"We aren't going to let good football players go."
That's what Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said a few weeks ago at the NFL Scouting Combine when asked if they were going to bring back veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson, who was scheduled to become a free agent when the new league year began.
Johnson, who is the franchise's all-time leading tackler and who has been one of the most beloved players in the community since he joined the Chiefs back in 2005 as the team's first-round pick (No. 15 overall) out of the University of Texas, didn't give leaving much thought.
"There wasn't a doubt," Johnson said of whether or not he'd be returning to the Chiefs, despite outside interest from other teams.
Johnson had said all along that he wanted to come back, and he wasn't the only member of the defense to re-sign with the team last week.
Both veteran linebacker and defensive lineman signed multi-year contracts to stay as well.
"The chemistry we have, that's very important," Johnson explained. "We're a close-knit group. You don't want to break that up. [John Dorsey] and the organization, they made sure they kept the nucleus of the defense together.
"I was happy to see my brother Tamba [Hali] get his contract done."
In fact, Johnson and Hali had been communicating with each other over the offseason, trying to make sure they were going to keep this group together.
When Hali signed his extension, Johnson was among the first to reach out to him.
"It was one of those old friend moments," Johnson recalled, "and I told him, 'Hey, whatever I have to do, we'll work together to get this done.'
"At first, [Hali] was a little worried because it was getting down to the wire, but the old man hadn't left him yet," he laughed.
Johnson and Hali will forever be connected as they were the team's first-round picks in back-to-back years—2005 and 2006. They have 10 Pro Bowls between them and have seen the ups and downs—good seasons and bad—and those experiences created a bond they weren't going to break.
They helped lead a defense which allowed just 12.1 points per game during the final 13 contests of 2015, a mark that led them to a franchise-record 10 consecutive wins and their first playoff victory in more than two decades.
The defense was the catalyst for last season's turnaround from a 1-5 start, all the way to the best season for the franchise since "The Sandlot" was one of the top movies at the box office.
"The last two years, we've beaten the Super Bowl champions," Johnson added.
In Week 4 of the 2014 season, the Chiefs beat the New England Patriots by a score of 41-14 on Monday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium. The Patriots would go on to win the Super Bowl. In Week 10 of this past season, the Chiefs beat the Denver Broncos, 29-13, and they would also go on to win the Super Bowl.
"You've got to beat them at the right time," Johnson added, "but I think we're very close. We're not one of those rebuilding teams. We're a team that's going to be in the thick of it at the end of the day."
Individually, Johnson rebounded from a ruptured Achilles suffered in Week 1 of the 2014 season to be named a second-team All-Pro last year by leading the team with 116 tackles, also picking up 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions.
"I wasn't surprised," Johnson said of the level he played at in 2015. "I expected it, but sometimes I sit back in bed like, man, I'm checking my Achilles, checking certain things like man, it's this really happening right now?
"I'm back. I'm really back to form, and that's a blessing, man.
"Much to the surprise of those who don't know him very well, Johnson did regain that form and was Pro Football Focus' No. 8-ranked linebacker in 2015.
"He's athletic. He's instinctive. He never has to leave the field," Dorsey noted of Johnson. "He's 33 years old, but he didn't play like a 33-year old (last season).
"There's still some juice left in that guy."
After 11 seasons with the team, Johnson understands the position he's in and how close this organization is to grabbing something special.
"I've had some ups and downs," Johnson said of his career with the Chiefs. "I've been through three general managers, five head coaches, but the best is yet to come. We're still chomping at the bit trying to get this ring. That's the main thing—to win the Lombardi trophy and get a Super Bowl win.
"[Tamba and I] will keep going at it until we get it."
A look at some of the best photos of Derrick Johnson throughout the 2015 season
When it comes to his legacy, Johnson is aware of what he's accomplished, but not focused on it.
"When I retire, I'll think about it even more," he said. "I'm at an age that I know I can't play another 10 years. Signing this three-year deal, it just assures that I can help this team win. That's all I want to do, be a part of this great legacy that's about to go on now.
"Andy [Reid] has been here for three years and his record shows what he's trying to build here, and I want to be a part of it."
Johnson is doing far more than just being a part of it—he's leading the charge, which is right where he belongs.