefs' locker room is looking at Johnson's departure as a relief, you're misguided.
"He will be missed," said Kolby Smith. "He was more than a teammate; he was a friend as well. He's a real good dude. Looks after me to make sure I'm good on every level, and just things like that, just being a true friend."
We don't know what LJ was like behind closed doors all the time, but the numerous tweets, alleged incidents, statements and outbursts were enough of a window into his personality to tell us he's not the kind of player you want people in your locker room looking up to. It wasn't just young players, either. Even veterans like Brian Waters seemed to side with Johnson.
Two days after LJ told the media to get their "faggot asses" out of the locker room, Waters told another player being interviewed to be careful what he said, because he might be secretly being taped. That shows that somehow, some players had turned LJ's meltdown into the media vs. the Chiefs.
On the other side of the coin, what if Johnson ran for 1,000-plus yards for the Chiefs this season? Perhaps he helps the Chiefs to a few more wins? If that occurs while he stays off the headlines and out of trouble, then he's proved valuable. Now he's back to being worth something in the trade market, and if you can't trade him, maybe he's worth keeping around as a talented back.
Obviously, we all know how that wager turned out. Johnson did nothing on the field, and he once again inserted his foot into his mouth. It's easy to call this an avoidable mistake in hindsight. Put it into poker terms.
You've invested a large sum of your chips into a pot with high-suited cards. The flop comes out, and you've got four to a flush. Someone forces you to make a decision for more chips, not as many as you've already put in, but a large amount nonetheless. Now you've got a hand that could end up being lucrative if the right card falls, but you're probably not going to hit that card.
If you fold, you have no chance of winning anything. In fact, it assures you lose. If you roll the dice and play your flush draw, you're going to lose more times than not, but you've still got plenty of chips to play with, and if you win, you're sitting pretty.
Haley and Pioli fired out the extra chips on Johnson. They decided to try and get through a season without Johnson doing something stupid, and try to restore his value somewhat, with the hope he'd help them win a game or two, or get them something in return in the form of a trade. If you know the last two cards won't produce a flush, then calling is stupid. If you knew LJ was going to have a meltdown on and off the field, then retaining him was stupid.
Pioli and Haley made the smart move. The only way they come out losers in the decision to keep Johnson is if there are lingering effects in the locker room. If Johnson's release turns players against Haley and the coaching staff, then perhaps keeping him was a bad move. If they act like professionals, put their careers and team first and try to capitalize on their opportunity to make a living as a pro football player, then no harm no foul.
"Each and every one of the decisions made was made in the best interest of the Chiefs at the time it was made, as this one is right now," Haley said, and he's right. Retaining Johnson was the right move, as is cutting him now.
Haley: Chiefs Picked Right Time To Release LJ
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