Johnson wants a new -- presumably large -- contract, but the Cardinals haven't given him one. At least not yet.
On Tuesday, Johnson made a bold move by sitting out the first day of Arizona's minicamp, a sign of how serious he's taking the ongoing negotiations. He's entering the final year of his four-year rookie contract, which he signed after getting drafted in the third round out of Northern Iowa in 2015. He's currently scheduled to earn $1.905 million this coming season but was eligible to renegotiate his contract after his third season.
The stare down will likely continue throughout this week and well into football's summer vacation.
Both Johnson and the Cardinals have strong cases for standing their ground, and neither is wrong. Johnson has shown, albeit two seasons ago, he can be the most dominant and versatile back in the NFL. The Cardinals, on the other hand, watched Johnson get hurt in his last two games.
The last time Johnson played a full season, in 2016, he was an All-Pro and Pro Bowler while taking the league by storm with his combination of speed, power, quickness and agility. He was a force and quickly became the centerpiece to the Cardinals' offense.
That year he proved what he's capable of when healthy. He outperformed the likes of Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell and San Francisco's Jerick McKinnon, the only two running backs who'll earn more than $10 million this season.
Bell may be Johnson's ideal on-field comparison. Both are 26. Both are 6-foot-1. Bell weighs 225. Johnson weighs 224. Both can be utilized all over the field. Bell's best season was in 2014 when he had 373 touches for 2,215 yards from scrimmage with 11 TDs. In 2016, when Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, he also had 373 touches for 2,118 yards and 20 touchdowns -- while not playing most of the season finale. Bell has never missed the 15 games that Johnson has, but he only played in six games during the 2015 season due to suspension and injury. Bell is scheduled to make $14.544 million this season, or more than $12 million more than Johnson. In other words, Bell's contract is the baseline for Johnson.
There's a reason the Cardinals aren't willing to hand Johnson a blank check, though: two serious injuries the last two times he played.
There was the sprained MCL in Week 17 of 2016 at the Los Angeles Rams which ended his streak of at least 100 yards from scrimmage in his first 15 games that season. He returned from that injury in top shape, experimenting with a vegan diet, while readying to be the centerpiece of Arizona's offense in 2017. Then, in Week 1 at Detroit, Johnson suffered a fractured wrist on a pass play in the third quarter, ending his season after just 11 carries and six receptions.
Arizona knows what he can do, but his recent run of injuries begs this question: Why would the Cardinals pay someone who brings that type of risk?
The Cardinals know they're getting the deal of the century if Johnson is healthy.
There have been 25 running backs with more than 500 touches since 2015 and Johnson is the third-best bargain among them, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has gained 3,246 yards from scrimmage in his career and has had a cash value of $2,263,372. That's $697.29 per scrimmage yard, with Johnson missing 15 games last season. His value would've been even cheaper had he played all 16 games in 2017.
By comparison, Adrian Peterson has been paid $10,773.63 per scrimmage yard, with 13 more touches than Johnson over that time.
In the NFL, time is money. And Johnson hasn’t spent enough of it on the field for the Cardinals to pay him what he wants just yet.