Many of you have asked us whether, upon the conclusion of his two-week suspension, the Chiefs will tell running back Larry Johnson to take the rest of the year off, with pay.
The Chiefs might prefer to do that, but they can’t.
The Eagles’ decision to suspend receiver Terrell Owens without pay for four games in 2005 followed by a paid suspension for the balance of the year caused the NFLPA to slip through the owners’ collective five hole a CBA term prohibiting such measures moving forward.
So, as of March 2006, a team can suspend a player without pay for up to four games at a time for conduct detrimental to the team. But a team cannot suspend a player with pay.
Of course, if the player agrees to go home with pay, it’s not an issue. But since Johnson is a vested veteran, he’d get the balance of his $4.55 million salary if he’s released. He’d then be able to climb aboard the bandwagon of a playoff contender with a record far better than 1-6, and he’d be able to collect a salary from his new team — and to keep the full amount of his termination pay from the Chiefs.
As a result, look for the Chiefs to try to find a way to keep Johnson, but possibly to marginalize him. And if he chooses to be disruptive in the hopes of getting cut, they’ll probably suspend him again.
At the end of the day, the Chiefs would at worst be required to pay Johnson if they lose the inevitable grievances. But if they cut him, they’ll pay him, too. So why not come up with a way to pay him and keep him from getting to the playoffs — and possibly winning a Super Bowl — with a team that would be able to provide him with the kind of blocking that would allow Johnson to make good use of the remaining tread on his tires?
The possibility that Johnson decided to act up now in the hopes of getting cut will likely make the Chiefs even less inclined to give L.J. his way. The only question is whether and to what extent the Chiefs are willing to tolerate the distraction.
Since there’s no concern that any distraction will keep them from qualifying for the postseason, look for the Chiefs to dig in their heels, if necessary.