Lance Johnstone has gone through two contracts with the Minnesota Vikings and made his initial mark in the league with the Oakland Raiders. Now it's that time of year/career again for the defensive end.
For the fourth time in his career, Johnstone is an unrestricted free agent and it didn't seem to faze him one bit as he stood in the Winter Park locker room before the season finale.
"One thing I've figured out being around (free agency) is that you can't figure it out," he said. "A lot of people speculate and try to, but you've just got to let everything play itself out. My focus has always been getting better at what I do and let everything else fall the way it may."
The veteran's status is even more uncertain with the changing of coaching staff from Mike Tice (head coach) and Ted Cottrell (defensive coordinator) to Brad Childress (new head coach) and Mike Tomlin (new defensive coordinator). The change in defensive philosophy could also play into the Vikings' decision, but an accomplished pass-rushing defensive end is never a bad thing in any system, and Johnstone still has goals he'd like to accomplish—foremost among them is to reach the 100-sack barrier in his career.
Doing that over the course of the next few seasons with the Vikings would sit just fine with Johnstone. As the most experienced defender up front for the team, he has 70 career sacks. He finished with 7.5 this year after going into double digits the past two seasons. He is also 10th on the Vikings career sack list with 41.
"You've got to look around, but I have no problems with coming back here. It's not like I'm one of those people that can't wait to get out of here," Johnstone said.
"The talent level is there. A lot of the teams that do well are the teams that can keep that nucleus together, and that's hard in free agency these days. I think we've definitely got the talent and the capabilities for pushing for the playoffs every year."
Undoubtedly, his new coaching staff would agree, but Johnstone's years of being in the league and several go-rounds with free agency allow him to forget about what he can't control. He's not worried too much about the new coaching staff or whatever players the team might be considering looking at, even if they play his position.
Experience allows him to know that nothing in the NFL is ever for sure.
"I've seen guys here say things … when they go to draft somebody or bring somebody in or move somebody in front of you and they start getting caught up in that as opposed to just working on what you do, get better at it and fall into place. You take a person like C.J. Mosley, coming in here and playing behind Pat (Williams) and Kevin (Williams) and you start talking yourself out of why you probably won't play, and then you're starting in a couple of games. Things can happen like that, and if you're not working on your craft then you can get lost. I don't try to figure that stuff out."
What he has figured out is a way for a 10-year veteran to stay productive. When Randy Moss talks about "playing when he wants to play," people assume it's an attitude problem. When Johnstone talks about pacing himself, you might call it veteran savvy.
At first, he was unsure about the Vikings' decision to limit his playing time, trying to make him more effective when they need him most—on obvious passing downs for the opposing offense. Now, after having his playing time cut by about 20 snaps per game from the peak of his career, he knows he can still be productive without being on the field for nearly every defensive play and he knows he might have to pace himself throughout the season.
It's a philosophy that has helped him amass at least seven sacks in six of his 10 years in the NFL.
"You know the pace of the season so you're not wasting a lot of energy to get through the practices. (During) the game you've got to go full speed. Then you've got to take care of your body, get into a little routine where you're not letting stuff compile," he said.
When he gets the opportunity to put those words into action again next year with the Vikings is yet to be determined. But here's guessing that Johnstone isn't too concerned about it.
Johnstone Talks About Free Agency
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