When the NFL says a belated goodbye to Curtis Martin tomorrow they will simultaneously be preparing to welcome back an erstwhile rushing leader. Priest Holmes will report to Kansas City Chiefs training camp this weekend in an attempt to restart a career that came to an abrupt halt in October of 2005. Holmes suffered head and neck injuries on a hit by Shawne Merriman and was stashed away on the physically unable to perform list and presumed finished with a pro football career. Presumption false and it's not the first time that Holmes has defied physical malady to make it back on the field.
Although age and nearly two years of inactivity suggest his skills could be significantly eroded, his history offers evidence that might not be the case. He had hip surgery after the 2002 season that some felt would end his career. But he rebounded the next year to rush for 1,420 yards and score an NFL-record 27 touchdowns
If Holmes proves he can play it would provide the Chiefs some much needed leverage in their contract impasse with Larry Johnson. Johnson broke the NFL record for carries with 416 and set a team yardage record for the second straight season with 1,789 yards. Johnson is under contract for two more seasons but is agitating for a steep raise that K.C. isn't eager to pony up. But with a new quarterback they really need a grade-A tailback in the lineup if they hope to repeat last season's playoff bid. After all, without a good runner Herman Edwards might be forced to implement a balanced offense, something he's strenuously objected to throughout his coaching career.
It's interesting that Holmes could be the backup plan in case of Johnson's contract-related absence because Johnson joined the Chiefs in exactly the same capacity. It was a surprise when they took him in the first round of the 2003 Draft because he duplicated their position of greatest strength. Except it wasn't because Holmes was holding out for more money and the team needed to be prepared in case he didn't come back. It's enough to make George Santayana giddy.
There is a difference, however. Johnson was a young buck when the Chiefs brought him into the fold while Holmes has picked up some serious mileage and the aforementioned serious injuries during his nine year NFL career. He missed the last season and a half, of course, and was out of action for eight games in the 2004 season with a knee injury to go with his hip surgery and a torn ACL during his college career. Holmes turns 34 during the season. He will need to look like, well, he'll need to look like Larry Johnson for the team to hand over the starting job to him. The chances of that don't seem all that great which means Johnson still has a pretty good chance of getting that bump in his paycheck.