After heading north of the border for last week’s interview, it only seemed right to turn things around and seek some warmer weather and talk to a current– if temporarily, but willfully inactive– player named Chris: Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.
Arguably the league’s fastest and best running back since the Titans drafted him out of East Carolina University prior to the 2008 season, Johnson currently is holding out from this year’s lockout-compressed training camp in the hopes of securing something around $30 million in guaranteed money.
This isn’t CJ’s first contract dispute either. 2009 was a record-setting year for him (2,006 rushing yards, 2,509 total yards, 14 touchdowns, 5.6 yards/carry), and he demanded a restructured contract before the 2010 season, and the Titans ultimately gave in. Johnson’s prediction that he would shatter Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105 yards) by rushing for 2,500 yards in 2010. Instead, he had 1,364 yards on the ground (1,609 total), well short of the record and his personal goal, though still good numbers.
For this imagined interview, I agreed to meet Johnson for lunch at McDougal’s in Nashville…
AD: Thanks for meeting me, Chris. I wasn’t sure if you’d be in town.
CJ: I’m here. I’m ready to play. Just waiting for Joe [Segal, Johnson’s agent] and [Titans’ GM Mike] Reinfeldt to give me the go-ahead, let me know they’ve worked something out.
AD: You’ve had one high-profile contract dispute before. Without talking about specific numbers or anything, what’s your goal this time?
CJ: It’s about compensating me for what I’ve done, for who I am, for being the best back in the league. I’ve earned that.
AD: On Wednesday, Adam Schefter tweeted: “By not reporting to training camp today, Titans holdout RB Chris Johnson surrendered getting an accrued season toward free agency.” That’s a pretty big hit for you, right? Do you really think you’re going to extract enough money in negotiations now to offset what would seem to be your losses in being a year late to free agency? Especially given the short lives of NFL running backs…
CJ: No, that’s it. Us RBs have a small window to earn what we deserve. I’m the fastest in the league, but even I can’t last forever. That’s why I have to get paid for what I’ve done, and get paid for what I’m about to do.
AD: Earlier this week, Eddie George, the Titans’ all-time leading rusher, came out in support of you, saying he doesn’t blame you for what you’re doing and that the onus is on the Titans to get your deal done.
CJ: Exactly. Eddie knows, and it means a lot that he has my back, but Eddie knows. He was one of the best in his time. He understands the durability factor, he knows I want to get in there and practice with the team, but he knows the top RB has to get his when he can. QBs, receivers, these guys’ careers are a lot longer than mine. I sell out on every play. It’s the nature of the position.
AD: I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on your recently retired teammate, Kerry Collins, and the fact that may have been the most underrated quarterback of his time, having appeared in two Super Bowls and thrown for more yards than Jim Kelly, Donovan McNabb, Phil Simms, Steve Young, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas, and Troy Aikman.
CJ: First, Kerry retired? And second, that’s insane.
[At this point, I wanted to ask CJ about whips, but we both had finished our lunches and he had to go do whatever it is a star NFL holdout does in his free time, so I thanked him and went for one final question.]
AD: Thanks for talking to me, Chris. One last question: is this the best fried chicken you’ve ever had?
CJ: Yes. Without a doubt.