Chiefs release RB Johnson
Are you listening, Seattle? What do you think, Indianapolis? Chicago? Houston?
Or he might be a declining malcontent who’ll only cost money and cause trouble.
To that, every coach and general manager in the NFL is listening. The Chiefs released Johnson on Monday, the day he was due back from his second suspension in the past 12 months.
Any team with a faltering running game is bound to be tempted by Johnson, despite his baggage and his age (he turns 30 on Nov. 19).
“Any player that’s available, we look at,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith. “That’s been our standard policy throughout. That’ll be the case with Larry.”
Houston coach Gary Kubiak agreed.
“When a name like that comes on the free agent market like today, we’ll obviously go back and take a look at him just like any other player,” Kubiak said. “Obviously, he’s been a good player in this league and I’m sure he’ll get a lot of interest from a lot of people.”
Johnson has been high maintenance since the Chiefs drafted him in the first round out of Penn State in 2003. Unhappy because he thought he was going to be taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnson brooded while playing behind Pro Bowler Priest Holmes. He even prompted then-coach Dick Vermeil to say it was time for him “to take the diapers off.”
His last brush with controversy came two weeks ago when he posted on his Twitter account a gay slur, insulted followers and questioned the competence of head coach Todd Haley.
He was suspended for two weeks, but Haley said the final decision to cast him aside was not made until early Monday.
“We decided it was in the best interests of the Kansas City Chiefs organization to move forward at this time,” he said.
Behind a poor offensive line this year, Johnson has averaged a paltry 2.7 yards for the Chiefs (1-7) and appeared not to have the quickness and punishing power that enabled him to rush for more than 1,700 yards in Pro Bowl seasons in 2005 and ’06.
Can he still be effective?
“I don’t think I’ll answer that because he’s no longer on this team,” Haley said.
Since rushing for a team-record 1,789 yards on an NFL-record 416 carries in 2006, Johnson has never been quite the same.
In 2008, then-coach Herm Edwards benched him for three straight games for violating team rules and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him a fourth game for violating the league’s player conduct policy.
Johnson was later sentenced to two years’ probation after pleading guilty to two counts of disturbing the peace. One woman accused him of throwing a drink on her and another said he had pushed her head at a Kansas City night spot.
After his huge year in 2006, Johnson stayed away from training camp, demanding more money and he got it, a six-year deal worth $45 million, including $19 million guaranteed.
But hampered by a foot injury, he wound up with only 559 yards and three touchdowns. In 2008, he ran for 874 yards as the Chiefs sank to 2-14. Still, Johnson was only 75 yards away from breaking Holmes’ team rushing record.
“A part of him is excited and a part of him is very regretful,” his agent, Peter Schaffer, told The Associated Press. “There’s a lot of feelings going on right now. It’s analogous to breaking up with a girlfriend. Maybe you saw it coming, but it still hurts when it happens.”
Haley declined to say if Johnson’s low production had any bearing on his release or whether the Chiefs’ biggest concern were the slurs and the public criticism of his coach.
“It wouldn’t be fair of me to try to comment on that in any way other than to say the totality of the situation was factored in — what we felt was best for the Kansas City Chiefs,” Haley said.
In April, a special master ruled that in pleading guilty to disturbing the peace, Johnson had violated terms of his contract and the Chiefs could release him without having to pay about $3.5 million. In what now must be viewed as a huge mistake, they opted to keep him on the roster.
“Every decision we’ve made here ... has been what we thought was best for the football team,” Haley said. “Some of those decisions might appear real good at times, and some of them might appear real bad at times.”
Getting benched for three games last year and suspended by the league for one cost him big. And this year he lost another $315,000 for the gay slurs and tweeting. Last week, an online fan petition was started asking the Chiefs not to let Johnson become the team’s all-time leading rusher — a record Smith said Johnson had been looking forward to.
“He wanted to get the record, I know that,” said running back Kolby Smith, who saw his first action Sunday after undergoing knee surgery last year. “Whenever someone has a chance to break a record, it means a lot to them.”
Johnson winds up his Chiefs career with 5,996 yards rushing and 55 touchdowns. He also caught 151 passes for 1,369 yards and six TDs.
AP Sports Writers Andrew Seligman in Chicago and Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.