Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is attempting to pilfer the Titans dry today, as he is set to meet with Tennessee management sometime this morning. Johnson has been holding out from camp this entire shortened summer, and believes his salary of $550,000 this season is a crime against humanity. His salary this season obviously is too low, but the numbers he is pleading for ($35 million guaranteed at $12-13 million per season) are absurd, even for Johnson.
The argument has been made that Johnson, considered to be in the elite class of "playmakers", should be paid pretty much however he damn well wants. The Titans, being an organization that is so unbelievably dependent on Johnson's ability to play offense, will likely give him close to whatever he wants.
This is a problem.
The running back economy has not changed since the early 2000's, in spite of evidence that running backs are not as valuable as everyone previously assumed. Every statistic we have shows that a great passing game is of more value than a great running game. Their careers are shorter than every other player, at about 2.57 years and ones whose careers go past that point are usually an amalgam of knee injuries and runs that barely make it past the line of scrimmage.
This is not to say the entire running back position should be considered obsolete, but the value we place on these guys should definitely be reconsidered. The fact that guys like DeAngelo Williams, who have hit a proverbial wall in terms of advancing their careers, are still being promised tons of guaranteed money, is absurd. People like to talk about how professional football is our most "modern" sport, but in reality, the people who are in charge still conduct contract negotiations and value players the same way their predecessors did.
In spite of all this overwhelming evidence that running backs should not command such high salaries anymore, the Tennessee Titans are still going to spend a ridiculous amount of money on Chris Johnson. The problem is, he isn't even worth a lot by even the exaggerated running back standards.
The advanced statistic website Football Outsiders has a metric called DVOA, which essentially is a combination of a bunch of different numbers that gives a player his value per play. Johnson's last season was -7.2%, which means he was, according to the most advanced football statistical measurement we have, a below-average running back.
The thing about DVOA, and this is something that should work in Johnson's favor if you were to believe the media's and his own assessment of himself, is that it skewers in favor of big plays. Big plays are given more value in DVOA, and yet Johnson's DVOA was ranked 33rd amongst his peers. For a more statistically familiar measure of Johnson's decline, his yards-per-rush was 4.32, down from 5.60 during his gaudy, record-breaking 2009 season.
4.32 means that Johnson spent a lot of his time dancing in the backfield, while waiting for an elusive hole to open. He also was only about half as valuable in the passing game as he was in 2009, as his receiving yards were cut in half.
Does this mean that Johnson's 2009 season was a fluke, and we are all pawns for believing otherwise? Possibly.
Johnson is worth more than 550K, but the Titans are making a huge mistake paying him the numbers they will pay him, which according to Andrew Brandt will be about $26-28 million.
Chris Johnson gives the appearance of being more than just a running back, in his own words, a "playmaker". A closer look, however, reveals a player who is milking stats from two years ago, in order to milk his organization dry. Johnson's 2010 year was one to forget, and is even more reprehensible once the numbers are given a closer look. Johnson knows the Titans will not realize this, and will play the role of unappreciated vagabond.
Despite giving off the appearance of a moron (the dreadlocks/grill combination is usually considered an easy target in the business world, I'd imagine), Johnson knows what he is doing. He sees the running back market at such a ridiculous hyperbole, and knows that his broader stats (rushing yards), mask his real talent as a running back.
Johnson's going to play the Titans as saps, but that is considered commonplace in today's NFL economy.
Brendan O’Hare runs the sports/pop culture blogging conglomerate PineRiders, which has been linked to by Deadspin, EDSBS, Puck Daddy, and With Leather. If you want to be in Brendan’s next mailbag, contact him firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendanOHarePR.