Will Johnson is on his way out of Portland -- he has said as much to the media -- but his destination is still up in the air. According to just about everyone on the internet, the two frontrunners for the skills of the Portland Timbers captain are the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC. Yesterday, however, a report hit the internet from a Toronto podcaster that Johnson would be headed to TFC.
Source tells me Will Johnson TFC will begin new journey this is tremendous if true addition TFC fans he is a solid addition Proud Canadian— A. Totera (@4totera) December 17, 2015
This is far, far from a sure thing, but it begs the question: if the Timbers are sending Johnson to Toronto, what are they getting in return? Chicago has allocation money, space in the budget, the No. 1 draft pick, and a bevy of youngsters that the Timbers might take in part. Toronto, however, are a club who seem to be stretched to the breaking point.
With three designated players with salaries too large to be payed down with targeted allocation money in Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Giovinco, and a number of players on very high cap hits throughout their roster, Johnson seems like he might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to TFC's tenuous relationship with the salary cap. Unless, of course, the Timbers chip in with some of that creative accounting that the team's back office has become famous for in recent years.
The Timbers could, in theory, send Johnson to Toronto -- or anywhere else -- and agree to keep a portion of his salary on their books: a common arrangement in MLS. From there, the Timbers could use their annual buyout to essentially pay off that remaining chunk of salary, getting it off of their cap hit while still paying the money to Johnson. It is far from a complex operation, but it is one that sounds like it should be against the rules. Thankfully, there is a precedent for this sort of thing: it is exactly what the Timbers did with the contract of Donovan Ricketts after he was traded to Orlando City SC before the 2015 season.
This potential sudden drop in Johnson's potential cap hit makes him all the more valuable to Toronto and could drive up the price that the Timbers are able to get for him. Not only would the Timbers be sending away a player, but they would be basically giving the team that picks up Johnson the equivalent of allocation money as well if they do this.
The question still remains, however: what could the Timbers get from TFC for Will Johnson? Let's look at some possibilities:
Toronto made it to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history this season and, while that is great for them, it means that they will not have the traditionally early draft picks that the team is used to. Of interest are certainly picks No. 9 and 27. While far from a certain thing, this draft class seems to be shaping up to be a solid one and the Timbers could find a prospect with either of these picks. Additionally, any of Toronto's many later picks could easily be thrown in to sweeten the pot for the Timbers/
After spending several paragraphs ruminating on how Toronto is in need of funds, the possibility that the team could trade away allocation money for Johnson seems slim. However, with the recent influx of targeted allocation money into MLS, the Timbers could potentially get some TAM from Toronto in this deal unless TFC plans on bringing in another DP level player that they can buy down below the maximum salary hit.
This is where things get interesting for the Timbers. While the big names at TFC -- their designated players and guys like Herculez Gomez and Benoit Chyerou -- seem very unlikely to be made available as a part of a trade, there are still some interesting players that the Timbers might make a run at. One name in particular seems like it might be just the thing that the Timbers need for the upcoming season: Jonathan Osorio.
The simple suggestion of Osorio leaving TFC should sent Toronto fans into some sort of fit, but with Johnson being added to the Toronto midfield, Osorio would instantly be a man on the edge of the XI, threatening to drop off into the void. For the Timbers he would still be outside the XI, but his versatility and ability to be the team's playmaker would vital for CONCACAF and filling in throughout the team over the course of a long season.
What do you think the Timbers could get for Will Johnson from Toronto FC?