Could a deal between Chris Johnson and the Titans get done this weekend?

Tennessee Titans Chris Johnson (R) evades a tackle by Jacksonville Jaguars Justin Durant (L) during the second half of their Monday night NFL football game in Jacksonville, Florida, October 18, 2010. For the first time this season, 2009’s surprise NFL rushing leader has put together back-to-back 100-yard games. The clincher came in an 111-yard performance on Monday that had Johnson toiling late into the Titans’ 30-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. To match Feature NFL-TITANS/JOHNSON. REUTERS/Daron Dean (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

There has been a whirlwind of reports to come over the last two days regarding Chris Johnson’s contract status, so let’s get caught up on the latest.

– Yahoo’s Jason Cole reported Tuesday that the Titans and Johnson are still $10 million apart on guaranteed money. Cole says that Johnson wants $30 million guaranteed and $12 million per season as a base, but the Titans apparently believe the deal should contain $20 million in guarantees and $8 million a year.

– The NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora says he “wouldn’t be shocked” if Johnson and the Titans had a “breakthrough” in their discussions by this weekend. While he did say that nothing was certain, La Canfora believes that a new deal could be done in time to have Johnson play in Week 1.

– While appearing on NFL Network’s Total Access, Michael Lombardi said that the Titans are “ready to make an offer” that will get Johnson to report to practice. He also said that the team is ready to open up “the bank vault” in order to pay him. Just like La Canfora, Lombardi seems to think that a new deal could be expected by this weekend.

– The Nashville Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt writes that both sides want to get a deal worked out now but “nothing has changed” regarding Johnson’s contract situation. seems to think that Wyatt “got word” from the Titans management in attempts for the team to regain leverage following Lombardi’s report.

It seems to me that the truth lies somewhere between La Canforna and Lombardi’s optimism and Cole and Wyatt’s rationalism. I get the sense that a deal could be struck this weekend but the two sides are still further apart than people realize.

Whatever. None of this is important. The only thing that matters is that Johnson’s ass is in uniform Week 1 so that I can look like a genius for drafting him in the second round of one of my fantasy leagues. I mean really, let’s cut the crap and get down to what truly matters here.

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Titans ready to make Chris Johnson highest paid back in NFL?

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) breaks past Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett (58) for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Colts 23-20 win at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on January 2, 2011. UPI /Mark Cowan

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said Thursday that he’s ready to make Chris Johnson the highest-paid running back in the NFL.

From the New York Times:

General manager Mike Reinfeldt told The Associated Press on Thursday that Johnson’s agent was the first person they called once the NFL’s lockout was lifted. The Titans reworked Johnson’s contract a year ago to give him more money in 2010 and promised to talk to him again a year later.

Reinfeldt says they already have talked about the perimeters of this new deal for Johnson and would like to have the running back in camp to learn the offense with a new coach while negotiations are finished.

This has always been a no-brainer in my eyes. Johnson has been one of the most productive running backs in the NFL the past couple of years and arguably deserves to be the highest paid RB in the league.

It’s not like this is a risky proposition for the Titans, or at least not in the way signing a player coming off an injury or a down year would be. Johnson is only 25 and barring injury, he presumably has four or five productive years left in him. If the Titans make him the highest-paid running back now and lock him in for five years, then everyone (i.e. the player, the team and the fan base) should be happy.

Of course, there are always unforeseen issues that arise. Maybe Johnson will be upset in three years because another running back has surpassed him in terms of their contract status. Maybe he’ll get paid and shut it down like Randy Moss did when he got to Oakland. Who knows? We can only go off the information presently at hand and the information presently at hand suggests to pay the man what he’s worth and reap the benefits of having him locked up for the next X amount of years.

Chris Johnson to holdout once lockout lifts?

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (28) breaks past Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett (58) for a 15-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Colts 23-20 win at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis on January 2, 2011. UPI /Mark Cowan

Jim Wyatt of the Nashville Tennessean does not expect Titans running back Chris Johnson to report to training camp without a new contract once the lockout is lifted.

Last year Johnson received what amounted to a $1.5 million raise. The Titans moved money he’d earned in escalators from 2012 to 2010, and added some incentives. When he finally reported for training camp, Johnson – who had $30 million guaranteed in mind — said it wouldn’t happen again. And I believe him.

Indications are Johnson’s not going to budge this time. I’ve heard it from too many sources to think otherwise. And after three straight Pro Bowl seasons and the most yardage of any back in the NFL during that time, it’s not hard to understand why.

Right now, the Titans can’t do anything about his deal. When the lockout is lifted, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Titans will budge this time around, because I don’t get the sense Johnson will.

If Wyatt’s projections turn out to be correct, then the Titans might as well break out a huge pros vs. cons list and make a decision about this situation once and for all. Because they can’t keep doing this dance with Johnson every offseason.

If there were one player to break the bank on, Johnson would be it. He’s far and away the Titans best player and the team will need him when they usher in the Jake Locker era either this season or next. Thirty million is a lot but it’s not like Johnson is in the twilight of his career. He’s 25 and barring injury, he has plenty of productive seasons ahead of him.

On the flip side, no team wants to set a precedent for allowing players to holdout in order to receive a new contract – even if it’s their best player. Plus, what happens the next time Johnson thinks he has outperformed his deal? Will he force the Titans’ hand again? If the team gives in now, what’s stopping Johnson from holding out again down the road if he wants even more? Besides, Johnson still has two years left on his current deal and he just received a $1.5 million raise last season. The Titans aren’t financially obligated to give him anything more than what he previously signed for.

Again, the Titans will eventually have to choose the lesser of two evils and make a decision once and for all. Either give into Johnson, forego the huge distraction that a holdout would cause and reap the benefits of having a happy CJ on the field, or stand firm, don’t award players for holding out and risk not having their best performer on the field come September. No matter how you slice it, Johnson is putting the Titans in a tough spot and I’m glad I’m not the one who has to make any decisions on this issue. But Tennessee will have to settle on something at some point.

As Wyatt points out in his report, this situation could get messy when training camp begins.

Titans, Johnson working on compromise

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson sets an NFL record for yards from scrimmage in a single season with 2,509 on this four yard run against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter At Qwest Field in Seattle on January 3, 2010. Johnson rushed for 134 yards on 36 carries and scored two touchdown in the Titans 17-13 win over the Seahawks. (UPI /Jim Bryant) Photo via Newscom

According to the Nashville Tennessean, the Titans and the player rep for Chris Johnson are working on a contract compromise that would ensure that the star back will report to training camp on time.

Under the terms of the five-year, $12 million contract he signed prior to his rookie season, Johnson has reached escalators in the deal that could pay him up to an additional $2.5 million in salary in 2012. The Titans could turn that money into a signing bonus in 2010, and combine it with his scheduled base salary of $550,000 for this fall.

Players earn escalators by reaching individual and team goals as part of a contract, and, unlike incentives that are paid out at the end of a season, they’re attached to future salaries. While such a move wouldn’t provide a big pay raise like Johnson wants, it would get him some additional funds now, with the hope of getting a long-term deal after next season.

The Titans have already paid Johnson roughly $7 million in guarantees over his first two seasons. He’s scheduled to make base salaries of $800,000 in 2011 and $960,000 in 2012. The Titans have cited the 30 percent rule, a byproduct of the league’s labor issues, as a reason why a lucrative long-term deal isn’t do-able at this time. It restricts big increases in Johnson’s salary from year to year, since they’d have to pay him guaranteed signing bonus in the $40 million range as part of a market rate extension.

Reaching a contract compromise has seemed like the most logical solution from the start. The Titans can’t give Johnson the long-term deal that he covets because of the “30 percent” rule, but considering he’s far and away their best player and highly underpaid, the team needs to do something.

A modest raise in the form of a bonus makes sense now, and then the two sides can come together after the season and work on a long-term extension. This would ensure that Johnson reports to camp on time and that the Titans have their most productive player ready to go for the regular season.

Agreement between Johnson, Titans coming?

While appearing on the NFL Network on Monday, Michael Lombardi said that the friction between running back Chris Johnson and the Titans is beginning to “thaw.” Lombardi hears a “calmness on both sides” and predicts that an agreement will likely be struck sometime before training camp.

Now, what that agreement will be is unknown. The Titans are still hamstrung by the “30 percent” rule and Johnson still wants to be the highest paid running back in the league. Maybe the team can offer him a modest raise now with promise to talk about a contract extension at the end of the season, assuming Johnson reports to camp on time and isn’t a distraction during the year.

Either way, this situation is becoming more positive by the day. Last week, Johnson reportedly worked out at the Titans’ practice facility and now Lombardi is reporting that the two sides could come to an agreement before training camp. Of course, Johnson did deny working out at Baptist Park, so who knows where things will go from here.

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