Chris Johnson didn’t report to camp today, despite a CBA-created deadline that means he won’t accrue another year towards free agency by missing today. It’s not that big of a deal for CJ because he’s got two, not one, years left on his rookie contract. We all know he’s holding out for a contract he hopes will make most elite QBs blush, and we’re just about all pissed about him staying away from camp in the mean time. I can’t remember another Titans player under contract who has drawn so much flack around Titans fans, and the larger NFL community, for a hold out.
I’ve got something to confess, though:
I’m not pissed at all about CJ’s holdout. I don’t like it, but I cannot for a second really blame him for holding out. If that pisses you off, I’m not shocked. My wife and I have
argued debated over this in a way that is only matched by our long-tabled discussion on the authenticity of the Apollo 11 moon landing. She can't stand that he's holding out, and nothing we say to each other is going to change our opinions on that.
But I’m not married to you, so feel free to let me have it.
Note: If CJ holds out through the year, then all bets are off, and everything I've said here goes in the trash.
Christopher Duan Johnson is the best damned running back in the NFL. Despite that, he’s making less money than Joseph Addai, and a hundred other non-QB NFL scrubs. Way less. He’s got 3 years of great performances, including one the single best all-around seasons any RB has ever had before. Even last year, which was the closest thing he’s had to a disappointing season, he was clearly in the top 5 RBs in the league. He’s a proven workhorse with physical tools that come around once in a generation.
CJ is only 25 years old, probably in his prime, and has almost no history of major injury. He had an ankle injury thanks to the Ravens having no soul, and he had a deep tissue thigh bruise last year. That’s it. Why has he stayed so healthy? Because he’s motivated and stays in shape all year long. Plus he never gets in trouble. Even if CJ’s lifestyle or sense of humor isn’t your cup of tea, he’s the anti-Kenny Britt.
The Titans might not have created this situation, but they certainly set the stage for it by making the deal with CJ last year instead of addressing his long-term contract then. Last season they used a $2 million dollar Band-Aid to compel CJ to come to camp when the RB expressed his desire make more in the wake of the insane year he just put up. Instead of reworking CJ’s contract, which probably could have been done for a very-good-but-not-absurd amount, they pushed it to after the lockout they knew was coming. Everybody knew that meant there would be a war over that contract before this season, and now CJ’s bargaining position is better than ever.
Would reworking a player's contract with three years left on it be a terrible precedent for the Titans? In nay other case I'd say yes, but CJ's accomplishments dwarf any player you can think of in a similar position. Kearse would be the only guy who was close, but he had a much better rookie deal because he went higher in the first round. If some matched CJ's performances, I'd probably be all for giving them a raise as well. If you earn it, I say go for it.
This is the clincher for me: holding out is literally the only tool a good player has to use against a team who is grossly underpaying a player. Withholding his services is the only way CJ can get the Titans to the table right now, so if you believe he deserves more than he’s scheduled to make right now you can’t really get mad at CJ for doing it without being disingenuous somewhere down the line.
Do I wish he’d go with the proposed compromise of showing up without working out? Of course. I really wish he would, but it also wouldn’t have the same effect on the front office if he did that. He’d be giving ground while only getting empty promises of good will from a bunch of accountants and lawyers. CJ’s agent, the very experienced Joel Segal, is too smart for that kind of move right now.
All of this leaves me right where I started: I hate that CJ isn’t in camp learning the new offense and helping his teammates, but I’m not mad at him. I’m not mad at the team either. Neither side is completely wrong, and both sides are going to have to work to make this right.
It is possible to hate a situation without being furious with anyone involved.
Oops, I think I just broke the internet with that line.