Johnson's contract could be distraction for Vikings
Posted: Sunday September 24, 2006 6:56PM; Updated: Sunday September 24, 2006 8:58PM
Brad Johnson ranks somewhere around 40th in terms of 2006 salary among QBs in the league, trailing several teams' backups.
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MINNEAPOLIS -- After facing three 2005 NFC playoff teams in the first three weeks of the season -- Washington, Carolina and Chicago -- the Vikings can't be altogether displeased with their 2-1 start to 2006, even if they did squander a golden opportunity to take over first place in the NFC North with their near-miss 19-16 loss to visiting Chicago at the Metrodome.
But win or lose Sunday against the Bears, the potential of storm clouds are gathering in the Vikings' not-too-distant future, and the source of them just might surprise you: soft-spoken starting quarterback Brad Johnson, whose festering contract situation looms as a potential land mine.
Would the team-oriented and mild-mannered Johnson rock the boat with the Vikings coming off a promising September and hoping to build on its early success? Logic says no, but don't discount the possibility. And if the Vikings wind up being blindsided by that scenario, they shouldn't be. Nothing drives Johnson more than his history of being discounted and disrespected, and his fierce sense of pride has now been wounded by the inaction of the organization in regards to his short-of-market-value salary.
On Sunday, with the Vikings losing the lead and the game to the Bears in the dying moments of the fourth quarter, Johnson understandably was in no mood to look too far down the road or discuss the particulars of his lingering contract dissatisfaction. But the issue remains percolating right below the surface, and chances are its going to rear its head in the coming weeks, perhaps as soon as the Vikings' Week 6 bye.
And things could get nasty. Barring a pre-emptive move by the Vikings front office, you can almost count on it.
Here are the pertinent facts: Johnson signed a four-year, $6 million contract in 2005 to serve as Daunte Culpepper's backup -- quality pay by No. 2 quarterback standards. Last year, he earned a total of $2.2 million including his signing bonus, and this year, in the second season of the deal, he'll earn another $1.2 million (an average of $1.7 million a year in 2005-06). The catch is he hasn't been Minnesota's backup since Culpepper blew out his knee in the Vikings' seventh game of last season.
With Culpepper sidelined, Johnson took a Vikings team that was 2-5 and in total disarray and steadily guided it to a 7-2 record the rest of the way, allowing Minnesota to finish 9-7 and remain in playoff contention until the season's final weeks -- no mean feat in the year of the Love Boat scandal.
Throw in this season's hopeful 2-1 start, and Johnson's won-loss record since assuming the starting job is an impressive 9-3, which qualifies as a pretty nifty return of investment for the Vikings on the NFL's 31st highest paid starting quarterback (ahead of only Cleveland's second-year veteran Charlie Frye). Overall, Johnson ranks somewhere around 40th in terms of 2006 salary among quarterbacks in the league, trailing several teams' backups.
Clearly he has out-performed his contract, a point that has been only gaining momentum in recent weeks as he continues his productive play of late last season (he finished 21 of 31 against the Bears, with 194 yards passing, no touchdowns, no interceptions and a 84.6 rating). But while the just-turned 38-year-old Johnson these days is finally earning some league-wide plaudits for his uncanny knack of winning games, it has yet to win him much love in his own backyard.