Priest Holmes is set to make his long awaited comeback
By ADAM TEICHER
The Kansas City Star
It might be to put some pressure on Larry Johnson in contract negotiations.
It might be because the Chiefs are convinced they can’t survive without Johnson if his holdout is lengthy. Or it might be something as simple as the Chiefs believing he can once again be one of football’s premier running backs.
Whatever the reason, the Chiefs are welcoming back Priest Holmes.
Almost two years after Holmes left the Chiefs because of a mysterious neck condition, he has been medically cleared to play and has asked to rejoin the team at training camp, which begins Friday in River Falls, Wis.
The Chiefs weren’t expecting Holmes until at least Saturday. Even after his arrival, Holmes may not initially practice with the full team until the Chiefs determine he’s ready.
But his mere return to the practice field is another in a series of remarkable comebacks for Holmes and perhaps the most dramatic.
Many in the Chiefs’ organization had given up on Holmes and were convinced the team would never see him again. Holmes accepted a lesser contract last year as a nod to the uncertainty of his playing future.
His original contract called for a base salary of $4 million this year. He is scheduled to make $870,000 in base salary this year.
The Chiefs last year traded for Michael Bennett and this year drafted Kolby Smith. Both moves were made in part because the Chiefs were trying to move on without Holmes.
But president/general manager Carl Peterson said he recently received phone calls first from Holmes’ agent, Todd France, and then from Holmes asking to return.
“He certainly deserves the opportunity to do this after all he has contributed to the Chiefs,” Peterson said. “He’s been a member of the Chiefs for a long time, even though he’s been a silent member for the last several months.
“This will be a shot in the arm for us at training camp.”
Holmes is the team’s all-time leader in rushing yards (5,933), touchdowns (83) and touchdowns in a season (27). He led the NFL in rushing in 2001, and his 27 touchdowns in 2003 were an NFL record, a mark that has since been broken. But he will return to a different Chiefs world than the one he left. Herm Edwards has replaced Dick Vermeil as coach, and the Chiefs have geared down their once high-powered offense.
There is also the considerable presence of Johnson, who has become the centerpiece of the Chiefs’ offense. Johnson wants a contract extension and is unlikely to report to camp without one.
He will resume his role as the lead back if and when he arrives. The return of Holmes can be seen as a ploy to squeeze Johnson into accepting the Chiefs’ offer sooner than he otherwise might have.
Peterson denied that was the Chiefs’ intent.
“This wasn’t my idea. I can tell you that,” Peterson said. “This was Priest Holmes’ idea. I don’t think this has any relevance to Larry. We’ve communicated with Larry’s representative on a number of occasions, but unfortunately right now we’re still an awful long way apart in our proposals.”
The Chiefs also have at running back Bennett, Smith and two young players, Derrick Ross and Marcus O’Keith. Bennett is the starter during Johnson’s absence, but the Chiefs will probably use the committee approach as long as Johnson is out.
Holmes couldn’t be reached for comment; France didn’t return a phone message. Peterson indicated Holmes was OK playing a lesser role than
the one he formerly held.
Another issue is whether Holmes can be the same player he was since he left in October 2005. He will be 34 in October, an advanced age for a running back.
“I don’t know what he has left, and I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess,” Peterson said. “But if he’s 80 percent of what he was before, he can help us win. We are looking at him certainly in a different role than when he was here before. He was the workhorse, and we’re not looking at him doing that. …
“Without question there’s a place for him to fit in and contribute a great deal. He, like every running back, has some things he does better than others. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a better running back, with maybe the exception of Marcus Allen, who has such vision and patience on outside plays. I’m sure (offensive coordinator) Mike Solari will be calling those plays.”
•UNSIGNED PICKS: The last remaining unsigned draft picks, first-round wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and fifth-round kicker Justin Medlock, remained without contract agreements. The Chiefs and Medlock weren’t far apart, and an agreement could be reached as soon as today.
But the Chiefs will probably begin training camp without Bowe. Peterson said those negotiations were moving slowly.
“I think I’m going to win a steak dinner bet I made with him in minicamp,” Peterson said. “I told him I didn’t think he’ll be on the plane with us going to training camp. He assured me absolutely that he would be and that he wouldn’t miss a minute of training camp.”