Johnson would be a fool to trust Titans

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

Tennessee Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt has a big, two-word problem when it comes to how he wants to deal with holdout running back Chris Johnson, the team's best player.

That problem is Cortland Finnegan(notes). Specifically, how the Titans recently treated Finnegan.

When Finnegan expressed desire for a new contract before training camp, the Titans reportedly told him they would take care of him. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and defensive backs coach Marcus Robertson told him that if he reported, he would get his upgraded deal. Coach Mike Munchak reassured Finnegan, who is one of the top cornerbacks in the game, that he was an important player to the team.

Then Reinfeldt made Finnegan an offer so insulting he walked out of camp for a day.

Best believe that Johnson and agent Joel Segal paid very close attention to that situation. Subsequently, Reinfeldt's promise to make Johnson the highest paid running back in the league is ridiculously hollow. That's because Reinfeldt won't make the offer until Johnson comes to camp.

"Again, we're willing to make him the highest-paid running back in the history of the NFL,'' Reinfeldt told the Associated Press last week. "That's kind of where we are. … We'd like to have him here, and we'd like to be fair with him."

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For the second straight summer, Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans are in a contract dispute.
(US Presswire)

Taking the team at its word would be a bad move on the player's part, particularly for someone who is looking for a deal in the area of $30-$35 million guaranteed that would average north of $10 million per year. Johnson sees himself as a completely unique player, well beyond the limitations of your typical running backs.

Regardless of who you agree with regarding his value, Johnson would be making a mistake to suddenly show up simply out of good faith.

"The worst thing a player can do in this situation is show up. You lose all the leverage," said one longtime agent who has no connection to Johnson, Segal, Finnegan or Finnegan's agent Terry Watson. "[Reinfeldt] is asking him to come to camp because he knows what will happen. Johnson will get there and then not want to leave. Players want to play. They get around their teammates and the pressure to be there kicks in, even if nobody says a word. It's just the mentality.

"That's what they did with Finnegan, and now he's not getting anything."

If you're a Titans fan these days, realize that if a team is willing to do this to its top two players, there is absolutely no commitment to win. There is a reason why the franchise (formerly the Houston Oilers) has gone 49 seasons since winning a championship (the Oilers won the AFL in the league's first two seasons) and has appeared in the Super Bowl only once. Under the guidance of owner Bud "Bottom Line" Adams, the Titans don't care about winning – at least not on the field.

When it comes to contracts, the Titans win constantly. They browbeat and batter players into bad deals, or simply use up players and then discard them in a display of utter disrespect.

Want proof? Look no further than the late Steve McNair, the greatest player in Titans history and perhaps the greatest in overall franchise history, depending on how you compare him to Earl Campbell (personally, Campbell gets the nod, but McNair was pretty great).

Say what you want about McNair's personal life, he was completely dedicated to the Titans. He played through gruesome pain and injury. He led the team to Super Bowl XXXIV and even would have been there to help Vince Young(notes) become a better player. That is if the Titans had acted with a little class. Instead, after the team selected Young with the No. 3 overall pick in 2006, Tennessee treated McNair like a worn-out placemat. Fearing that they would be on the hook for his salary if he got hurt working out, the Titans barred McNair from coming to the facility until they finally were forced to trade him.

That part can't be blamed on Reinfeldt, who began his current stint with the team in 2007 (he played for the Oilers from 1976-'83). But what Reinfeldt, who has talked twice to local media this week about Johnson but has declined two requests by Yahoo! Sports to comment, is attempting now with Johnson is just more of the Titans' typical business.

Of course, some of you out there will say that Johnson should honor the final two years of his contract and, furthermore, has little choice in the matter. OK, if the Titans were saying that same thing that would be understood. But they're not. Reinfeldt is making a public proclamation that he'll pay Johnson, he just won't put an offer on paper. Same thing happened with Finnegan.

Ultimately, it's very easy to say that you're willing to make a player the highest paid at his position but then build a contract that means almost nothing. In the NFL, it's easy to construct a $100 million contract that's really only worth a small percentage of that number. NFL contracts are barely worth the paper they are printed on because future years are oftentimes unguaranteed.

Or the situation could be like what the Titans did with Finnegan.

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Cortland Finnegan is one of the NFL's most physical CBs.
(AP Photo)

Here's a guy who lives in Nashville and led the team in offseason workouts during the lockout. He is trying very hard to be a leader. Moreover, Finnegan is 27 years old and plays a premium position. He is going into the final year of his contract and is scheduled to make $3.7 million. Over the past two years, he has seen players such as Dunta Robinson(notes), Johnathan Joseph(notes) and Stanford Routt(notes) get contracts averaging between $9.75 million and $11.5 million annually. Joseph, for instance, received a five-year, $48.75 million deal from Houston this offseason. The deal includes $23.5 million guaranteed.

The Titans have argued that all of those deals were mistakes in the marketplace and that Finnegan is not as good as any of those players.

Over the past week, Yahoo! Sports surveyed eight general managers or top personnel executives. Six said that Finnegan was better than Joseph (one GM went so far as to say it was a "slam dunk" because "Finnegan fights you all day long"). One said it was a draw, and one gave Joseph the slight edge because he "runs better, more fluid."

The point is not that Finnegan is better or deserves more. It's that he's not out of line to ask for a contract worth in the area of $10 million a year on an extension. The Titans could counter by saying that they have the leverage and should get a slight discount – say, for argument's sake, $9 million a year.

That would be reasonable. What the Titans offered is apparently much less than that.

And that was after Finnegan did exactly what they wanted. Now, Johnson is supposed to do the same thing and trust that the Titans will come through?

That's not happening.

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