There's no greater mystery on the current Chiefs roster, in my opinion, than the conundrum and confusion surrounding Derrick Johnson. A former first round choice, the linebacker is arguably the most talented of any currently on the roster. Yet this past season, DJ didn't even play in Week Three against the Eagles (a 20 point loss that could have used Johnson's talents on the field, for sure), and posted two more games (both losses) where he didn't even record a single tackle. Add that to the five games where he only had one tackle, and you basically have a half season of near inactivity.
Then you see the other side. It's the season-opening and -closing interceptions, both for long yardage of 70 and 60 yards respectively. In fact, in the final win at Denver, DJ had two touchdowns from interception returns, winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week and reminding fans and hopefully coaches of what could be. He's flashed the same talent in seasons past with his speed and athleticism that won him the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in college as the nation's top defensive player -- an award that's also landed in the hands of Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, Terrell Suggs and Warren Sapp.
The question is: what should the Chiefs do with a talent like Derrick Johnson? And exactly whose fault is it that 2009 was largely a wasted year for the young and obviously talented linebacker? Is it DJ's lack of focus, work ethic and determination to take his game to the next level? Did he respond immaturely to harsher coaching than he's used to? Could he not rise to the challenge presented by Todd Haley and his staff?
Or is it the other way around? Is Derrick Johnson only one of several talented Chiefs players who had a less-than-expected 2009 season? Do Dwayne Bowe and Jarrad Page also serve as examples that Haley's emotional, demanding approach doesn't work with all players? Was Haley his own worst enemy by playing with the roster slots so much that performers like DJ and Jamaal Charles end up low on the depth chart or not even playing at all?
More commentary after the jump:The truth probably lies on both sides of the fence. And it's up to both sides, then, to move on from the last season and embrace the possibilities of what could be. With other talented linebackers on the restricted market like the Raiders Kirk Morrison and the Ravens Antwan Barnes and unrestricted free agents like Pina Tinoisamoa and Keith Bulluck still available, teams don't have to pay the Chiefs asking price for Johnson. Of course, you never know in an off-season like this one, but the Chiefs might be stuck with DJ (and vice versa).
Yet that might be the best thing in the end for all parties involved. As ESPN's Bill Williamson notes, "Johnson can be salvaged in Kansas City. He can help this team. Perhaps the addition of Romeo Crennel can ignite his career in Kansas City. I think it would be good for both the team and for Johnson if he stayed."