Did Jets steal Johnson for $15 million?

On the NFL

August 11, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

It could only happen in pro sports.

A company gives a new employee a six-year, $15 million deal with $2 million in incentive clauses only to find itself declared the winner in the negotiations.

That's what happened last week when the New York Jets signed top draft pick Keyshawn Johnson, the wide receiver from Southern California.

One New York tabloid hailed team vice president Steve Gutman with the headline, "Call him Gutty Gutman," and said that Gutman had scored a "clear knockout of Johnson's agents, Jerome Stanley and Lee Kolligan."

At the usual 4 percent rate, the agents walked away with $900,000, so it was a lucrative knockout.

Johnson will get $4 million of a $6.5 million bonus immediately. The agents didn't help their image when Stanley said, "But the $4 million isn't as much as you think. There's taxes. And a house payment for his mother. And some debts. Then you take a chunk and put it away."

Comments like those give agents a bad name. It's difficult for a fan paying $35 or $55 for his ticket to believe that $4 million won't go very far.

The key to the contract, though, was the structure. Gutman was praised because he managed to avoid all the voidable clauses that the Ravens gave Jonathan Ogden, the fourth pick in the draft.

"No gimmicks, no gadgets, no voidables, no secrets," Gutman ** said.

The incentive clauses will be difficult to reach, too. To collect the full $2 million, Johnson has to make the Pro Bowl, catch more than 85 passes, get 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in four of his first five years. Jerry Rice and Andre Rison are the only two active receivers who have done that. If Johnson does it only twice in the first four years, his incentive is reduced to $500,000.

Gutman said, "He's got to produce at the highest levels of achievement to earn it."

By contrast, the Ogden contract has easy playing-time voidable clauses that will turn the $15.4 million into at least $19.5 million and possibly more than $20 million, depending on what the franchise number is for offensive tackles five years from now.

Johnson seems convinced he can hit the incentives.

"I have no problem with saying I'll be one of the better receivers in the league," Johnson said.

Said Gutman: "The problem with professional players today is they're being introduced to this idea of getting enormous amounts of money without producing. You can't do that."


It was just a little more than a year ago that Gov. Parris N. Glendening went to New York to give commissioner Paul Tagliabue the message that Maryland's funding to build a football stadium might disappear if Baltimore didn't get a new team soon.

Tagliabue was described as neither encouraging nor discouraging Maryland, but discussed Baltimore's "geographic shortcomings relative to faster-growing regions of the country."

That was the same message Tagliabue had for the owners during the 1993 expansion derby when they were shown a map with blinking red lights for each existing franchise. There didn't seem to be room on the NFL map for a light between Philadelphia and Washington.

But it was difficult to discern what those shortcomings were last Saturday night when a sellout crowd watched the Ravens' preseason opener. The fans not only showed up, but also were into the game. They didn't spend their time talking on their cell phones the way they do at Camden Yards.

Even the $15 parking fee resulted in only minor grumbling. The fans wanted the NFL back and were willing to pay the price. It's almost hard to believe that 15 years ago, the idea of charging full prices for exhibition games was a controversial one in Baltimore.

As one fan, Rodney Day, told a Philadelphia reporter, "You do what you have to do. We wanted to get back in the NFL, and if this is what you have to do, you do it."

In Oakland, by contrast, they're not so willing to do it. Only 38,219 fans showed up for the Raiders' first home preseason game Thursday night. Granted, the Raiders' ticket prices are higher and the seat licenses expire after 10 years, but they're turning out to be a tough sell.

Things have changed so much in Baltimore that the city, being cited for its shortcomings just a year ago, was chided by Sports Illustrated for being too enthusiastic over the Ravens in the opening game.

The magazine said that "only in Baltimore" would the fans welcome Art Modell and treat Vinny Testaverde "like the second coming of Johnny Unitas."

The magazine even said, "The team's fans don't seem to notice that the front-office troika -- vice presidents David Modell and Ozzie Newsome and financial officer Pat Moriarty -- bear a close pTC resemblance to the Three Stooges." The magazine cited the Ogden contract and the failure to send in the Floyd Turner contract to the league office as among the front-office shortcomings.

But honeymoons are a time for accepting a few shortcomings, and Baltimore fans are enjoying their football honeymoon. They deserved it after a 12-year wait.

Stubborn Parcells

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