Last week, Chris Johnson finally flew to Tennessee to meet with Titans' brass to discuss the terms of a new contract. Johnson, who has two years left on his current deal, expects to be like one of the top playmakers in NFL, seeking a contract reportedly worth $13.5 million per year. Meanwhile, the Titans are willing to make Johnson the highest paid running back in the league, offering a reported $10 million per year. However, Johnson returned to Orlando without the big-money contract he's been seeking for more than a year. Said Johnson about Tennessee, "we are not seeing eye-to-eye right now."
Over the past few years, Johnson has proven that he is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. In 2009, he became only the sixth man in NFL history to run for at least 2,000 yards and the first to rack up more than 2,500 total yards when including his receiving totals. He followed that performance by rushing for 1,364 yards in 2010, despite finishing the season with a bruised thigh. Despite his excellence, Johnson is heading into his fourth season and is due to make just $800,000 in base salary. Including incentives, the final two years of his deal can max out at roughly $2.7 million. Thus, Johnson initiated his holdout. The Titans have said they're willing to negotiate with Johnson but want him to report before those discussions take place. On the flip side, Johnson has steadfastly refused to report until his contract situation is resolved.
Under the new negotiated terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and NFL Players' Association, Johnson's extended holdout requires a unique analysis from previous holdouts. Under the new terms of the CBA, the NFL and NFLPA imposed an August 9 deadline for players to report to training camp. Players who miss this deadline forfeit an accrued year of free agency. Additionally, for every day Johnson fails to report to training camp, he can be fined a whopping $30,000. This is more than double the fine under the previous CBA where the maximum fine for an unexcused absence from camp was $14,000. At press time, Johnson has been absent from preseason training camp for 31 days (and counting). This amounts to $930,000 worth of fines, more than a year's pay under Johnson's current contract, if the Titans choose to enforce the penalty.
Johnson has obviously missed the August 9 deadline and is now technically considered a third year player for free agency purposes. This new addition to the CBA was significant in curtailing holdouts, particularly for players entering the last year of their current contracts. For example, Desean Jackson chose not to report to training camp to start this preseason in protest of his current deal. However, this was a short-lived tantrum as Jackson eventually reported to camp ahead of the August 9 deadline. Since Jackson will be entering the final year of his deal, he did not want to lose the opportunity to become a free agent at the end of the year. Johnson however has two years left on his deal and appears determined to secure a long-term contract. This increases the odds of Johnson re-signing in Tennessee, as he has stated he wants to end his career as a Titan, however, with the deadline having already passed, provides little incentive for him to end his holdout early.
Further, the increased penalty for holdouts can be looked at two ways. If the Titans enforce the CBA, Johnson loses a significant amount of bargaining power, as $30,000 per day has to hit him pretty hard financially. It was under this premise that the NFL adopted these terms into the CBA in order to reduce holdouts. In fact, it seems to have been effective in most cases, particularly in ensuring that rookies report to camp in a timely fashion. Inversely, Johnson's extended holdout serves as proof that he is extremely serious about obtaining a new contract before he steps foot onto the field for the Titans. If he receives the money he feels is due to him, the fines accrued would be little more than a drop in the hat compared to the money he would lose should he be injured while serving out his current contract. Further, Johnson has already accrued nearly $1 million in fines (again, if the Titans choose to enforce the terms of the CBA). Given the financial strain he has already chosen to incur, there is no reason to believe that he is not willing to take on additional sums.
Johnson has shown he is dead serious about holding out until he receives a new contract that compensates him accordingly. He has shown that, despite the new additions of the CBA levying serious penalties for unexcused absences from training camp, he is willing to accept the financial hardship and loss of accrued benefits in his fight for what he feels is justly deserves. Given what he has already given up and the risk of even more losses should he be injured, it would be unsurprising for Johnson's holdout to continue into the season unless the two parties are willing to seriously negotiate within the next two weeks.