Why keeping Derrick Johnson makes sense for Chiefs

Chiefs penalized for violating anti-tampering rule (2:25)

Adam Schefter, Mark Dominik and Ed Werder react to the NFL disciplining the Chiefs for violating the anti-tampering rule in 2015 during their recruitment of WR Jeremy Maclin. The team will lose two draft picks and received $350,000 in fines. (2:25)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Less than an hour before becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his 11-year NFL career, linebacker Derrick Johnson acknowledged having a considerable case of the nerves.

It was brought on, he said, by the possibility that he might have to leave the Kansas City Chiefs, the only NFL team he has known. The Chiefs drafted him in the first round in 2005.

“It would be weird to go somewhere else,’’ Johnson said. “I’m going to work hard to get this done.’’

For their part, the Chiefs obviously felt the same way about life without Johnson. He said the Chiefs increased their offer only in the hours leading up to the start of the free-agent signing period, as the possibility of losing Johnson started to seem real.

The situation contained a lot more drama than it otherwise had to. But it ended the way it needed to, with Johnson agreeing to a three-year contract worth $21 million about three hours after the signing period had begun.

The world wouldn’t have been right otherwise. Johnson playing for an NFL team other than the Chiefs is a bizarre notion.

The Chiefs have had other longtime stars move on to other teams in recent years: Tony Gonzalez to the Atlanta Falcons, Dwayne Bowe to the Cleveland Browns.

But each of those players had run their course in Kansas City. Gonzalez wanted out, Bowe was no longer of use to the Chiefs, and in either case, it was time for the sides to move on.

A breakup between Johnson and the Chiefs would have made no sense. Each needs the other.

Johnson, at 33, needs a comfortable situation where he knows the coaches and the expectations. The Chiefs need a quarterback for their defense and a playmaker on the order of Johnson.

Johnson couldn’t bear the thought of having to start over. The Chiefs, who in January won their first playoff game in 22 years, couldn’t bear the thought of stepping back a notch, as their defense might have done had they lost Johnson.

This move might not work out for either side. Johnson will turn 34 in November, so he’s getting to that age where his skills could start their decline. If Johnson doesn’t play as well as he did in 2015, perhaps his best season, the Chiefs will be wasting a lot of money.

But for now, at least, this deal seems so right.