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Derrick Johnson won’t be back with Chiefs, will become free agent

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The speculation is over.

The Kansas City Chiefs officially announced that longtime linebacker Derrick Johnson is set to become a free agent when the league year ends on March 14 and his contract voids.

Johnson, who was drafted by the Chiefs in 2005, played 13 years, all in Kansas City.

“I’ve been blessed to be a part of the Kansas City Chiefs organization my entire career,” Johnson said in a statement released by the Chiefs. “I’d like to thank the Hunt family, my coaches, teammates and the staff for the tremendous amount of support I received over the years. I love Kansas City and this fan base, they’ve always had my back. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to spend 13 years in a place I love.”

The hardest part of the announcement for Chiefs fans will be the fact that Johnson said he intends to continue playing.

“I plan on playing for several more years because I love this game so much,” he added, “but I look forward to retiring as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs when my career is over. I’ll miss my Chiefs teammates – we made a lot of big plays together over the years – and I wish them the best in bringing a championship home to the best and loudest fans in the NFL.”

Johnson leaves the Chiefs as their all-time leader in tackles with 1,262 (993 solo). He played in 182 games (169 starts) with the club, totaling 27.5 sacks, 40 quarterback pressures, 14 interceptions – returning four of those INTs for touchdowns – 23 forced fumbles and eight fumble recoveries.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid worked with Johnson his last five seasons in Kansas City.

“I’m grateful I had the opportunity to coach a player like Derrick,” Reid said. “He’s a passionate football player and a natural leader. I value the amount of quality work he put in every day for us, including teaching our younger players what it means to be a pro. I think he will make an incredible coach when he is done playing the game, if he chooses.”

Johnson was named the club’s Mack Lee Hill Award winner following his rookie season, an award given to the team’s top rookie or first-year player. Johnson also received the Derrick Thomas Award, given to the team’s MVP, in 2011.

“Few players in recent history have meant more to the Chiefs franchise and the Kansas City community than Derrick Johnson,” Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “His tireless work ethic and passion for the game made him one of the most productive defensive players to ever wear a Chiefs uniform and one of the most respected players both in our locker room and around the league. Over the last 13 seasons, Derrick represented himself and the Chiefs organization with integrity and class, and he will always be a part of our Chiefs family.”

The end of an era in Kansas City.