KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — The Chiefs have decided to let inside linebacker Derrick Johnson hit free agency in March.
Johnson told The Star on Tuesday that he was made aware of the club's decision during a recent discussion with general manager Brett Veach.
Johnson, a 35-year-old four-time Pro Bowler, recorded 71 tackles and seven pass deflections in 2017, his 13th NFL season, after fast-tracking his recovery from a torn Achilles the previous December.
He signed a three-year, $21 million contract extension in March 2016. When he restructured that deal a year ago, he freed up $4.25 million and voided the third year of the deal.
"When I restructured my deal, I voided my last year out," Johnson said. "In order for me to come back with the Chiefs, we'd have to work on a deal or do something for a one-year type of deal.
"But the Chiefs, they wanted to go younger across the board — that's what Veach was talking about. I wasn't in their plans, and I understood that. They've got some cap issues, and even though I would have bended some to be a Chief, there really was no negotiation. I just wasn't in the plans. And that happens; it is what it is."
Johnson will become a free agent on March 14, the first day of the new league year.
"Few players in recent history have meant more to the Chiefs franchise and the Kansas City community than Derrick Johnson," Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said in a statement. "His tireless work ethic and passion for the game made him one of the most productive defensive players to ever wear a Chiefs uniform and one of the most respected players both in our locker room and around the league.
"Over the last 13 seasons, Derrick represented himself and the Chiefs organization with integrity and class, and he will always be a part of our Chiefs family."
Johnson was a first-round pick by the Chiefs in 2005 out of Texas. He went on to become the team's all-time leading tackler, with 1,262.
"Letting go of a player like Derrick is particularly tough because of how much respect I have for him as a player and as a person," Veach said in a statement. "He's had a tremendous career here in Kansas City, and we wish him nothing but the best moving forward."
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he's grateful he was able to coach Johnson.
"He's a passionate football player and a natural leader," Reid said in a statement. "I value the amount of quality work he put in every day for us, including teaching our younger players what it means to be a pro. I think he will make an incredible coach when he is done playing the game, if he chooses."
Johnson, who had hopes of returning to the Chiefs in 2018, told The Star on Tuesday that he expects to continue his playing career in pursuit of a Super Bowl ring.
"I've been blessed to be a part of the Kansas City Chiefs organization my entire career," he said a statement. "I'd like to thank the Hunt family, my coaches, teammates and the staff for the tremendous amount of support I received over the years. I love Kansas City and this fan base; they've always had my back.
"I'm grateful I had the opportunity to spend 13 years in a place I love. I plan on playing for several more years because I love this game so much, but I look forward to retiring as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs when my career is over. I'll miss my Chiefs teammates — we made a lot of big plays together over the years — and I wish them the best in bringing a championship home to the best and loudest fans in the NFL."