Archive for Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Fly Route

April 26, 2007

Last week's whispers about trading Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson have gone from over-a-beer fodder to real, legitimate pondering and any such move could have the potential to turn the Chiefs into real contenders in the next several seasons.

And frankly, it'd impress the heck out of me. Trading Johnson -- assuming of course the return was worthwhile -- would be one of the most astute moves I've seen any GM make, and could be Carl Peterson's best move since bringing Joe Montana to town nearly 15 years ago.

My reasoning doesn't necessarily include the standard reasoning though -- that Johnson isn't well liked, doesn't try hard to become a complete running back and is more concerned with marketing and celebrity than he is AFC title games and Lombardi trophies.

My reasoning is that Johnson won't ever lead the Chiefs to the Promised Land. He won't ever bring Kansas City a Super Bowl appearance and he may not even net the organization a title-game appearance.

That's not exactly an attack on Johnson. The guy's a beast, there's no denying it. While the league goes through "star" running backs like the Royals go through their bullpen pitchers, Johnson has at least two or three years left atop the mountain. He'll never be as good as he was in 2005 -- not for Kansas City or anyone else -- but he's still the real deal.

But "the real deal" running back isn't what Kansas City needs right now if anything more than 10-6 is the goal. The Chiefs need more parts than I have room to list in this column. They have glaring weaknesses on offense and defense.

Early this offseason they've shown the willingness to try and patch together another mediocre season. Free agent pick ups like Donnie Edwards can help the team to about the same place it's been for the last decade, the 13-3 2003 season being the exception.

But if Kansas City wants to be more than that, Johnson won't help. Assume Peterson drafts above average for the next three seasons and makes a few bright free agent grabs and in three years the team could be young and ready to erupt.

Johnson will be worn down, however. He'll have spent three of the better years of his career running behind an inexperienced line, ensuring he'll get smacked a lot. He'll be the offense's main focus as no help at receiver, so he'll get smacked even more.

Johnson will have to spend the next three years as the shield to protect a new quarterback, a new line and new receivers. By the time he'd be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, he'll be held together by duct tape.

If they cash in Johnson now, the Chiefs can begin that building process today.

Fans need to be realistic about what the team will get for Johnson. A top-10 pick in this year's draft would be good. That plus a third or fourth rounder would be great. The guy's not worth two first-rounders as some seem to think, but he's still worth something, for now at least.

It's a risk, a big one. But it could be exactly what the Chiefs need.

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