The Titans will have Chris Johnson in uniform for the start of the season, after all.
Johnson, who had been locked in an ugly standoff with Tennessee over his contract, ended his holdout Thursday by agreeing to a reported four-year, $53.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed. The deal will keep him in Tennessee through the 2016 season.
Read details after the jump
Johnson previously signed a five-year, $12 million contract after being drafted in 2008. Since then, he’s accumulated more than 4,500 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving and 38 total touchdowns.
He sat out the first three weeks of the preseason and all of training camp while waiting for Tennessee to offer him a raise. He also threatened a holdout before last year, but ultimately agreed to a revised deal that gave him a slight pay raise. Johnson sought big dollars then, too, but the Titans were hamstrung by rules for the last year of the collective bargaining agreement.
Johnson will not play in Tennessee’s preseason finale Thursday, but should be on the field for its Week 1 game at Jacksonville.
The 25-year-old Johnson topped the rare 2,000-yard mark in the 2009 season, then followed it up with a 1,300-yard effort last year. No running back in the NFL has rushed for more yards since 2008 than the 4,598 Johnson has piled up.
Johnson’s closest contender has been Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, with 4,441 yards in that time frame and nearly 7,000 total yards in his four years with Minnesota. The fallout from Johnson’s massive new deal, which averages out to $13.375 million per year starting in 2013, figures to have lasting implications for Peterson and the Vikings.
Peterson’s current contract expires after this season. He will earn $10.72 million in 2011 but back in March referred to the NFL as “modern-day slavery” during an interview touching on the labor situation.
The $30 million in guarantees that Johnson received is a massive number, especially for a running back — the position has the shortest shelf life of any in the NFL and Johnson has already carried the ball more than 900 times in his career. Peterson already has 1,198 career rushes to his credit and has suffered more than his share of bumps and bruises along the way.
Despite that, Peterson figures to open negotiations with the Vikings asking for more in guaranteed money than Johnson will make. Peterson has made the Pro Bowl and been voted an All-Pro in each of his four seasons in the NFL — he can at least make an argument that he’s worth more than Johnson.
But those negotiations likely won’t begin for some time, so there is no telling what might occur between now and then.
This summer has already been a big one for running back negotiations. DeAngelo Williams re-signed with Carolina in July for five years and $43 million with $21 million guaranteed, then Frank Gore received a three-year, $21-million extension from San Francisco with $13 million guaranteed. And while Peterson’s situation may not resolve soon, the Bears are trying to lock up Matt Forte, who also could hit the free-agent market next offseason.
For the time being, though, Johnson has set the bar for NFL running backs and, in the process, ended a nervous few weeks for the Titans.
The deal comes just one day after Johnson took to Twitter to chastise “fake Titans fans” for criticizing him during his holdout. Any ill will stemming from that incident will likely be water under the bridge now with Johnson back in the fold.