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Cardinals RB Johnson enters camp without extension on the mind

(Twitter Screenshot/@AZCardinals)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Entering the final year of his rookie deal and staring at a potentially hefty contract extension, David Johnson is acting only as if the former is true.

The Arizona Cardinals running back reported on the first day of training camp Friday with contract negotiations ongoing and, apparently, a chip on his shoulder.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Johnson said when asked about keeping his focus on football. “I’ve heard of former players, not just Cardinals, but in the league of having the stress of the contract dwelling on them and it ends up affecting their play. And that’s what I don’t want. I want to come out and prove to everyone that I’m 100 percent and better than 2016.”

Johnson, who required season-ending wrist surgery after Week 1 of 2017, had already joined some of his teammates by suiting up on Monday. That’s when Arizona scheduled players coming off major injuries to report.

Asked why he joined the team for training camp following his brief holdout of mandatory minicamp in June, Johnson shrugged off the notion that he might hold out longer.

“Because that’s what time they asked me to report, and I decided to come support and show that I was ready to play,” the running back said.

Behind the scenes, however, the Cardinals and Johnson’s representatives will continue working on an extension from his rookie deal, which will pay out a base salary of $1.9 million in 2018. Johnson’s next deal could push into eight-figure territory.

Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl back Le’Veon Bell’s failure to sign a long-term contract this offseason didn’t help matters in setting the market at the running back position. He was franchise-tagged for the second year in a row and did not come to a contract agreement by the mid-July deadline.

It maybe sped up Johnson’s cause that the Los Angeles Rams this week signed Todd Gurley to a four-year, $60 million contract with three-fourths of that amount guaranteed.

“My biggest thing is I was proud for him,” Johnson said. “I trained with Gurley coming out of college and it was cool to see him get what he deserved — not just him but to see Saquon (Barkley) get his deal.”

The New York Giants inked Barkley, the 2018 second overall NFL Draft pick, to a $31.2 million deal before his first NFL action. All of that is guaranteed and $15 million was reportedly paid up front.

Arizona can be optimistic Johnson is present as camp swings into public practices over the weekend, but a complicating factor is the absence of general manager Steve Keim, who on July 17 began serving a five-week suspension due to his July 4 DUI arrest.

Cardinals president Michael Bidwill has taken on more responsibilities with Keim away from the team and said he’s confident the negotiations with Johnson’s representatives can continue undisturbed.

“What we’ve got to do is look at the David Johnson situation,” Bidwill said. “We know that the market was going to be out there, we also know that Le’Veon Bell is going to be out there. But yes, we can get something done without Steve here.”

EXTRA POINTS

– More Johnson on his contract negotiations: “I don’t have time to think about it. This new offense … Coach (Steve) Wilks and (running backs coach Kirby) Wilson has put a lot on my plate to not only know the offense but be a leader for my team. That’s the biggest focus.”

– Johnson, on whether not playing in 2017 and his wrist injury might hurt the value of a new contract: “No, I don’t think the Cardinals really take that in effect. People outside the organization might think that. This is going into my fourth year, so they’ve seen me play.”

– Johnson, on if offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has indicated how the Cardinals will use him at running back: “Good thing with Mike is he actually comes to us. Kirby, Coach Wilson, asked the same thing. That was pretty cool to have them look to me as a veteran. It’s kind of weird that I’m the oldest one — one of the oldest ones in the running back group.”

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