National Columnist

Don't blame holdout Johnson; it's just business


Hate Mail: Not turning the other cheek with Tebow fanatics

Because I don't believe in an NFL contract any more than I believe in the Tooth Fairy, I support Chris Johnson's holdout.

The man has been dramatically underpaid by the Tennessee Titans, and for a year or two that was to their credit. They unearthed him toward the end of the first round in the 2008 draft, and they were rewarded with one of the best players in that draft, or in almost any draft in the past decade.

But by last season the Titans no longer deserved applause for having the foresight to draft Chris Johnson. By last season, they deserved boos for ripping him off.

It's not all open fields and breakaway runs for Chris Johnson, who takes plenty of violent hits. (Getty Images)  
It's not all open fields and breakaway runs for Chris Johnson, who takes plenty of violent hits. (Getty Images)  
Football is a brutal sport, see, and at all times Chris Johnson is one carry -- maybe his next carry -- from devastation. That's what the Titans are thinking, of course, and they're correct: Chris Johnson is one carry away from being finished. We have him under contract through 2012, so why give him a new deal?

Answer: Because it's the right thing to do. Maybe not right in the football sense, no. But right in every other sense, whether we're talking fair compensation or employer loyalty or simply appreciation for a job well done.

For three years, Chris Johnson has done his job better than anyone in the NFL. That's factual. Even with the dreck that has passed for quarterback play at Tennessee, he has run for more yards since 2008 than anyone in the league (4,598). Adrian Peterson is second at 4,441.

Both players entered the league with five-year contracts.

Peterson's is worth $40.5 million.

Johnson's is worth $12 million.

Obviously Johnson has been underpaid. Even if you have a bone to pick with his holdout, you wouldn't deny that. But lots of you do have a bone to pick with Johnson, and therefore with my filet mignon of a column, and your bone is this: Johnson signed a contract. He should honor the contract.

That's an argument that makes sense only if you think NFL teams honor their contracts with players. And NFL teams do not.

Player holdouts get the bad press, but player holdouts are uncommon compared to the number of times a team releases a player under contract. In this or any preseason you can count the number of player holdouts on one hand, maybe two -- but to count the times an NFL team has released a player under contract you would need the hands of the Jackson Five, plus all of the Osmonds, and maybe even a few Hanson brothers. And those dudes from Kings of Leon. Maybe Fifty Cent, too.

When that happens -- when Dallas releases Leonard Davis, nullifying a contract that says he was going make to $6 million this season -- fans don't get outraged like they do when a player like Chris Johnson holds out. The Cowboys aren't seen as greedy or deceitful. They're seen as a business operation making a business decision. So are the Rams for releasing Jacob Bell with three years and $18 million left on his contract. And the Dolphins for releasing Channing Crowder with a year and $2.5 million on his contract, and a pregnant wife at home.

It's not personal, Mrs. Crowder. It's business.

But when a player holds out, (some) people think it's personal. Because he's a person, I guess. But the truth is, an NFL player is a business operation just like an NFL team is a business operation. Chris Johnson is a person, sure, but he's a company unto himself. He's his own investment portfolio, and right now the market says he's worth 10 times the $800,000 his contract says he'll make this season.

Johnson wants a piece of that, and he wants it today because tomorrow isn't guaranteed, and not just in the ethereal sense that we're all living from one day to the next. True, we are, but unless I get hit by a bus this afternoon, I'm going to have this job tomorrow.

As soon as Johnson reports to camp, he will get hit by a bus. Or a 330-pound defensive tackle. Or a 250-pound linebacker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. Collisions are what he does. NFL collisions, and not just in games but also in practice, are car wrecks. And not everyone walks away.

Look at former NFL running back Earl Campbell. Bless his heart, the guy is 56 going on 96. His quality of life is abysmal. It's tragic what has happened to him, and it didn't happen to him after he stopped playing football. It happened during his career, when he was getting all those carries and getting into all those collisions and sustaining invisible, irreversible damage that manifested itself later.

Johnson has sustained invisible, irreversible damage too. He has carried the ball more than 900 times in three seasons. He has caught almost 70 passes. He didn't score every time, though sometimes it seems that way. He didn't run out of bounds very often, either. He has been hit hundreds of times at high rates of speed, maybe even higher rates of speed than anyone else in the league given that nobody runs as fast as Chris Johnson.

The Titans have received their money's worth from Chris Johnson, and then some. And then some more. And then to the point where, good grief, the Titans are screwing Chris Johnson. They're ripping him off. Johnson knows it. They know it, too.

Question is, what are they going to do about it?

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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