As we speculated last week, the Tennessee Titans have agreed to terms with running back Chris Johnson on a one-year deal which takes escalator clauses from 2012 and turns them into a "signing bonus" for the 2010 season. The additional money is believed to be in the $2.5 million range, adding to Johnson's 2010 base salary of $550,000. Jim Wyatt of the Nashville Tennessean was the first to bring up the concept of the escalators.
Johnson had refused to take part in any offseason activities after gaining 2,006 yards rushing and 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009. Johnson has said that he wants a new deal that would guarantee him $30 million, which the Titans are not willing to do in the face of CBA uncertainty.
Even if they wanted to give Johnson a huge new contract, the 30 Percent Rule would prevent them from doing so. This is a proviso in the post-CBA labor landscape that precludes teams from giving players extensions larger than 30 percent over the previous year's earnings. The San Francisco 49ers circumvented the rule when giving an extension to All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis(notes), giving him stacked signing bonuses and injury-based guarantees.
Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt is known as a hard negotiator, but he had to realize that paying Johnson a little over half a million dollars in a season where he's a good bet to lead the league in rushing for the second straight year would be ridiculous.
Moving Johnson's 2012 bonus doesn't take care of the larger issue, but it deals with the problem in the short term. With quarterback Vince Young(notes) still getting the hang of the NFL offense (though he looked much better last season) and a defense in transition, the Titans desperately need Johnson in camp, in games, and at his best if they hope to compete in what projects to be a brutally competitive AFC South division.
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