Derrick Johnson, Jamaal Charles and the (false) sting of betrayal
By Matt Conner
The idea that Derrick Johnson or Jamaal Charles or any ex-Chiefs player would “betray” the fan base by signing with a particular team is false.
It happened again on Thursday.
Adam Schefter broke the news that Derrick Johnson, longtime linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, was spending the day with the Oakland Raiders. Yes, the Raiders. Yes, voluntarily. The Pro Bowl linebacker who had spent his entire career trying to tackle the Raiders, down the Raiders, defeat the Raiders, hyping fans against the Raiders was now suddenly interested in joining them.
Some fans were quick to express their negative feelings, showing disgust that Johnson would even consider it. Memes were passed. Digital torches and pitchforks were picked up. It’s this way every time this happens.
Just one year ago, exactly at this same time, it was all about Jamaal Charles. The 2017 NFL Draft had came and went and suddenly John Elway came calling about the Chiefs all-time rushing leader. Chiefs Kingdom went nuts at the time, with many fans expressing their dismay at Charles for visiting and then signing. Of course, Charles only fueled the fire with myriad positive comments about joining the Broncos, but the sting was going to be there either way.
Any adverse reaction is quite understandable at first. We hate the Raiders. We hate the Broncos. We hate the Chargers. There’s no way around it since they’re division rivals. It also doesn’t help that the fan bases of each team are somehow primarily made up of clones of the creepy uncle at any family reunion. But let’s move on…
Once that initial feeling of disgust involving anything Denver or Oakland has passed, the reality is that this is about a person’s livelihood, a passion, even a calling. And any idea of betrayal involved is quite silly on the part of the fan.
The bottom line is that Derrick Johnson wants to do in 2018 what he’s done every year since he was a little boy: play football. He’s well aware that there are less seasons ahead of him than behind him. He’s well aware that he’ll eventually have to shelve his helmet for good. But if that day is not yet here, let the man explore any and all possibilities to enjoy the adrenaline, the camaraderie, the joys of playing his favorite sport.
The Kansas City Chiefs were very straightforward. “We wish you the best but you will not be playing here this year.” The Chiefs then signed and sealed that statement with a $45 million move for Anthony Hitchens. Combined with the trade for Reggie Ragland a year ago, the drafting of Dorian O’Daniel, there’s practically no room for DJ even if there was somehow a change of heart for Brett Veach.
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What’s a player to do? Wait. That’s all Johnson can do. His agent can keep calling and gauging interest, but ultimately, a player like DJ or Charles or Tamba Hali can only wait. Maybe there’s an injury. Maybe there’s a roster hole that forms when the current talent just doesn’t look that great in minicamp. But until those developments are known and then corrected, a player can only hope his name is called, just like the draft, a fitting match that both begins and ends a career.
Johnson was up front saying he feels he can play several more seasons at the NFL level. You might doubt that idea, but DJ knows what it takes to play at this level and he also knows his own body. Perhaps another year away from the Achilles injury has him better than ever. His intelligence, instincts and experience will certainly keep him productive to a great degree.
So after that initial shock, after any dismay that it’s Oakland, why not be happy for a player who wants to do what he’s always done and that there’s someone interested in having him do it. I, for one, wish DJ all the best. If he believes he can play several more seasons, here’s hoping he can prove his doubters wrong and enjoy the NFL for as long as he wants.
In the end, we all know where his heart is. Sooner or later, he’ll be back right where we wanted him, and that place will be immortalized in the end.