The Kansas City Chiefs will allow Derrick 0Johnson to enter 2018 free agency. There’s no better fit for the Dallas Cowboys’ thin wallet.
Let’s get this out of the way from the jump … Derrick Johnson is a 35-year old, 13-year veteran inside linebacker with four Pro Bowls (2011, 2012, 2013, 2015).
Too old, lost a step, progress stopper? I’m sure they’ll be many exaggerated criticisms along these lines from the naysayers. That train is never late.
Those type of comments fail to evaluate his current level of play, reasonable market value, and versatile fit in the Dallas Cowboys defense.
LONE STAR HOMECOMING
Johnson (6’3, 242) is from Waco, TX. The two-time All-American at the University of Texas was selected 15th overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.
His entire stellar career has unfolded in Kansas City. A poetic finish to this great story would include wearing the star on his helmet in Dallas.
Johnson has already gone on record declaring his strong desire to continue playing.
“I plan on playing for several more years because I love this game so much, but I look forward to retiring as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs when my career is over.” — Derrick Johnson, Chiefs.com
STILL STARTER MATERIAL
In his 13th season, Johnson continued to play at a starter level with 848 snaps, 71 tackles, 7 pass deflections, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
He’s logged at least 845 snaps in each of the last three seasons while starting 44 of 48 possible games. Advanced age has failed to harm his reliability.
Johnson still has plus speed/mobility, reactions, and physicality. His blend of size/skills could play all three linebacker spots in the Cowboys 4-3 defense.
If part of the Cowboys defense last year, the aged veteran would still have been either the second or third best linebacker on the roster.
The NFL doesn’t allow video sharing, but here’s a taste of what Johnson still offers.
This is the type of free agent signing Dallas should covet. Cap friendly, versatile, and can provide quality starts wherever needed. He also has nickel coverage skills.
LOW RISK AND CAP FRIENDLY
Johnson’s last contract in 2017 (KC voided final year) was for 2 years/$10.25 million.
$5 mil a year sounds high, but the guaranteed amount was only $2 mil. The Chiefs were able to release him in year two without paying a dime.
Dallas could easily offer a similar deal, two years/$8 mil with $2 mil guaranteed. They could structure the 2018 cap hit to stay low around $3 mil.
If it didn’t work out in year one, Dallas would only be out $3 mil. They signed and cut a much lower caliber Nolan Carroll last year and ate $3 mil worth of poor evaluation.
If in 2018 he was productive but Dallas wanted to go younger, the Cowboys could cut him without damage due to already fulfilling the guaranteed portion.
NO PROGRESS STOPPER
Signing Johnson would in no way be a progress stopper. Lee and Jaylon Smith would continue their playtime trajectory. Anthony Hitchens would jump back in if re-signed.
It’s highly likely one or more starters will miss games next year and need a high quality replacement. They could also use more relief snaps to help durability.
Dallas would still target linebacker in the draft but could also be selective with quality over quantity after buying a year to shop two drafts.
Unlike Hitchens, draft selections would have ample time to learn the positions before being thrown in the fire and strongly depended on as rookies.
By 2019, the younger additions would have gained experience. Plus they’d have a year of invaluable teaching from veteran linebacker legends like Lee and Johnson.