Chiefs weigh options for Johnson

Kansas City has no playoff games. But it will get to play a numbers game.

The numbers game involves standout running back Larry Johnson, who wants out of Kansas City, and the cost of granting him his wish.

For Kansas City to trade Johnson, it would cost $8.8 million against its salary cap next season. For the Chiefs to keep Johnson, it would costĀ $8.2 million against the salary cap next season.

So this is their choice — trade a player who has said he wants out, or keepĀ the player who could be a detriment in the locker room.

Whoever is the new general manager for the Chiefs will have to weigh whether it is worth auctioning off Johnson to the highest bidder, hoping to get back, at best, a second-round pick and more likely a third-round pick and possibly some other late-round compensation.

Now before Chiefs fans get incensed that Johnson will bring back only a second-round pick — if he can even get that, as some league executives are not convinced — consider this:

Running backs don’t carry a tremendous value around the league. The upcoming draft is deep at the position. Teams can draft running backs after the first round — see Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, Peyton Hillis — and still get contributors. So Johnson will be worth maybe a second-round pick, probably a third, or possibly a third and a fifth.

While Johnson’s contract is an albatross for the Chiefs, it is a blessing for other teams. Any team that trades for Johnson does not have to pay him any guaranteed money — other than the $5.5 million base salary that he is scheduled to make next season. In 2010, Johnson is scheduled to make another $7 million in base salary.

If there’s a team out there that wants to upgrade at running back, it has to ask whether it is better to trade for Johnson or sign a free agent such as New York’s Brandon Jacobs to a deal that is likely to include somewhere around $18 million in guaranteed money.

Plus, any team that wants to part ways with Johnson would not have to accelerate any signing bonus, making Johnson even more attractive to another team.

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