QUOTE: “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.” — Aldous Huxley
The Larry Johnson era has finally ended in Kansas City, which is not a surprise. But what is a surprise is that it happened in November, not last April. When the new administration of general manger Scott Pioli and head coach Todd Haley took over the Chiefs in February, it was a safe bet that Johnson was not their kind of player, and the fact he remained on the roster for 10 months was a huge surprise to many.
Johnson does not have a smooth or easy personality — in fact, the last three coaches he has played for have all had unpleasant experiences. His first coach, Dick Vermeil, who is well known for his kindness toward his players, called Johnson’s personality “complex.” All three were very different in their styles of coaching, so it’s safe to conclude that no matter what kind of coach is in Larry’s future, he will struggle with their relationship.
But forgetting all the personality issues, Larry as a football player is not the same player he once was in 2006. He doesn’t have the burst, acceleration or power in his lower body that would lead you to believe he can come in and help a team. I write this all the time, but running backs are not able to regain their burst, their explosive movement and their ability to break tackles with their legs (see Clinton Portis).
For example, when Seattle signed Edgerrin James, it was very clear to most observers (except the Seahawks) that James had seen better days. He has no power, no burst, and borrowing a Bill Parcells line to describe a bad running back seemed to fit James: “We have to knock them down twice to get four yards.” James was turning four-yard gains into two yards before he went to Seattle, then he proved it when he got there. Whatever tape the Seahawks watched before signing him must have been from his better days with the hope he could regain his old form. But in reality, it was gone.
When watching Larry Johnson, there have to be two concerns for any team. The first is dealing with a moody, declining player. The second is how much help can a team expect at this point in the season? Where the Chiefs made a mistake in keeping Johnson 10 months too long was their evaluation of his overall talent. They traded tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is a model citizen on and off the field, because they wanted to get younger as a team and wanted to change the culture in their locker room. If that was the mission statement of the new regime, why did they keep Johnson?
Going back to the start of 2007 until now, Johnson has scored only eight touchdowns running the ball, and his average per attempt has steadily declined. The fundamental question that should be asked is: Is this because of their offensive line and its inability to control the line of scrimmage, or is it because 30-year-old runners tend to wear out? My sense is both, but what’s alarming to me is that even when the Chiefs get behind in games and their opponent couldn’t care less about yards gained on the ground because the game is out of reach (this is where the Raiders made a living promoting their running game – third-and-20, run the ball for 15, helps the stats, but it doesn’t help you win the game), Johnson was still not very productive. He just doesn’t show the zip or burst to make you believe it’s coming back any time soon. So why deal with his moody personality? The risks far outweigh the rewards.
The Chiefs made the right decision on Johnson, but my fault with them lies in their decision not to make this call when they first arrived. Even Todd Haley in his press conference Monday (Doesn’t he looks like he’s half asleep when he’s talking? He needs to realize that he has to exude some sense of confidence at the presser to the players watching.) said that the decision to release Johnson was not based on one thing but on events that happened before he arrived in Kansas City. So the front office knew what to expect by keeping him on the roster. To trade or cut him — had they wanted to do so — the Chiefs would not have faced any salary cap obstacles since they had enough room to absorb any signing bonus accelerations. It made no sense to send the message to the locker room that you want Johnson but don’t want Gonzalez. And all that crap about trading Tony because he wanted to go to a winner and he was unhappy, is just that — crap. Why give away good players when you don’t have enough of them? Makes no sense at all. Keeping Johnson is similar to what the Memphis Grizzlies did, signing Allen Iverson to be a role model on a very young team. How does that work? It doesn’t.
It seems like every decision the Chiefs have made this year indicates they are learning on the fly — that both Haley and Pioli are struggling to be consistent with their thoughts and actions. There isn’t a decision that seems “football-principle based,” but rather based on the moment or the situation. For example, they want to be a young team but then sign older players like linebacker Zach Thomas and wide receiver Bobby Engram — both of whom had seen better days. They preach character and hard work yet keep Johnson, trade Gonzalez and then draft some questionable character players. What’s the message they’re sending to the rest of the NFL?
If you’re Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, you have to be wondering the same thing I am: Where’s the plan? Clark has to hope that the investment made in Pioli and Haley will pan out in the long run, because in the short term, it looks confused. It looks more like hope than an actual plan.
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