Redskins sign free agent running back Larry Johnson

The Redskins hope that two-time Pro Bowler Larry Johnson, above, will complement Clinton Portis.
The Redskins hope that two-time Pro Bowler Larry Johnson, above, will complement Clinton Portis. (Jeff Roberson/associated Press)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making their biggest splash in a relatively quiet free agency period, the Redskins on Friday signed veteran running back Larry Johnson, whose off-the-field problems have at times overshadowed his on-field exploits.

The team would not release terms of the deal, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said Johnson signed a three-year contract that carries a base salary of $3.5 million and could be worth $12 million with incentives.

The Redskins hope Johnson, 30, will complement running back Clinton Portis in their revamped offense and also push Portis on the practice field.

Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowler, was released by the Kansas City Chiefs last year after making offensive remarks and played the final seven games of the season with the Cincinnati Bengals as a reserve. On the year, Johnson had 581 yards on 178 carries and no touchdowns in 14 games. His last 1,000-yard season was 2006, when he rushed for a career-high 1,789 yards and scored 17 touchdowns.

Just as the Redskins are looking at 2010 as a turning point, Johnson will come to Washington and try to embark on a fresh start of his own.

"Larry doesn't look at the past," said Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer. "You can only be judged by what you do as a human being and a man. He's got a child on the way, and I think he's grown up a great deal."

Neither Johnson nor Redskins coaches were made available for comment Friday evening. In a prepared statement, Coach Mike Shanahan said: "We are excited to bring in a running back that has had so much success in this league. Larry is a physical runner who will be a great addition to our backfield."

Johnson is a Maryland native who was born in Pomfret and began his high school playing career at La Plata in Charles County. Johnson, a first-round draft pick in 2003 out of Penn State, is familiar with Shanahan. The two battled each other in the AFC West for years, Johnson with the Chiefs and Shanahan with the Denver Broncos.

"I've known and have a lot of respect for Mike Shanahan and the things that he did in Denver," Johnson told ESPN 980 Thursday night. "Of course I played against him numerous times, so I've been able to know that he comes with that fire and comes with that enthusiasm [about] turning this organization around."

The Johnson signing is not without its share of baggage. In Kansas City, Johnson clashed with former coach Dick Vermeil, complained about not getting to carry the ball enough, twice faced suspensions, threatened to miss training camp over a contract dispute and ultimately was released midway through the 2009 season after calling out his coaches via Twitter and hurling gay slurs at members of the media.

Johnson has been arrested four times for domestic violence-related incidents, and in March 2009 he pleaded guilty to two counts of disturbing the peace, which stemmed from separate incidents. He was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to complete both anger control counseling and 40 hours of community service.

He signed with Cincinnati on Nov. 17 and appeared in the team's final seven games. He tallied 204 yards on 46 carries there, and the Bengals reported no off-the-field problems. Johnson became an unrestricted free agent following the season.

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