Derrick Johnson has been around the block in the NFL. Thirteen times, in fact. The 35-year-old linebacker is going into his 14th pro season, this time with the Oakland Raiders after playing his entire career with the rival Kansas City Chiefs.
And, while many Raiders fans were hoping their team would re-sign NaVorro Bowman to play middle linebacker, the Raiders went a different direction with Johnson, who is older and whose play reportedly has dropped off a bit in recent seasons. Johnson is a four-time Pro Bowler, but his last trip to the game was in 2015.
Yet Chiefs head coach Andy Reid believes Johnson will prove his worth to the Raiders and their fans in 2018.
“I think it’s great that Derrick has a chance,” Reid told Chiefs.com this week. “Derrick is one of my favorite players that I’ve ever coached since I’ve been coaching. Every day he came out like he was 20 and I’ve said that before. The Raiders are getting a great person, a phenomenal person and leader, and all those things. I mean just tremendous. I wish him the best. I texted him that I wish him the best except for about two games. Other than that, I’m good.”
Johnson played 182 games with Kansas City and was a force in the middle of the field. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds – and with his experience in the AFC West – he could be what the franchise needs as a solid playmaker and leader. He’s the Chiefs all-time leading tackler.
But the Chiefs decided to move on from Johnson when his contract expired in March. The cost to re-sign him at his age, they believed, would be too much.
Johnson’s deal for 2018 is reported to be worth about $3 million, a less-expensive deal than what Bowman was seeking, according to a number of reports.
But Johnson apparently impressed the Raiders with his desire to continue his career and help the Raiders. Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports reported that when Raiders head coach Jon Gruden asked Johnson why he still wanted to play in the NFL, Johnson said, “I still have a fire burning. I can still play at a high level, and I want to prove that.”
That response, says Johnson, helped seal the deal.
“That made his eyeballs jump, because he’s got a lot to prove, too,” Johnson said. “There was an environment in the room that was very contagious. I knew a deal would happen.”