While the Titans publicly stated they are willing to make Johnson the highest-paid running back in the NFL, those close to Johnson believe he should be paid as one of the top playmakers in the league -- not just for running backs, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
To date, the Titans have not made any offers to Johnson. Until the Titans can find a way to appease Johnson, the Pro Bowl running back is not expected to report back to the team, which sets up the possibility for a prolonged holdout.
League sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen that Johnson is seeking a deal that would pay him $39 million over the first three years, a $13 million average, that would place him in that elite status he is seeking beyond the running back market.
General manager Mike Reinfeldt told The Associated Press last week that Johnson's agent was the first person the team called once the NFL's lockout was lifted. The Titans had 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 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 said last year that he wanted a new deal with $30 million in guaranteed money. The Titans revised his contract by boosting his 2010 salary by $1.5 million to $2.05 million to convince the running back to report.
Johnson is working off two models, sources told Mortensen, one in the past with LaDainian Tomlinson while trying to project the market for the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who is scheduled to become a free agent.
The Chargers in 2004 gave Tomlinson an extension with two years left on his original rookie deal that made him among the top-paid players in the game with an average just above $8 million during the first three years on that contract. Peterson's salary is $10.2 million this year with free agency status for 2012 and sources told Mortensen that Johnson believes the Vikings running back will get an average in the neighborhood of $13 to $14-million per year in the first seasons of his next deal.
Johnson is heading into his fourth season and due to make $800,000 in base salary. The final two years of his deal can max out at roughly $2.7 million.
Part of the problem is that running backs typically are not paid as well as some of the league's other top players. While Minnesota's Peterson is the league's highest-paid running back, DeAngelo Williams received $21 million guaranteed from the Carolina Panthers to re-sign this offseason.
Johnson has rushed for 4,598 yards and 34 touchdowns during his three seasons. He also has caught 137 passes for 1,008 more yards and four more touchdowns.
His numbers have made him one of the most dangerous players in the game -- and Johnson wants to be paid like it.
Adam Schefter is ESPN's NFL Insider. ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.