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Would you sign L.J.?

He’ll find a team, but there’s a big risk. Matt Bowen

Print This November 11, 2009, 06:48 AM EST

If you were running an NFL team, would you go out and sign running back Larry Johnson? Would you take on the character issues, the headaches?

Now, there are plenty of positives to signing a former feature back at this point in the season, especially if you’re a team on the bubble, hanging around the .500 mark, and looking for an extra pair of legs to use through the November push into December — when the real football starts in this league.

L.J. can give your No.1 back a break, he can be a great insurance policy if your No.1 goes down, and he can be used in a variety of situations when the personnel and the game plan call for it.

Yes, there are plenty of red flags that come with Johnson, and as we’ve talked about many times at the NFP, those sore spots, well, they seem to vanish once a team has a real need. And an ex-Pro Bowler hanging out on the streets after a recent release is one of those times.

But not for everyone. Almost every team was tossed around Tuesday as a possible soft landing spot for Johnson – and, of course, the Patriots were brought up because of their track record for signing veterans at any point in the season to add to their already star-packed roster. But that could just be water-cooler talk, as are Seattle and Jacksonville — two teams that could use an extra set of legs right now. But at some point, I guess character does count in these situations.

However, Washington and Houston are being mentioned over and over in league circles. Are they serious discussions? Depends on whom you’re talking to.

But is L.J. even worth it? Do you want a guy in your locker room who’s been known to clash with authority? And given his recent criticism of his former head coach in Kansas City, Todd Haley, do you take that risk and bring in what could turn out to be a major distraction? Because the first thing L.J. is going to have to realize is that he’s not a feature back anymore. He isn’t going to walk into your locker room and be the guy who you design the game plan around. Like I said, he’s just another pair of legs — worn down legs at that.

He’ll have to follow the plan of his new team, and he’ll have to take a backseat to a running back who has been accountable all season long.

Even in saying that, despite Johnson’s 2.7-yards-per-carry average in K.C., we don’t know what he can do in a different environment, in a different locker room and in a different helmet. He may just start running the ball like he did in the past — with power and speed once he hits the second level.

But the reality of this situation is simple: He will go somewhere. And he might go somewhere before this post is even published, because someone wants him, and he will walk into a locker room, take someone’s roster spot, start practicing and could even see the ball in a limited role this weekend.

That’s how this league works. His new teammates won’t care about the character issues he’ll bring with him because as long as he shows that he still has some game left in those old legs, all of those off-the-field stories will be swept under the rug. Sure, guys will have their own opinions about him, but just like any work environment, they’ll respect him for the work he does — if he produces.

However, those are the players. The owner who signs L.J. is going to have to sign his checks, and with this guy, there’s always the risk that the money isn’t going to be a good investment.

But the question remains: Would you sign him to your team? Because I know my answer — I’d pass and stick with the guys I already have.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

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