Mr. Royal covers today. This is NOT on his homer school, UCONN, which means enjoy, and know the UCONN one IS coming over the next few days…

Unrelated Side Note #1: Everyone knows when you’re about to pitch a perfect game, you don’t mention it. So I’m absolutely NOT going to mention that the UConn men and women have a chance to win a national championship in the same year (AGAIN!). Crap. I just did. Go Huskies.

Unrelated Side Note 1a.: It took immeasurable restraint on my part not to write a blog entirely about UCONN today. When you’re from a state that has zero professional sports teams (unless the WNBA is still a thing… is that still a thing?), people still wear clothes from your LAST professional sports team (Hartford Whalers, I still wear the hat… represent), and you’re known for pretty much being “that tiny state under Massachusetts where Sandy Hook happened,” UCONN basketball is everything. 

Unrelated Side Note 1b.: If you ever want to visit Connecticut, google “fun vacation spots” and go there instead. 

Unrelated Side Note #2: OK, so maybe I was wrong. Larry Bird hasn’t officially hit the panic button in Indianapolis, but his hand is hovering over it… ready to strike. Roy Hibbert played 9 minutes in last night’s loss to ATL. 0 points, 0 boards, 0 dimes, 0 blocks, 0 steals, 1 turnover. Maybe he will match up well Greg Oden.

The Chris Johnson Diaries

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After Chris Johnson was released last week by Tennessee, I sent my buddy this text:

Me: Being Chris Johnson’s agent might be the worst job in sports

Friend: I’d just quote Gus Johnson’s “He’s got gettin away from the cops speed!!” Other than that there’s not much to work off of :/

But the weirdest part about speed, talent in general, and redemption stories in the NFL is the text I got back from my friend five minutes later:

Friend: I’d still love him on the jets though.

Me: Haha that’s the saddest part about it. Looking at our [the Giants] running back play last year I’m like, “So… Can we get him for a bargain?”

Friend: Pretty low risk-high reward honestly. For the right price anyway.

Ahhh. There it is. “For the right price.” That is why it must suck to be Chris Johnson’s agent right now.

In the world of professional sports – not just football – I feel like we lose our minds if/when we encounter rare physical talent. Outside of a couple huge nights in early March, what about Andrew Wiggins’ performance this year makes you go, “Yup. Game-changing, next level talent. #1 overall no-doubter.” I’ll tell you what. The kid can jump out of the gym and has blinding end to end speed for someone of his size. Every GM says, “Sure he’s raw now, but wait til he gets into our system! Have him pack on 15 lbs. of muscle and who knows? He could be the next Lebron!”

Meanwhile, we jump down the throats of guys like Danny Ainge who say stuff like, “Umm, this is an average draft. I see no guaranteed franchise-changing players here.” **gasp** “How could you say that Danny Ainge!?” “YOU DON’T SAY THAT!”
http://www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/2014/03/25/danny-ainge-draft-not-even-close-one-the-best-draft-classes-the-last-years/94oalSRId8Z2gr5oyK84cN/story.html

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(if you don’t get this reference, stop reading and watch Step Brothers NOW)

How desperate are we to identify next-level talent that we continue to pump these kids up and scream at intelligent guys like Ainge who tell it like it is. I laughed when I heard people compare Joel Embiid to Hakeem Olajuwon. Really? How can you honestly look at Joel Embiid and in good conscious as a respectable basketball analyst mention them in the same sentence. In February I wrote a post about NBA Mount Rushmores and I put Hakeem the Dream on my “Our Lifetime” NBA Mount Rushmore. If I had to do a list of the ten basketball players I see right now, college or pro, that have the potential to be in the HOF I think Embiid wouldn’t even round out the top ten.

But we love talent. We crave raw talent. We love the idea of being able to shape it, to mold it. That’s why so many of us love the 40-yard dash and the NFL Combine. It’s why the Raiders drafted Darius Hayward-Bey over Michael Crabtree (Well, that and their owner at the time – no disrespect, RIP). And it’s why Chris Johnson’s agent was doing jumping jacks in 2008 when Chris Johnson ran a 4.24 second 40-yard dash.

Holy crap. We’re going to be so freaking rich. These idiots LOVE the 40-yard dash. Long after my client is past his prime people will still say, “Yea, but remember that FORTY TIME!?” All he needs is one top-notch year and we can always count on someone overpaying him.

We forget all about consistency, work ethic, evaluating which players are motivated by winning and not record-keeping. That’s why I don’t give a crap how fast Johnny Football, Clowney, Michael Sam, or Manti Te’o can run the freakin 40-yard dash. Is it a measure of athleticism? Duh. So is Usain Bolt’s 100-meter time. Doesn’t mean I’m throwing pads and a jersey on the guy. You know what does impress me? Johnny Football throwing in pads. Manti Te’o coming out like a freaking pro last year despite the injuries. You know what doesn’t? Jadeveon Clowney pretending to be offended when we accuse him of taking plays off last year. Please. I WATCHED your freaking games dude. Say what you want about Manziel, but if Clowney played with half that kid’s fire he would’ve been a Heisman finalist.

Chris Johnson has always been a guy who shined especially bright when the spotlight was on him and he knew it. When his team sucked and he wasn’t 100%? Now, that’s a different story.

Chris Johnson has rushed for 7,965 yards in his 7-year career. He rushed for 2,006 of those yards in one year. 2,006/7,965 yards… carry the four, minus the remainder THAT’S LIKE OVER 25%. 7 years. 25% of his yards in his second season.

I heard a guy who does play by play for the Jacksonville Jaguars say something very interesting about the Jags parting ways with MJD this year that’s kind of half-terrible, but half-true. He basically said – and I’m paraphrasing here – “You can’t get sentimental with running backs. You have to use them for all their worth in the three to four years that they’re really good, resist the urge to overpay them when their contracts expire or they hold out, and then move on to the next one when they’re not worth the trouble anymore and focus on throwing the ball.”

Johnson’s agent knows this, even if Johnson doesn’t want to admit it. So Johnson’s agent, being smart, tells the guy to hold out knowing that they’re either going to get paid now for what CJ’s done in the past, or get paid very little later on for what he might do in the future. Since the Titans gave in and signed Johnson to a four-year, $53.5 million extension in 2011, he’s rushed for 1047, 1243, and 1077 yards in those three seasons (2011-2013). Another diary entry from CJ’s agent in the middle of the 2013 season:

Every day I wake up, look out at my gorgeous in-ground pool from my third-story balcony, hop in my new Mercedes, drive to work, sit down in my corner office and text Chris Johnson thanking him for being maybe the tenth-best running back in football.

Then the off-season rolled around. Then he started hearing the reports about Johnson’s lack of work ethic. Players, coaches, and seemingly random guys from elementary school came out and were like, “Yea, not everyone always really likes that guy,” which loosely translates to “Yea, I never really liked that guy.” He realized that CJ wasn’t the same dude after the knee surgery and that even though CJ err, “CJ2K” was supposed to be 100%, he averaged a career low in yards per carry. The writing was on the wall.

He noticed that with the exception of truly rare talents like Adrian Peterson, and maybe Forte or Jamaal Charles or the Beast Mode, you’re just not going to see guys averaging 4.5-5.0 yards a carry for more than three seasons. He noticed that MJD, Donald Brown, and Toby Gerhart all got deals with right around $3 mil a year – a far cry from $10 mil plus like the CJ2K glory days. He knows that high-production running backs these days always have knee problems. Always. ALWAYS. AL-WAYS. He looked around and saw an NFL that continues to lean further and further away from one back running for 1400 yards and a two, even three-back look instead. He knew he and his client were never going to make the money they once made.

The worst part of all this for the agent must be that not only are you not going to make that money, you have to listen to Chris Johnson whine about his situation every day. You have to listen to him talk about how great he was in ’09 – even though no one cares anymore. So Chris Johnson calls up his agent pissed off, probably every single day:

CJ: You see all these media reports about me?

Agent: Yes Chris, unbelievable. You’re great buddy, don’t listen to them.

CJ: I know man. You saw my 40 time. I can’t believe they say I’m selfish and I’m not a hard worker. Remember ’09?

Agent: Yes Chris, I know. You’re great buddy.
CJ: I mean, how could they even think about releasing me?
Agent: Don’t worry we’re gonna get you a deal.

CJ: I know, I’m gonna get picked up so quick man. I’m CJ2K… So… how much do you think we’re gonna get.

Agent: Umm well, here’s the thing Chris, as I told you before I gotta be honest with you –

CJ: Nah, I don’t wanna hear that noise man. Get me paid. I’m Chris Johnson dude I rushed for over 2000 yards in one season.

Agent: You’re not going to get the same money Chris, I just don’t think it’s going to happen –

CJ: What do I pay you for, man? I got $54 mil a few years ago!

Agent: I can get you like, $5 mil/year. Maybe.

CJ: $5 mil?! I’m Chris Johnson!

Agent: Yes Chris, I know. You’re great buddy.

He writes in his diary:

What I wanted to tell Chris was that nobody cares about what he did in 2009. Nobody cared what Tiki Barber did in his last couple years in New York which is why his comeback failed miserably. Nobody cared that Shaun Alexander set a single-season TD record only two years before nobody wanted anything to do with him either. The fact of the matter is every team thinks they can wait until the third round to draft a guy like Doug Martin or Alfred Morris, run them 20 times a game until they get hurt, draft another one a couple years later before they have to really pay them, and the crazy part is that they’ll have success doing it because at the end of the day everybody wants to THROW the ball now. What I wanted to tell Chris is that he’ll soon be on the wrong side of thirty with a knee that wouldn’t allow him to even come close to a 4.24 40-yard dash again.

But just like my buddy said, there’s going to be interest in Chris Johnson. And when he swallows his pride and settles for $4 million per (which I can almost guarantee is what he’s going to get), he’s going to be pissed off. He’s going to run like a man possessed. He has the talent and probably enough in the tank to rush for another 1500+ yards in a season again. But he won’t get the money for it, and the sad cycle of what reality is like for NFL running backs these days will continue (not that any of us should shed a tear for Chris Johnson).

If nothing else, Chris Johnson will be a perfect example of how we used to view running backs and how we’re beginning to view them in the NFL now. Running backs used to get away with being the divas that wideouts were. But tell me right now you’d rather have any running back in the NFL rather than Calvin Johnson and I’ll tell you you’re crazy. With the new rules, all guys like Stafford have to do is close their eyes and bomb it 40 yards downfield and hope their receiver either a) makes an athletic play or b) gets a flag.

There are the elite running backs that warrant big deals spread over multiple years that can carry an otherwise halfway decent team into the playoffs. There are like, three of those guys now – maybe. And then, there’s seemingly everyone else. The “every down back” is dying. Super Bowl teams like Denver, New Orleans, New England and even New York have proved that you can win with an “everyone else” running back. If a Chris Johnson happens to give you a 2000-yard year that’s great, but I would hold off on the $10 mil/year deal before he shows he can even come close to doing it again (like AP) – and GM’s are learning their lessons.

The final diary entry:

Boy we had a good thing going in Tennessee. If only Chris could’ve just kept his head down, taken his money, and worked hard maybe we wouldn’t be searching for a job and a contract worth 1/3 what our last one was. Oh well. Gotta move on and try to grab the next underperformer with a lightning fast 40. Speaking of, I wonder who’s representing Jadeveon Clowney?

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