Johnson has refused to take part in any offseason activities after gaining 2,006 yards rushing and 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009, and coming into a 2010 season in which his base salary would be $550,000. Wyatt's report indicates that Johnson has escalators that would pay him an additional $2.5 million in 2012, but that the money could be turned into a signing bonus in 2010 for a more reasonable extension than the one Johnson is asking for.
The third-year back has said that he wants a new deal that would guarantee him $30 million — a very dangerous number given the general fragility of elite running back excellence and the high injury rate among even the best in the business — but it's possible that team and player are looking to pinpoint a compromise that would please everybody involved.
One thing that stands in the Titans' way even if they wanted to give Johnson a huge new contract is the 30 Percent Rule, a proviso in the post-CBA labor landscape in the NFL that precludes teams from giving players extensions larger than 30 percent over the previous year's earnings. Still, the San Francisco 49ers got creative and circumvented the rule when giving an extension to All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis(notes), giving him stacked signing bonuses and injury-based guarantees. This, of course, proves that any team is capable of rewarding its best players if they want to badly enough. Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt is known as a hard negotiator, but even he must 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 season would be ridiculous.
Moving Johnson's 2012 bonus wouldn't take care of the larger issue, but it would get the problem solved 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.
Note: You'll want to stay tuned to Shutdown Corner through the week, as we're covering the Nike 7ON tournament, and a number of NFL stars will be in attendance. Rumor has it that the subject of this very post might be one of them ... and we might get a few words with him and others. We'll have a 7ON preview on Wednesday, and blogs from the site on Thursday and Friday.
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