Once the cat was out of the bag, Ravens coach Brian Billick decided to chase it around the room a few times.
Yes, Billick said yesterday, the Ravens have talked about swapping the fifth pick in next month's NFL draft to the New York Jets for mercurial wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson.
Yes, he said, it can happen.
He said he's optimistic it will.
"I'm optimistic both parties are very motivated to get it done," Billick said as phone calls rained in on his corner office at Owings Mills seeking comment on the proposed blockbuster trade.
"[But] there are no guarantees. I've been disappointed before."
Billick even shared his optimism with listeners of WFAN radio in New York. The Jets reportedly were annoyed by the public airing of discussions to trade their best player, a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the game's most electrifying performers.
And now, the next step is up to them. Billick said the Ravens have asked permission to speak with Johnson and his agent, Jerome Stanley of Los Angeles, but have yet to receive it.
"I hope we can take the next step in 48 hours," Billick said. "We won't do it [make the trade] until I have a chance to visit with Keyshawn."
Despite Billick's openness, Ozzie Newsome, the man charged with arranging the trade, said emphatically and repeatedly yesterday the Jets have not yet offered Johnson in the trade.
"I have not been offered Keyshawn Johnson at this point," the Ravens' vice president of player personnel said. "There's no concrete offer."
Newsome perhaps is playing with semantics, but the fact remains, the Jets want more than just the fifth pick in the draft. They reportedly are asking for either another prominent pick or a player.
Newsome, mindful of the draft trade recently negotiated between the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers, is working on precedent.
"If the right deal comes about, I will recommend to the Modells that we make the trade," he said. "You've still got to consider that Washington gave San Francisco two first-round picks, and fourth- and fifth-round picks [to get the third choice in the draft]. That sets a lot of value on what the fifth pick is worth."
Newsome said he has spoken with Bill Parcells, the Jets director of football operations, once since the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis about the trade.
Interestingly, the two men go back to Newsome's high school days in Muscle Shoals, Ala. Parcells, Newsome said, once tried to recruit him to Vanderbilt. Newsome went instead to Alabama.
Johnson's sudden availability after two Pro Bowl seasons for the Jets is intriguing. The team, in a salary cap bind already, is concerned about the ramifications of Johnson's desire for a new contract. His six-year deal, which has runs through 2001, averages only $2.5 million a year.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway just signed a new contract with the Dallas Cowboys worth $6 million a year.
And yes, the Jets can spell "holdout."
Johnson's agent reportedly has informed the Jets his client would not be going to camp without a salary commensurate to his status as one of the NFL's elite receivers.
Stanley answered his phone yesterday, but had little to say.
"I can't say anything," he said.
The Jets aren't talking, either. Parcells sent word to New York media he would not comment on the trade speculation. But reports indicate he wants to move into the top three picks in the draft. He already holds the 16th and 18th choices.
If he gets the Ravens' fifth pick, he could offer a package of picks to the Cleveland Browns for the first choice in the draft.
"Three No. 1's is a hell of a start," Dwight Clark, director of football operations for the Browns, said, raising the ante.
It's believed the Browns are leaning toward keeping the first pick, but not necessarily for wide receiver Peter Warrick of Florida State. It seems more likely they might use it on one of Penn State's two defensive stars -- end Courtney Brown or linebacker LaVar Arrington.
The Jets, meanwhile, are still eyeing the Ravens' fifth pick.
"If there are 10 steps to the deal, we're at six," Billick said. "But seven, eight and nine are tough."