Rambling, stream of consciousness thoughts follow...
It appears that the end may be coming for Larry Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs. As Primetime noted, Johnson lost his 2009 guaranteed salary, clearing the way for him to either be cut or traded without further financial ramifications. Or kept and run into the ground.
If you take a look at NFL trades over the last few years (heck, 10 years), you'll notice that not too many of them involved running backs. In my quick research, I noted only a handful of running backs that were traded and very few were considered even close to marquee backs at the time.
RB Lorenzo Booker, drafted by the Dolphins in the 3rd round in 2007, was traded to the Eagles a year later for a 4th round pick.
Michael Bennett, T.J. Duckett and Samkom Gado were all traded for either low picks or equally capable players in recent years.
So, what is Larry Johnson truly worth in a trade? I'm going to say at the maximum, the Kansas City Chiefs will be able to garner a 4th round pick straight up for Larry Johnson. Before I continue with my analysis, let me take you back to what Direckshun said back before the trade deadline last year:
Worth: At this point, he's worth a 4th. There's no way any team in the NFL will want to pay the price that Carl Peterson is asking at the latest trading stage in the season. There aren't a lot of teams that are willing to cough up a first-day pick for a guy who doesn't block at a position that most teams value little. It's possible that the Chiefs could land a good deal this coming offseason for LJ, when teams are more relaxed and everybody's thinking ambitiously. But at this point, it's near impossible the Chiefs get anything better than a 4th for LJ. If anybody offered a 3rd (which nobody will), Peterson should leap on it--but I'm probably guessing he won't.
I know what you're saying. If Larry was worth a 4th round pick last year, shouldn't he be worth less this year? Yes and no. He does have the off the field stuff working against him, with a possible suspension looming. Larry has also shown an inability to stay out of trouble, even moreso than Jared Allen did when he was a Chief. That definitely hurts his trade value. His foot injury from 2007 also has to linger in people's minds.
But, I, like many people, feel like LJ still has gas left in the tank. In the appropriate situation, he could play like the Larry of old for two or even three seasons IMO. He's still capable of being a 20+ carry a game back. I have no doubt about that.
Larry is at risk but still has potential to play at a high level. A fine line, indeed. Let's check out two comparable trades with running backs, both right around Larry Johnson's same draft year.
Clinton Portis was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2002. Prior to the 2004 season, after racking up back to back 1,500 yard rushing seasons, the Broncos traded Portis to the Redskins for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
So, we have a running back literally at the top of his game who is traded for one first day pick and the best defensive player at his position. Will Larry garner any such deal? Not even close. I don't believe that any team would give up any player of any sort of value for LJ. He's strictly a draft pick trade because of his risk. I think teams will only trade unknown commodities (draft picks) instead of known players.
Next, also coming out in 2003 like LJ, we have Willis McGahee. After sitting out the 2003 season recuperating an injured knee, McGahee went on to rush for 1,128, 1,247 and 990 yards respectively in the following seasons.
Before the 2007 season, the Bills traded McGahee to the Baltimore Ravens for third and seventh round picks in the 2007 NFL Draft, and a third round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Forget that 7th round pick for a second. McGahee was basically traded for two third round picks.
Between Portis and McGahee, Willis McGhahee's situation is probabaly closer to Larry Johnson. Both have/had injury concerns and both are/were in that second contract time period. I think you can argue that McGahee in 2007 and Johnson now are in similar areas of concern with their durability. McGahee because of previous injuries and Johnson because of his age and injuries.
Larry Johson won't garner nearly the draft picks and talent that Portis and McGhahee did for a couple of reasons. One, his off the field trouble puts him at risk for a suspenision. Two, he's part of that darn 400+ carry curse that has to spook team's player personnel guys. Finally, even only a few years removed from the Portis and McGhahee trades, running backs are now more expendable in the NFL. Teams are much more willing to pair up two mid round backs than put the load (and risk) all on one player.
So, after reading through that mess of words, let us know what you think Larry Johnson is worth in trade.