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Larry Johnson: Trade or Keep?


Ah yes. Larry Johnson. He doesn't want to be in Kansas City. The fans don't want him here either. After Carl Peterson, there are few sports figures in KC who drew more ire than Larry Johnson. After accepting the rushing crown from Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson has done everything he can to destroy the kingdom.

So, what do the Chiefs do with him? Yes, I know we've hit on the topic several times before, most notably at the end of last month. But it's always good to revisit these big topics for those that missed them the first time.

Kent Babb brought up a similar topic about Larry Johnson yesterday at The Red Zone and I wanted to touch on it here as well, probably for the last time.

One interesting twist to the Larry Johnson situation now is that we have no idea how new Chiefs GM Scott Pioli is going approach the situation. With Carl Peterson, we knew we were looking at stubborn, more than likely drawn out trade talks. Peterson probably wouldn't have budged on anything less than a first round pick for LJ. It will be fun to see Pioli's approach to it all.

The options are to trade or keep the whiny diva on the roster. Let's see what would happen with each scenario.

Trade him

For a long time now, it has been the conventional wisdom that Larry Johnson could not be released/traded because of the accelerated salary cap hit the Chiefs would take. For those that aren't familiar with this, if a player is cut or traded before his contract is up, his signing bonus (which has already been paid in full to the player by the team) "accelerates" to that season. Basically, the remaining money that was supposed to be spread out over the life of the contract (for example a $10 million bonus on a 5-year contract would count in $2 million increments) in terms of the salary cap now immediately counts during one season.

It's understandable that people would still think that the accelerated salary cap hit makes a Johnson release untenable. It was just in 2007 that the running back signed a six year, $19 million guaranteed contract. Isn't the salary cap bonus money still quite a bit?

Well, not really. By way of our main man UCrawford back on December 30th, Adam Schefter of fills us in on how much it would cost the Chiefs to rid themselves of Larry Johnson.

For Kansas City to trade Johnson, it would cost the Chiefs $8.8 million against their salary cap next season. For the Chiefs to keep Johnson, it would cost Kansas City $8.2 million against it salary cap next season.

So a trade or release of Larry Johnson costs the Chiefs $600,000. As UCrawford said, if we can get a first day pick for LJ, then yes, the Chiefs definitely do this deal.

About that trade...

Kent Babb speculates that the Chiefs would be lucky to get better than a 6th round pick for Johnson.

If the Chiefs are offered anything for Johnson, their best-case scenario might be a conditional pick or a sixth-rounder.

If you're like me, you were a bit shocked by that statement. Just a 6th rounder for LJ? There's no team that would gamble a 4th or 5th round pick on him? No team on the "cusp" of a championship that thinks maybe Larry puts them over the edge? There may be a team who bites on him in that capacity. And even just a few sentences later, a 6th round pick for Larry is already settling in for me as plausible.

Even if there was a suitor that LJ fit the on the field requirements of, the guy brings problems with him. He's been unable to not put himself in dangerous situations with women at clubs. He's not a leader whatsoever. In fact, I don't think the word leadership has ever been seriously thought of by Larry Johnson.

And on the field, he's a one trick pony. He can't catch the ball out of the backfield. He doesn't adjust well to any other running situation than a pound it out, 30-carry a game scenario. He doesn't block well. With Larry's running style, you have to commit to him the entire game to see the results.

So, all of those things add up to, in my estimation, at best a 4th round pick and at worst no trade offer. No offer is also a distinct possibility. As Babb said, the era of the single big time running backs is at least temporarily on hold in the NFL. Running back by committee is the trend now and that hurts Larry's tradeability.

If the Chiefs find a trade partner, then great. If they don't, the team can release him with very little financial penalty.

Keep him

Retaining Larry Johnson on the Chiefs roster is the least desirable outcome of this situation.

The man doesn't want to be a Chief anymore. His style is too one-dimensional to be effective for this team (at least right now anyway).

Plus, I'm sick of hearing the guy whine about, well, everything.

The future of LJ on this team will be determined by Scott Pioli and whoever our new head coach is. If that new head coach thinks that Larry can be used effectively in whatever offense they choose to run, that's fantastic. I don't care for the player anymore but yards are yards; points are points; and wins are wins. If Larry can help the Chiefs do any of those things in 2009, then I consider that a victory for the new head coach.

One thing about keeping him that is interesting now is you wonder if Scott Pioli and the new head coach would have allowed Larry Johnson to become so defiant, like he's been over the past couple of years. I don't think Pioli would have let that happen. He seems like aguy who would have brought the hammer down on LJ's childish BS. But anyway...

Much of this Keep LJ talk is moot anyway. When last season ended, he said this:

"The city is tired of me, and the organization and I have run our course together. It's time to move on for me. There could be 100 changes. It's time for me to go."

I'm not sure how Larry can come back to Kansas City in 2009 after saying that. New head look on the organization. Larry Johnson doesn't fit in KC anymore. You can't have a guy say those things and then bring him back into the fold. It's a bad example for the rest of the team.

What's probably going to happen

I think some team ponies up a 5th rounder for Larry. Even though the Chiefs are currently pretty thin at running back, Pioli and co. will find a way to make things work without LJ. He doesn't fit the mold of a Pioli team and Larry has said as much before to the press.

Trade Larry Johnson. Get him and his problems out of Kansas City.

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