NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans are ready to make Chris Johnson the highest-paid running back in NFL history — all he has to do is show up at camp so they can finalize the deal.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt told The Associated Press on Thursday that Johnson's agent was the first person they called once the NFL's lockout was lifted. The Titans reworked Johnson's contract a year ago to give him more money in 2010 and promised to talk to him again a year later.
But the Titans want Johnson in training camp before completing a new extension.
"Even though he has two years left on his contract, we'd like him to go in," Reinfeldt said. "He could go to meetings, get to know the new coaches, he can learn the scheme. He doesn't have to practice, but it's something we want to get done.
"Again, we're willing to make him the highest paid running back in the history of the NFL. That's kind of where we are."
The running back's agent, Joel Segal, was not immediately available. The agent has declined to comment during the contract negotiations, and Johnson did not immediately respond to text messages to his cell from the AP.
But Johnson told The Tennessean he was surprised to hear that Reinfeldt said that he would make him the highest paid running back ever. Johnson said neither he nor his agent has received any offer from the Titans.
"Maybe they talked, but I guarantee we never received any offer," Johnson told The Tennessean.
Johnson was the 24th overall pick in 2008. But he has more yards rushing (4,598) than any other running back in the NFL over the past three years, was the sixth player in league history to run for at least 2,000 yards in 2009 and is a three-time Pro Bowler. Johnson is due more than $1 million instead of the $850,000 scheduled originally thanks to the Titans' revisions in 2010.
He has refused to report until he gets a new contract, though he did take part in a two-day player-organized minicamp in June. Johnson mentioned he'd like $30 million guaranteed for his new contract back in 2010. He missed his 11th day of practice in camp Thursday, and the Titans open the preseason Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
Carolina recently gave DeAngelo Williams a five-year deal valued at $43 million with $21 million guaranteed. Adrian Peterson of Minnesota is in the final season of his original five-year contract, earning more than $10 million this season. Steven Jackson got a six-year deal worth $44 million with more than $20 million in bonuses in August 2008.
Reinfeldt said they already have talked about the framework of this new deal for Johnson and think the extension could be wrapped up in a couple weeks. Tennessee has a new coach in Mike Munchak after parting with Jeff Fisher in January, and that means a new offensive coordinator as well.
The Titans and Johnson's agent have had discussions this week. But the Titans want Johnson to report for camp before diving into final negotiations.
Johnson's holdout has been a hot topic among fans since training camp opened on July 29. Some have called the Titans cheap on talk radio, Twitter and message boards for not paying Johnson what he wants; others point out Johnson is under contract and should show up.
Munchak said after practice that he's just looking forward to getting it all worked out.
Fullback Ahmard Hall was excited to hear of Reinfeldt's comments. Hall said he talked to Johnson two days ago and planned to call him Thursday night thinking this latest development will give the running back incentive to come to Nashville.
"I think he'll come in," Hall said. "As long as they're expressing they're willing to give him something, I think he'll come on in."
Tennessee officials generally do not talk about contract negotiations and never confirm salary information. Reinfeldt said they don't want to poison any relationships.
"The reality is you hope those players are with you for 10 years and what you don't want to do is destroy a 10-year relationship over a two-week contract negotiation," Reinfeldt said. "People get upset at some point, we all come back, we're all family.'
The general manager was in the Seattle front office when left tackle Walter Jones held out for all of training camp, reported on the Friday before the Seahawks' season opener before starting all 16 games and earning a Pro Bowl berth. But Reinfeldt said the new coaching staff is key here.
"With his position, it's important he's here meeting people," Reinfeldt said. "I don't think he needs to carry the ball 30 times in the preseason to be ready for the regular season. For a running back, it's more important he's here to learn his teammates and learn the offense. Beyond practice time, he's got the natural ability."
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