Last week, after Larry Johnson got himself into trouble first on Twitter and then in the team locker room, the Chiefs considered releasing their starting running back, according to a source. But it’s from from a sure thing LJ will be back with the Chiefs.
According to the source, the Chiefs are keeping a close eye on Johnson and how he reacts to his two-week suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. The Chiefs also will be watching Kolby Smith, who runs with a similar style as Johnson but who has missed most of the last year while recovering from a major knee injury.
Before Johnson is eligible to return next Monday, a day after the Chiefs’ game at Jacksonville, the team will turn its focus inward and try to answer some pressing questions. None is more pressing than this: What message would releasing Johnson send to the team’s other players, who might be divided in their opinions of Johnson but could support him as a fellow member of the players’ union?
The Chiefs also face a delicate balance: Weighing the value of perhaps the team’s most talented player but also considering that Johnson is a polarizing figure whose words last week at least forced the Chiefs to consider what they’d really be losing — for better or worse — if they let Johnson go. Now, at least part of the team’s decision will fall on Johnson’s shoulders.
“How he reacts will tell the Chiefs a lot,” said the source.
I’ve been pretty clear that I wanted Johnson released last Tuesday and was disappointed not only in the settlement but also that he’s still a member of the Chiefs. But I recognize that like most fans I was reacting strictly out of emotion and teams will implode if they were to do the same thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not any happier about the fact that LJ is still a Kansas City Chief, but I realize patience is key right now.
If Johnson does come back to the Chiefs, he will only need 75 more yards to claim the Kansas City career rushing record. Nathan Kent from Home of the Chiefs takes a look at the record and more importantly what the current record holder means to the franchise.
It’s not a tough record to beat.
Priest Holmes holds Kansas City’s franchise record for career rushing yards. His number is 6,070. That’s good for fifth lowest in the league, ahead of only Tampa Bay, New England, Carolina, and Houston. The number itself isn’t that special. What is special is how he did it and how quickly he did it–63 starts in 65 games, over half of which came on the wrong side of an injury that would have ended the careers of most backs. He did it all with limited natural ability too. At no point in his career was he the fastest or strongest back on the team, but he was always the smartest and the best prepared.
In light of everything the Chiefs have been through since with Holmes’s replacement, it’s hard to remember exactly how maligned the holy one was by the team’s fans. Mercurial by nature, Priest infrequently granted interviews, made few public appearances, and never traveled with the team while injured. The latter isn’t altogether uncommon–Andy Reid, for instance, doesn’t allow his injured players to travel with the team under any circumstance–but it rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. His decision to sit out an entire season in 2006, claiming the need to further rehabilitate from a midseason injury in 2005, rubbed fans the wrong way too, particularly when he announced in October of 2007 that he planned to return. Fans felt Priest had let the team down. He had, in their estimation, placed his own desires over the team’s needs, holding out for longer than needed, knowing full well the offense was struggling in his absence.
Chiefs fans would give anything right now to have a tailback who could best be described as mercurial. The adjectives most commonly applied to Holmes’s replacement, Larry Johnson, are far less flattering. Some are mild: off-putting, unmotivated, lazy, self-absorbed, childish. Some are more behavior-specific: misogynistic, homophobic, abusive, felonious. Others yet are unprintable in most media sources, but if George Carlin was alive today, I’m sure he’d campaign on journalists’ behalf for the right to use some of those descriptors, especially given that some of them are so deadly accurate.
I would have to go back and listen to my old podcasts, but I don’t remember ever feeling anything negative toward Priest. Sure, when he showed up in 2007 to play again and ultimately returned to the field for a few games I questioned his motives. But is questioning a players motives at the end his career really maligning him?
As Kent notes, compared to LJ we see Holmes is an even better light and would kill to have a player like him back in Kansas City so that’s why I don’t trust myself to strictly go by memory right now.
The Chiefs return from their bye this week to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that delivered the Titans their first win yesterday. The two teams are coming from a very similar place, with Jags coach Jack Del Rio sounding a lot like Todd Haley after the Chiefs blowout loss to the Chargers.
“I thought we had a pretty solid, in fact not solid, very good week of practice leading up to this game,” Del Rio said. “Tonight’s effort completely catches me off-guard.”
And there was this team-deprecating remark: “I don’t have any injury news to bring you. I’m not sure we hit anyone hard enough to hurt ourselves or them.”
Sorry, that reasoning from a head coach with new players dotting half the roster and four rookie starters might have been acceptable after the home-opening debacle against the Arizona Cardinals. It was certainly less so following that 41-point bagel put on the Jaguars at Seattle.
But nothing said this time, Jack, is going to soothe this clunker.
Not against a division foe coming off blowout losses in its last three games. Not the hated Titans, who were playing a quarterback (Vince Young) who hadn’t started a game since the 2008 season opener against the Jaguars, when he tried to quit on his own team before suffering a game-ending injury.
It can no longer be an element of surprise for a coach or anybody when, three times in seven games, a team performs as if they completely forget how to block, tackle, and flat-out compete for victory.
Does that sound familiar?
Sunday in Jacksonville will simply come down to which team fills in the most blanks before kickoff instead of which is the most talented or prepared. Yes, that’s what Chiefs (and Jaguars) football has come to.