Coming off a 2006 campaign that included a second straight 1,700-yard season and culminated a two-year stretch in which he totaled 37 touchdowns, Kansas City tailback Larry Johnson was widely regarded as one of the NFL's premier downhill runners.
Three years later, it seems Johnson's career is going downhill.
The latest slide: Johnson has been suspended this week by the team for his Twitter-fueled (and poorly disguised) criticisms of rookie head coach Todd Haley and for some distasteful homophobic slurs. On Friday, Johnson's agent Peter Schaffer said his client will file an appeal of the suspension, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported.
Even if the two sides complete the settlement discussions that have been ongoing for two days, this is almost certainly Johnson's last season in Kansas City.
Because the league's trade deadline passed two weeks ago, it's impossible for Kansas City to move Johnson now. There are those who suggest, however, that the two-time Pro Bowl selection should be gone, and that the previous regime of general manager Carl Peterson and coach Herm Edwards held on to Johnson a year too long. Some suggest the Chiefs should have traded him when his value was higher.
An ESPN.com survey of nine general managers shows that Haley and first-year Chiefs executive Scott Pioli would not have received many viable offers for the seven-year veteran even before the trade deadline. Recent rulings that granted the Chiefs some potential relief from the five-year, $43.2 million extension Johnson signed in 2007 would have made little difference.
In addition to his plummet on the field, Johnson has been arrested four times since 2003 on charges of alleged assaults.
I wrote earlier this week that tailback has become an almost disposable position of late, and cited chronological age and workload as the primary reasons why tailbacks suddenly hit the wall. Johnson, the team's first-round pick in the 2003 draft, is a loser on both counts.
The former Penn State star turns 30 years old, a threshold mark for running backs, in three weeks. From a physical standpoint, the workload Johnson took on in 2005 and 2006 might have taken a too-heavy toll on him.
Johnson, who carried just 140 times combined in the 2003 and '04 seasons, totaled 752 carries in '05 and '06, including a league-record 416 rushes in '06. In that period, he gained 3,539 yards, averaged 4.71 yards per carry and a touchdown every 20.3 rushes, and had 21 games of 100 yards.
Since then, Johnson has only 483 carries, has totaled 1,791 yards, and averaged 3.71 yards and a touchdown every 60.4 attempts. Over the last two-plus seasons, Johnson has only six games of 100 yards and has 15 outings with 60 or fewer yards. This season, he is averaging 2.7 yards, and has three games of 20 yards or less in seven contests. His best game in 2009 is 83 yards.
The consensus around the league is that Johnson probably is no longer viable or valuable. Because they kept him around a year longer than they should have, the Chiefs probably will get nothing -- or very little -- in exchange for Johnson.