Titans GM Mike Reinfeldt Doesn't Expect New Contract for Chris Johnson

After becoming the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson is looking for a new contract this off-season. Johnson has stayed away from the off-season workout program, is skipping the voluntary Organized Team Activity sessions, and could potentially avoid training camp, all in the hopes that the Titans will re-work a contract that will pay him an $550,000 base salary in 2010.

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt does not expect a new contract to happen this off-season, Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reports.

"Given the circumstances, I don't think there's the likelihood anything is going to happen," Reinfeldt said. "You're asking me definitely if he's not going to get (a new contract). I'm not making any definitive statements. I just think he's a pro and we expect him to honor his contract. Chris has always been a pro, and we expect that to continue."

Johnson, 24, has emerged as not only one of the more dynamic running backs in the NFL, running for 3,234 yards and 23 touchdowns over the last two seasons, but one of the more complete backs, as well, catching 40+ passes each season, including a team-high 50 receptions in 2009.

Johnson has been named to two Pro Bowls, and last season was a first-team All-Pro selection. Unfortunately, as a late first-round pick, his salary is what it is. Escalators in those rookie contracts usually do not take hold until the fifth and final year of the deal, and Johnson is entering the third.

Given the limitations created by the 30% rule--which, by the way, is a tool designed to get both sides (players and owners) to the negotiation table to avoid the current uncapped year--there's very little the Titans can do towards a long-term contract for Johnson, whose base salaries would only be able to increase by 30%.

The Titans could use an eight figure signing bonus to appease Johnson's desire to be the highest paid non-quarterback in the National Football League, but that would come with considerable risk.

Paying an eight-figure signing bonus to a running back, even one who doesn't turn 25 until September and is a two-time Pro Bowler, carries more risk than signing a quarterback, left tackle, or wide receiver. Running backs take more of a pounding than other positions, and at 5-11 and 195 pounds, it's reasonable for the Titans to be wary of his ability to remain healthy enough to live up to the level in which he wishes to be paid.

From a front office point of view, re-visiting Johnson's contract in year three is not a precedent the Titans are interested in setting. For any front office to consistently put a winning product on the field, they need to act in a consistent manner. If not re-doing rookie contracts this early into them is one of those principles, Reinfeldt needs to stick to it.

There's no question that, despite earning over $7 million dollars (through easily achievable bonuses and incentives) over the past two seasons, Johnson is one of the most underpaid players in the National Football League. No one should begrudge Johnson for doing what he needs to do to gain more long-term security, either.

I just have a hard time faulting the Titans' front office for sticking to their guns on this matter, and think Johnson will have better luck getting that big deal next off-season.

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