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In the end, the cost was minimal; maybe only to the remnants of Larry Johnson's(notes) good name. But football is a bottom-line realm, where numbers trump reputation. And when it comes to the numbers, Larry Johnson crushed the NFL establishment this week.
How else could you frame it? Johnson seemingly won it all: his freedom from the Kansas City Chiefs and coach Todd Haley; the remainder of his $4 million salary in 2009 (which the team still owes him); and a new lease on life with the Cincinnati Bengals, an AFC elite and the proverbial port in the storm for the repeatedly troubled. For Johnson, it was an unopposed and unquestionable victory. And all it took was him poisoning the atmosphere in Kansas City to the point management felt like it had lost all its options.
Johnson busted out of Kansas City and paid a very small price along the way. Now NFL locker rooms everywhere are a little poorer for it.
After all, this is the kind of thing that makes coaches and general managers cringe. They speak in blustery terms about swallowing a bitter pill and not letting players blast their way off a roster. More often than not, the establishment is successful, burying a player on the depth chart and making an example of him. The Chiefs have done it to linebacker Derrick Johnson, whose failure to live up to expectations on the practice field have led him to a drastically reduced role on game day. And it will likely lead him off the team, too, but not for another few months.
And that's how the NFL establishment prefers the message to remain: that players can't hijack a team's ability to control personnel. But Larry Johnson proved that it can be done, that at the end of the day, it's really not that hard to inflict your will on a team. Simply insult a few fans on your Twitter page, take some thinly veiled shots at your head coach, and blow up your relationship with the hometown media. Johnson used that formula to perfection, creating a situation so acidic, it undermined the Chiefs' initial hopes of sending him home and deactivating him the rest of the season. With public opinion solidifying against Johnson and the likelihood of some kind of fight with the NFL Players Association looming, it was easier for the Chiefs to just relent.
Better to be done with him than risk the splintering atmosphere that would have followed him the rest of the season, a la Terrell Owens'(notes) fallout with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. Maybe it's no coincidence Owens went to his Twitter page Tuesday, congratulating Johnson on getting out of Kansas City and away from Haley. Vultures of a feather flock together … or something along those lines.
So now that it has all shaken out, what did Johnson really lose along the way? His reputation took a hit, but that had already been tainted by previous problems, anyway. He lost his ability to stay with the one franchise he'd ever known, but his actions screamed that he wanted out. And he lost a starting job in the NFL, but his grip on that had been loosening with every step of his 2.9 yards per carry this season.
On the positive side of the ledger, he arrives in Cincinnati, where the Bengals are enjoying arguably the most prolific season of head coach Marvin Lewis' tenure. Johnson lands in a potent offense and another pile of money – an extra $255,000 that Cincinnati will pay him on top of his remaining Chiefs salary. More importantly, he will likely be gifted a postseason run, too.
Who knows, maybe Johnson ends up with a Super Bowl ring at the end of all this. And why not? He sure seems to have won everything else.
Here are some of this week's other inconvenient truths …
The Marshall impasse isn't over
In all the affection and "hug it out" glory of the Denver Broncos' 6-0 start, we stopped focusing on Brandon Marshall's(notes) contract situation. But Yahoo! Sports spoke to a league source this week who said the wide receiver's quest for a contract extension is no closer to being completed now than it was in the preseason. While Broncos owner Pat Bowlen reportedly suggested in October that Marshall was moving toward a significant raise, there has been little in the way of developments since.
The reason that is significant is because Denver now has two players whose contracts will seemingly push Marshall's demands to the back burner: quarterback Kyle Orton(notes) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil(notes). With Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware(notes) inking a six-year $78 million deal last month, with almost $40 million in guaranteed money, Dumervil's contract is now expected to be far more lucrative and complicated than it would have been five months ago. And Orton's deal figures to be a battle as well, as both the franchise and Orton's agent try to hammer out his value, which is somewhat nebulous right now.
That threatens to put Marshall third in line this offseason, a priority that likely won't sit well considering his consternation last offseason. Even if collective bargaining issues render both players restricted free agents, the tool sets and positions of Dumervil and Orton demand they be signed to lucrative extensions this offseason. And if Denver doles out huge deals to both, it could translate to Marshall's negotiation being very contentious. Whatever the case, it could be another testy offseason in Denver if he goes into next March without a new deal.
Westbrook needs to talk with concussed players
I don't want to be the guy who says Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook(notes) needs to end his career, but it certainly deserves serious thought after the star suffered his second concussion in his last two games. Two things are troubling about Westbrook's latest issues. First, the second concussion took place despite Westbrook, 30, touching the ball only eight times against the San Diego Chargers. Indeed, if you look at the film, he experienced what most would consider a fairly modest amount of contact for a running back. Second, it's not uncommon for NFL players with head injuries to fall into a chronic category, where concussions are incurred more frequently and with less contact than each previous incident.
No doubt, Westbrook and the Eagles are taking the latest issue seriously, with the running back seeking the opinion of brain specialists this week. But there is a significant first-person perspective out there, and he'd be wise to pursue it. Guys like former Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints linebacker Dan Morgan(notes), who suffered at least six reported concussions, can speak to the career ramifications. I stress the words six reported concussions because it's highly likely Morgan exceeded that number. And he's living every day of his post-career life knowing that he could pay the consequences as he grows older.
The truth is, while the NFL's cavalier culture regarding head injuries is changing, most players still don't truly delve into the potential long-term health consequences. That is too bad, because there are a number of former players who are more than willing to talk about their mistakes when dealing with concussion problems. We're talking about guys who suffered through PCS (Post Concussion Syndrome) and had it end their careers: Steve Young, Merril Hoge, Troy Aikman, Ted Johnson, Chris Miller and many others. It's not uncommon to hear these players lament their nonchalance when they initially began suffering head injuries. Now they all provide strong and important perspectives that resonate as much as any doctor ever could. I can only hope Westbrook will reach out to some of these guys, and understand that his football career isn't the only thing in the balance.
Some defensive stars could be available
Don't be surprised if some intriguing defenders become available this offseason. More than a few talented players are no longer fitting in with their current teams, schemes or coaching staffs, including Kansas City's Derrick Johnson, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nate Clements(notes) and Detroit Lions linebacker Ernie Sims(notes).
Clements, who turns 30 in December, was demoted from the starting lineup earlier this season before fracturing his shoulder. Even if he does return, the 49ers coaching staff is mulling moving him to safety, helping to keep him on the field despite his loss of elite coverage speed. But Clements is due No. 1 cornerback money in 2010 ($6.5 million) and it doesn't appear the 49ers will be inclined to give it to him, barring a major turnaround when and if he comes back from injury. In all likelihood, his bloated contract will be jettisoned.
Johnson and Sims are a little more intriguing. Johnson has fallen out of favor with the Chiefs coaching staff because of poor practice habits and inconsistent play. He has been buried on the bench for weeks, and that doesn't appear likely to change. But Johnson, who turns 27 on Sunday, does still have some value. If the collective bargaining issues render him a restricted free agent, there is speculation in league circles the Chiefs could give Johnson a second-round tender offer and hope another NFL team that covets him is willing to give up an NFL draft choice.
As for Sims, there is a chance he could simply be put on the trading block with two years left on his deal (2010 and a voidable 2011 season). For much of the season, Sims has struggled to fit into Detroit's defensive scheme. Part of it has been injuries, but Sims also had some long bouts of inefficiency last season, and a Lions source told Yahoo! Sports those problems were very apparent when the new coaching staff began devouring film. Perhaps more ominous for Sims is that the new staff has taken a shine to rookie third-round pick DeAndre Levy(notes), who has been rotating with Sims at the weakside linebacker spot this season. The staff feels Levy is more efficient and under control in his opportunities, while also displaying some leadership. If he is entrenched in Sims' starting role by the end of the season (and it's heading that way), look for Detroit to shop Sims and his palatable contract around the NFL in the offseason.