Larry Johnson: Troubled Back out in KC?
At some point in a troubled athlete’s career, their penchant for off the field issues leads their employer to cut them loose. Allen Iverson, Keyshawn Johnson, Ron Artest, Terrell Owens and others have burned their bridges with multiple organizations and in the long run, shortened their careers or earning potential.
Now, it seems Larry Johnson is primed to hit the talented player/troublemaker scrap heap as well. Johnson got himself in hot water again after using Twitter to utter gay slurs toward coach Todd Haley and questioning his credentials. Then the next day, Johnson again used gay slurs in his dealing with the media. Haley spoke out Tuesday saying that they were taking the matter seriously and in fact, sent him home before announcing the suspension.
Johnson was suspended by the Chiefs for the second time in as many years this week, following another lackluster performance that dropped the team to a record of 1-6. This is all despite the offseason additions of Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to add veteran leadership to a rebuilding franchise. They were belted 37-7 by San Diego at Arrowhead Stadium, a place where the Chiefs once were seemingly invincible, but have become almost Detroit Lions like in their futility recently.
Last season, Johnson was benched by then coach Herm Edwards for three games and then suspended for one by commissioner Roger Goodell after a pair of incidents in nightclubs last year. The organization announced that he would be suspended until November 9th, or what is a one game suspension. The Chiefs are off this week and play Jacksonville next week, a suspension that will cost Johnson over $600,000 in lost wages. It has been said that Johnson is going to appeal as well, though how effective that will be may remain to be seen.
Johnson turns 30 later this year, and after this incident, one has to wonder just how much tread he has left on the wheels at this point. He’s worn out his welcome more than likely in Kansas City, especially after his grumbling about wanting to be dealt during the debacle that was the 2008 season. His numbers have plummeted faster than the fortunes of the music group Fountains of Wayne. After back to back 1700 yard seasons in 2005 and 2006 when he went to the Pro Bowl, Johnson has been injured or suspended in each of the last three seasons.
He missed eight games in 2007, rushing for just 559 yards and three touchdowns. Last year was the off field incidents that led to him missing four contests, and guaranteeing he wouldn’t reach 1000 yards. So far this year, the numbers are absolutely anemic: 358 yards on 132 carries for a paltry 2.7 yards a carry and no touchdowns. After combining for 40 touchdowns in 2005 and 2006, he’s totaled just nine since. He’s less than 100 yards from supplanting Priest Holmes as the all time leading rusher in the history of the franchise, but there are rumblings that he may never play another down in a Chiefs uniform.
In a piece today in USA Today, former Chiefs and Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer voices the same opinion that I myself, and many people around the league are curious of: does anyone really even WANT LJ with his litany of off field issues, team disruptive behavior and declining production? After all, his numbers and issues seem to parallel Shaun Alexander, formerly of the Seahawks. Alexander had two huge back to back years in 2004 and 2005, totaling over 3500 yards rushing and 48 touchdowns. After that? In 27 games over three seasons, ironically the same number Johnson has played since his two year run, he racked up just 1636 yards and 12 scores. Last season he played just four games for the Washington Redskins, where he ran 11 times for a meager 24 yards. Currently, he’s unsigned and probably out of the league for good at 32
Here was Schottenheimer’s quote that appeared in the USA Today, which was on Sirius Satellite Radio earlier this week:
“Let me ask you this, of the other 31 teams in the National Football League, who in the world is going to bring him into their locker room? Whether they’re losing or, certainly they won’t if they’re winning. But, to me, the guy doesn’t have the skill level to warrant the kind of b.s. that they’re putting up with out there and I would not be surprised to see them run him right out of town.”
When you factor that most teams have a franchise back (Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte), solid, versatile players (Marshawn Lynch, Ray Rice, Thomas Jones), or solid tandems (Thomas Jones/Shonn Greene with Leon Washington out, Reggie Bush/Mike Bell/Pierre Thomas, Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs, LaDainian Tomlinson/Darren Sproles, etc.), options are obviously limited. A team that has good chemistry would automatically avoid a troublemaker like Johnson, which would eliminate teams like Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Denver, New Orleans, and others. Floundering teams would pass as well, because what good would it do them? You won’t see Tennessee, Detroit, Tampa Bay or the like chasing after Johnson should he hit the market.
What’s left? Canada? That didn’t work out so well for Charles Rogers. The UFL? Let’s see if it even exists next season, when you look around the “talent pool” that exists in the league. Arena football isn’t in business anymore after closing up shop earlier this year due to a lack of funds. How many chances does a guy like LJ really deserve with the way the league is these days? We heard all kinds of fallout from people far and wide regarding Mike Vick’s reinstatement. Every time Chad Ochocinco goes off, or Ray Lewis makes a comment, there is a public outcry, one way or the other, good or bad. Yet, we haven’t heard much from most people regarding Johnson and his issues.
The way it looks, Johnson may have run out of real estate, and with it, ground to a halt what once was a promising career. It will remain to see what Kansas City does, but this is just another example of open mouth, insert foot, only on the grandest of scales.