Johnson's next route down Key Highway?

March 08, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

Keyshawn Johnson prefers the West Coast? Baltimore will set its clocks to Pacific Daylight Time, if that's what he desires.

He can eat at Planet Hollywood. He can live in the suburb of Pasadena. He can even motor down a street named after him, Key Highway.

Who deserves the honor more, the composer of a tedious national anthem or a Pro Bowl receiver who could transform the Ravens into Super Bowl contenders?

Francis Scott Key would understand.

Heck, he'd be cheering from his grave.

John Unitas immortalized No. 19 as a Baltimore Colt. Johnson, a hard worker and radiant personality, would bring honor to the number as a Baltimore Raven.

Give him the damn ball. Give him a new contract with a $12 million signing bonus. And give the New York Jets the No. 5 pick in the draft and another choice if necessary, before it's too late.

If Bill Parcells is smart, he'll resist giving up a potential Hall of Famer for an unproven talent. Or, to use Parcells' preferred grocery analogy, he'll resist sending the Ravens a filet mignon for a potential turkey.

The insanity of the trade from the Jets' perspective is one obstacle, unless Parcells can package the No. 5 pick with one or both of his other first-rounders, acquire Cleveland's top choice and select Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown.

The other obstacle is that Johnson wants to play on the West Coast and has often said he would enjoy playing for the Oakland Raiders. But with two years left on his contract and no team in his native Los Angeles, what are his options?

The Ravens can make him one of the game's highest-paid receivers -- Johnson averages a mere $2.5 million under his current deal. They also can put him in an offense that would only amplify his talents, if that's possible.

Johnson, 27, has caught 305 passes in his first four seasons, more than any receiver in NFL history. Yet, he would be more valuable to Ravens coach Brian Billick than in the run-oriented Parcells system that will be implemented by new Jets coach Al Groh.

If the Ravens added Johnson on top of Shannon Sharpe, they likely would use the 15th pick in the draft to select a running back. They then would open the 2000 season believing they're the second coming of the St. Louis Rams.

Too good to be true?

Just don't let the Orioles' doctors near Johnson when he takes his physical. They might find an ingrown toenail or something, and quash the entire deal.

Actually, the addition of Johnson could benefit Baltimore sports fans on both the baseball and football fronts. Orioles owner Peter Angelos would sign Mike Mussina faster than you could say "Bisciotti," then settle his differences with agent Scott Boras in preparation for a bid on Alex Rodriguez.

But first, the Ravens need to get their act together.

Ozzie Newsome should stop putting double moves on the truth by denying that the Johnson talks exist; a no-comment would be preferable. And Billick should stop drooling over the trade on New York's WFAN; going public will only anger Parcells.

There's too much at stake to blow this, OK?

Much as Ravens fans hate the Redskins, think of the number of potential Hall of Famers who could be playing their NFL home games in the state of Maryland next season.

For the Ravens: Johnson, Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Jonathan Ogden and, depending on the outcome of a certain double murder trial in Atlanta, Ray Lewis.

For the Redskins: Brown if they draft him, Deion Sanders if they sign him, plus Bruce Smith, Darrell Green and maybe even Champ Bailey.

What would Johnson mean to the Ravens?

Only everything.

Qadry Ismail was a 1,000-yard receiver last season. Priest Holmes a 1,000-yard rusher two years ago. But the Ravens did not scare opponents at wide receiver, tight end or running back in Billick's initial campaign.

Now, imagine Billick using a three-wide set with Johnson, the emerging Patrick Johnson and a revitalized Jermaine Lewis, plus Sharpe at tight end, plus an upgrade at running back with the No. 15 pick in the draft.

The lives of opposing defensive coordinators would become considerably more difficult -- that is, as long as quarterback Tony Banks thrived with the additional talent around him, and avoided becoming the weak link.

Given Banks' tendency to fumble, the title of Keyshawn's second book could turn out to be, "Just hold onto the damn ball!"

Banks certainly would have no excuses. He'd enjoy his choice of weapons, and the advantage of playing in the same system back-to-back seasons for the first time in his NFL career. The Ravens couldn't offer any more support, but they'd be wise to sign Trent Dilfer and draft a quarterback, just in case.

Then again, maybe the Ravens' luck is beginning to turn. The Jets are considering trading Johnson largely because they face a salary cap bind in 2001 due to the escalating salaries of Vinny Testaverde and others.

Can you imagine?

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