It’s just business. Everyone involved understands that.
For the Tennessee Titans, Chris Johnson’s desire for a new contract and his attempt to drive negotiations by staying away from offseason workouts is hardly business as usual.
In the 14 years since the franchise relocated from Houston, there have been the occasional lengthy negotiations, which have caused top draft picks to miss the start of training camp (see Haynesworth, Albert or Jones, Pacman). There also have been plenty of salary cap restrictions that have forced management’s hands on personnel decisions.
This is something different, though, which makes it difficult to anticipate the resolution.
“There’s been on occasion, in years past, some issues,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “There’s always going to be a day where there’s a wedding or a graduation or a cruise or something and somebody misses one [workout].
“But when guys decide not to come in because they’re displeased with their contract, that’s an issue. That’s the business side of it, and we’re not going to dwell on it.”
In summation: Johnson, the All-pro running back, wants a big deal; the team treats his absence like it’s no big deal.
It’s been almost a decade since a similar situation played out at the team’s MetroCenter executive offices and training facility.
Cornerback Samari Rolle missed organized workouts in May and then left the team for several days near the end of training camp as he sought a long-term contract. It was less than a week after he rejoined the team that he signed a six-year, $37.5 million pact.
The difference is that Rolle was eligible for restricted free agency that season and had a one-year qualifying offer on the table. He signed that deal in order to report for the start of training camp and then had it replaced by the lengthy package.
Beyond that, some of the Titans’ more dubious moments involved guys who had contracts and actually showed up to work.
In 2003, linebacker Randall Godfrey agreed to a renegotiation of his deal in February. Then, within a matter of weeks, he was released so that the team could re-sign three others, including punter Craig Hentrich and backup quarterback Neil O’Donnell.
Three years later Steve McNair was famously asked to leave the training facility because of legal issues related to his contract, which the team wanted to renegotiate. Before the end of the summer, he was traded to Baltimore.
Tight end Bo Scaife and linebacker Stephen Tulloch, two others who have missed all four organized team activities (officially, they are voluntary workouts) so far this month, are in situations similar to Rolle’s.
Both were forced into restricted free agency for the second consecutive year by a change in the league’s business rules in the last year of its current Collective Bargaining Agreement. Scaife has signed his one-year tender but still has not reported. Tulloch has not signed his deal.
Johnson has three years remaining on the five-year contract he signed after being drafted in the first round in 2008. Yet after setting an NFL record for total yards from scrimmage and becoming the sixth man in league history to rush for better than 2,000 yards in a season, he figures his value can’t get much higher.
“There’s a business aspect to this game, and that part of it we all understand,” veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “… [Johnson] wants to be here to get the job done and to be the best player he can be. At the same time, he’s got to decide what’s the best decision for him.
“You don’t play the game long. I’ve been lucky to play as long as I have. Sometimes you have to make the right business decision.”