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A Few Words on NFL Contract Myths and Titans RB Chris Johnson

So this thread got a little out of control yesterday talking about Chris Johnson and his contract situation. First a few words about contracts:

Players today love to go with the "well they can just cut me if I under-perform" excuse when trying to justify a new deal, and you often hear people say "NFL contracts aren't worth the paper they are written on." Both of those excuses/sayings are just stupid. Anyone with half a brain knows that an NFL contract is all about the guaranteed money. So when CJ tells Jim Wyatt he "can't play for $550,000" he is conveniently forgetting that his contract guaranteed him nearly $8 million dollars over 5 years. So he is actually playing for $1.6 million a year, and he has already been paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million in just over two years.

Now obviously even $1.6 million is low for his production, and we will get back to that in a minute, but CJ is not making less than Alvin Pearman, because guess what, Pearman's contract doesn't have any guaranteed money on it. So he gets $630,000 if he makes the team, and he gets nothing if he doesn't make the team. CJ would have gotten $7 million if he blew out his knee in the first game of his career and could never play again.

Now we hear players all the time talk about how it is a business and they need to get paid, and you know what, they are absolutely correct- but that works both ways. For the owners it is a business as well. This is not the space to debate how much money the owners are making because that is not what I am talking about here. What I am talking about here is what the owners are/should be in this business to do, and that is win championships. The NFL has a salary cap. That means an owner cannot go out and buy all of the best talent like the Yankees do in baseball. In order to be successful long term in this league you have to build through the draft. Why? Because it gives you good, young, reasonably priced talent on your roster. In order to have a team that is a playoff contender year in and year out- which is what we all want, right?- you have to have guys that "out perform" there contracts. You simply cannot afford to give guys $30-40 million guaranteed in year 3 of a 5 year rookie deal.

Yesterday people started to say that if CJ is a me first guy- which he is but that is not a bad thing entirely, more on that in a minute- then Steve McNair and Eddie George were also me first guys. Wrong.

The Titans locked McNair out of the facility and were more or less unwilling to redo a deal that Floyd Reese had back-loaded the heck out of. They probably wanted McNair to stay on and groom Vince Young with the idea that at some point in that season VY would take over. McNair knew he could still play, and that he probably only had 1-2 years left in him. Of course he didn't want to do that being at the end of his career. CJ is in year 3.

Eddie's deal was very similar except that he wasn't currently under contract with the Titans. Turns out the Titans were right and Eddie was done, but again, he still wanted to be the man and knew he had limited time to do that. Never mind that fact that both of their guys had taken a pounding for a decade for the Titans.

Back to the CJ being a me first guy thing- I am all for that when he is on the football field. The hungrier he is for yards the better it is for the Titans, but it is detrimental to the team as a whole when his me firstness (nice word by me) comes this way. Back to McNair, one of the reasons his deal was so back-loaded was because he had restructured it a bunch of times so the Titans had cap space to sign other players. CJ wants to do the exact opposite of that. As a fan of the Titans you should not be in the pay CJ camp now. That is just not the best thing for the team.

So finally the CJ is underpaid thing- I agree. The Titans should do something to up his compensation in 2010 considering he had the best season by an NFL running back in the history of the league last season. What is the right thing to do? Several reports have said that the Titans have offered to move up the $2.2 million that is due to him in the final year of his contract as a bonus in 2010 with the idea that they will work a long term extension after this season. That seems perfectly reasonable for both sides to me. They should get that done and get him in for camp.

I haven't hammered CJ for being absent from all of the OTAs to this point for 2 reasons- 1. because I don't blame him for trying to get some money, and 2. because it doesn't really matter if he is at that stuff or not, but if the reports are true and he turns that down and holds out of camp, it will be hammer time.