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Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Fiddling with Chris Johnson contract math

By Paul Kuharsky

Brent Dougherty of “3 Hour Lunch” in Nashville was hanging out in the Tennessee Titans' press room a while ago. We got to talking about Chris Johnson.

I’m not a math guy. I’m not a contract expert. But in playing around with some numbers, I came up with something I think could be considered reasonable for the Titans to make an initial offer. And Dougherty allowed me to join the show to offer it up.

Here it is, fixed up a little:

Five years for $55 million. He is guaranteed $31 million in the first three years, including a $25 million signing bonus.

It seems a great deal for Johnson -- a $10.3 million average over the first three years.

It protects the Titans from running back demise, as Johnson will turn 30 during the 2015 season. They could simply not pay the roster bonus, cutting Johnson loose at that point. Or maybe Johnson looks to have another two good years and the economy for running backs makes an additional $13 million, and those big bases in 2014 and 2015, palatable.

I’m not saying this is the ideal deal. I’m saying I believe it’s a functional sketch of something that could work for both sides.

Hopefully the Titans are drawing up their own version of an initial offer to get things started.

Here are a few other opinions from people who understand contract and cap math way better than I.

Andrew Brandt’s got a nice analysis and prediction of the situation now, here.

And I asked Football Outsiders cap expert J. I. Halsell for his thoughts on the top running back versus elite playmaker debate.

His thoughts:
“In terms of what being paid like a top playmaker translates into, on the offensive side of the ball, the highest paid non-QB veteran contract isn't even a skill position contract. The Eagles' LT Jason Peters' deal averages $12.86M/yr.

“In terms of offensive skill position players, the Texans' WR Andre Johnson got $12.85M/yr on a two year extension.

“When you look at elite offensive players' guarantees, they are roughly in that $6M - $7M guaranteed dollars per year (i.e., Johnson on his two-year extension got $14M guaranteed).

“Given DeAngelo Williams' deal that has an average per year of $8.5M and a guarantee average per year of $4.9M, I suspect the Titans would be willing to pay Johnson a deal that would pay $9M per year and a guarantee of maybe $5.5M-$6M per year. So on a four year extension, Johnson could get from the Titans a deal worth $36M with upwards of $24M guaranteed.

“Johnson on the other hand -- assuming a 4 year extension -- is looking for a deal with $52M in new money with $28M-$30M guaranteed and $40M-plus paid in the first three years.

Albert Haynesworth is probably the most recent example of a player who got paid significantly beyond their positional market, as Haynesworth received an elite pass rusher type contract in spite of being a DT.

“The difference between Johnson and Haynesworth, though, is that Haynesworth was able to obtain that kind of contract because he had suitors on the free agent market that drove his price up. Johnson, who is under contract for the next two seasons, does not have this same luxury.

“There's creative contract structuring that can be done that can allow for both sides to get what they want out of the deal. Perhaps Johnson may have to relent on his average per year desires in exchange for a creative yet lucrative guarantee structure that would put his guarantee in the 'playmaker' category.

“At the end of the day, both sides will have to give a little to get a deal done.”