When Chris Johnson inked his new $53.5 million contract over the summer after much pomp and circumstance, the eyes of the football watching population turned their eyes to Minnesota where the other superstar running back was searching for a new deal. He promptly signed on to be a Minnesota Viking for a monster deal that included seven years and $100 million. Talk about one upping.
Deals like this aren't tossed around lightly, it would be pointless to try and argue that either of these guys hadn't earned a significant pay raise for their services. Both had set prestigious records (Johnson's yards from scrimmage and Peterson's single game rushing record) and both were entering the peak years of their careers. Neither had a large history with injuries or ineffectiveness and both had a reputation for working hard to maintain their bodies to withstand a full NFL schedule. By all accounts, these deals were pretty much on point.
How quickly things can change.
Johnson's decline this year has been hard to watch. He's been both a victim of circumstance and his own playing style backfiring on him and the results haven't been pretty. Luckily for him, he'll most likely break the 1,000 yard mark this weekend against the Texans, but in a sixteen game season that's not setting the bar very high. He could still salvage the year with a 200 yard, 3 touchdown performance, but even then it'd be nearly impossible to erase the memory of how bad he's looked out there at times this year. Johnson's problem is with ineffectiveness. He's not looking like the player that earned a long term deal with electrifying runs and impossibly fast changes of direction. He was given the big bucks because he could change the game with one play. 2011 was just not his year. There comes a point where you have to stop blaming it all on the offensive line. Yes, the interior of it has been horrible, nearly the worst in football, but you don't earn the reputation of being one of the best in the game by playing behind a dominant line alone. CJ's trademark was being able to take a broken play and make it work. Unmatched speed and moves in the open field allowed him to do that. It's not that I think he doesn't have the same speed or quickness we saw in 2008-2010, I just think he's being too hesitant to use them. It's beyond cliche to say that he's not attacking holes like he needs to, but that' really the only way to describe what's going on so I'll reiterate.
However, CJ's got something still going for him; he's stayed relatively healthy. Yes, we've seen him slowed down by a series of minor injuries this year, but so far he's managed to avoid the big one. The importance of that cannot be overstated. For a player who depends on his speed and lateral quickness, blowing out a knee is even more crippling than it would be for less finesse-type players. What this means to me is that there's still a chance that he can return to being the player that kept everyone in America on the edge of their seats' for three electrifying years. With a full season of training camp (yes it's a big deal) and hopefully an upgrade on the interior line (Ben Grubbs anyone?) I fully expect to see a more finished product next season.
Adrian Peterson's decline wasn't a slow, painful descent, like CJ's, it was an abrupt blow beneath the belt to Vikings fans everywhere. Talk about your Pyrrhic victories; the Vikes picked up a meaningless regular season victory of the Redskins in Washington, but all it took was one sickening twist of a knee to send the face of their franchise to the ground, writhing in pain and unable to carry himself off the field. Not a good feeling for the front office who just poured a significant chunk of change into keeping this guy in purple for the next seven years. Peterson's problem is with injury. Not just any injury either. AP tore not only his ACL, but his MCL as well. The timetable on getting back into action alone is nine months*, putting him back on the field sometime in August or September of 2012. That means no training camp, no preseason, and a whole mess of new questions about the soon to be expired contracts of Ray Rice, Marshawn Lynch, and Matt Forte.
An injury like this not only sidelines the player for a good portion of time, it also may cause him to lose a step. Now, Adrian Peterson isn't human, so maybe this doesn't apply to him, but I'd be surprised to see him return to form completely. Poor Minnesota, first Joe Mauer and now this? Must be something in the water.
I often say that hindsight is 20/20, and in this case I think it rings extra-true, but from where I'm standing, Chris Johnson's bank breaking deal maybe doesn't look so bad in comparison.
* A more detailed foray into the specifics of this largely arbitrary date can be found here.