Chiefs can't afford to ignore Johnson's demands

In his latest Three and Out column, Jeffri Chadiha examines the contract situations of Larry Johnson, Lance Briggs and Asante Samuel.

Originally Published: June 26, 2007
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Since the offseason is officially one month from ending, it's time to address the last, little bits of controversy that have lingered over the past few months.

No, I'm not talking about Michael Vick and Pacman Jones for the umpteenth time. Instead, it's money matters that have caught my interest today.

When Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson recently said he's willing to hold out to receive a more lucrative deal, he reaffirmed there will be a smattering of big-money bickering going on when training camps start next month.

Along with Johnson, there are a handful of players who've spent this offseason complaining about their current situations. So I've decided to weigh in on how the more high-profile matters should be handled in this week's Three and Out. Here we go:

1. Should the Chiefs pay Johnson?

Yes. They shouldn't give him the absurd amount that he's coveting -- reportedly in the neighborhood of $27 million or $28 million in guaranteed money -- but the Chiefs need to accept that he has quite a bit of leverage here. Johnson is their best player, period. Along with amassing big-time numbers over the past two seasons (3,539 yards, 37 touchdowns), not to mention a record 416 carries in 2006, he's the best means of keeping pressure off an offense that could be led by second-year quarterback Brodie Croyle and a young defense that remains a work in progress.

Running back
Kansas City Chiefs

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds
416 1789 4.3 17 41 410
Of course, Johnson's critics point to his boorish personality and the possibility of his body breaking down after so many carries as reasons for ignoring his demands. Those people clearly are missing the point. If being a model citizen mattered to the Chiefs, former starting quarterback Trent Green would still be with them. And if the Chiefs are worried about Johnson's long-term wear and tear, they can structure a front-loaded deal that won't compromise them in his later years.

The Denver Broncos did something similar with running back Travis Henry, who received $12 million in guaranteed money even though he turns 29 in October. Johnson turns 28 in November, and it's hard to imagine the second-best back in the NFL not getting paid.

2. What should the Bears do with Lance Briggs?

Since they couldn't swing a trade with Washington earlier this year, their best move is to wait this one out. Briggs, a Pro Bowl outside linebacker, clearly is planning on continuing his holdout through training camp, but his prospects don't look that good. For one, his teammates say he loves playing football and being around the squad so much, it will be harder for him to stay resolute as the season nears.

Linebacker
Chicago Bears

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast Sack FF Int
134 113 21 1 4 2
There's also the fact that he has to return to the Bears at some point before their 10th game to have this season count as an accrued year. If not, he won't be able to become a free agent until after the 2008 season.

There's also this growing problem: Jamar Williams, the second-year linebacker who's been filling in for Briggs during offseason workouts, has impressed teammates and coaches with his athleticism. If Williams keeps turning heads once the pads come on, Briggs' absence won't be nearly as detrimental as he thinks. At this stage, I see Briggs accepting the franchise tender of $7.2 million and moving on. Several of his teammates think this will be the last year he plays with them anyway.

3. How should the Patriots deal with Asante Samuel?

The Patriots should let Samuel stew as well. Though he's their best cornerback -- he intercepted a career-high 10 passes in 2006 -- he's also fighting against history here. The Patriots have found ways to win games with less-experienced cornerbacks and they'll likely do that again if Samuel follows through on his threat to hold out until Week 10.

Cornerback
New England Patriots

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
Tot Solo Ast Sack FF Int
65 60 5 0 1 10
Samuel should know that better than anybody. When the Patriots beat Philadelphia in Super Bowl XXXIX, Samuel and Randall Gay were two of the young players filling in for injured starters Tyrone Poole and Ty Law. Heck, the Patriots have even gotten by with wide receiver Troy Brown assuming a nickel back role in really desperate times.

The point here is that coach Bill Belichick doesn't need superstars in his secondary. He just needs good players who will play their roles and follow his coaches' direction. And since the Patriots have had success with that philosophy, it's difficult to imagine Samuel forcing them into giving up an incredibly fat contract. We'll see how the Pats cope with Gay or Chad Scott playing opposite Ellis Hobbs, but my guess is they'll be just fine.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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