Kansas City, Mo The Kansas City Chiefs signed Larry Johnson to a seven-year, $8.8 million contract Thursday, making the Penn State running back just the second first-round draft pick to agree to terms.
A football source who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the $8.8 million deal included a signing bonus of a little more than $3 million.
The Chiefs, who have a history of bitter and drawn-out negotiations with their high draft choices, plan for Johnson to be a key part of an offense built around running back Priest Holmes, last year's NFL offensive player of the year who has said he may not play in the season opener if he does not get a new deal.
Johnson's signing could ignite action on a broad front for first-round picks around the league. Carson Palmer, the Southern Cal quarterback taken No. 1 overall by Cincinnati, is the only other first-round selection to sign.
"It goes without saying, we were thrilled about having this done two days before we leave for training camp," said Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson. "As I told Larry, he's coming into this organization to make a contribution immediately."
Peterson also announced Thursday the signing of fourth-round draft pick Brett Williams, an All-American offensive tackle from Florida State. To make room for Williams on the roster, Kansas City released veteran linebacker Lew Bush.
Johnson, 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, was the 27th player taken overall. He rushed for a Penn State single-season record of 2,087 yards with 20 touchdowns as a senior and also caught 41 passes for 349 yards.
Signing Johnson also gives the Chiefs leverage with Holmes, who missed the last two games last season with a hip injury. Lingering questions as to Holmes' health, stamina and contract situation made it more imperative for the Chiefs to get Johnson into camp.
Johnson said he kept entirely out of the negotiations between the club and his agent, Marvin Demoff.
"They could have given me $10, a house and two dogs and I still would have said yes to that," said the son of Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr.
"For me to come in and say I want more dollars, money I haven't earned, I think I'd be showing a lot of disrespect not only for the players now, but the players of the past. I'm truly grateful Kansas City gave me the opportunity to sign early."
Peterson said Thursday he had not spoken with Holmes or his agent about any threat of not playing. In a radio interview last week, Holmes indicated he might not "be on the field" for the Sept. 7 season opener without a new contract.
Peterson said talks with Holmes' agent, Todd France, "have been great."
"At the end of last season, someone asked me if I would consider a new contract (for Holmes). I said no, but I would consider an extension based on his performance the last two years," Peterson said.
"How many times do I have to say it? I also said, and I think his agent has said, that we're not going to discuss this in public."