Jets put Johnson talks on hold

Pro Bowl receiver off trade block for now

March 22, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

After two weeks of shopping disgruntled Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson around the NFL, the New York Jets backed off thinly veiled trade threats yesterday.

In a vague statement issued by the team, new coach Al Groh said the Jets will not hold trade talks about Johnson "at this time," and will not renegotiate the final two years of his contract.

But the only door the Jets truly closed was one to public comment.

"This statement should explicitly cover our position regarding this matter; thus we will have no further comment," Groh said.

Reports of a blockbuster trade for the Ravens' fifth pick in next month's college draft broke on March 6. But the Ravens were merely one of at least six teams the Jets contacted about Johnson.

Negotiations with Baltimore apparently never reached the serious stage. The Ravens sought permission to talk with Johnson and his agent, Jerome Stanley, in anticipation of striking a new deal, but were rebuffed.

Johnson's contract is a point of contention for the Jets. He has two years left on a six-year, $15 million contract he signed as the first pick in the 1996 draft. He is due to receive $2.2 million this season, well below market value.

In the wake of the seven-year, $42 million deal wide receiver Joey Galloway got from the Dallas Cowboys this off-season, it's believed Johnson wants a $6 million-a-year contract. The Jets were fearful of a prolonged holdout in training camp, and Bill Parcells, director of football operations, started discussions with teams that hold the first five picks in the draft.

Among the teams he talked to were the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Ravens. The Jets own the 16th and 18th picks in the first round.

Johnson has not publicly threatened to hold out, but did not participate in the team's off-season conditioning program that started this week.

Groh acknowledged the team's severe salary cap problem.

"The Jets have reworked numerous contracts this winter to get under the salary cap and yet continue to be under extreme economic duress with regard to the salary cap and its effect on the overall roster," Groh said.

The Jets are $1 million under the league's $62.2 million cap, and will be in worse shape next season, when the contracts of quarterback Vinny Testaverde and running back Curtis Martin accelerate. They have a policy of not renegotiating any contract with more than one year left.

That's why Groh said the team "remains unable to address the contract of Keyshawn in the near or foreseeable short-term future."

"However, as we have consistently done in the past, at the appropriate time we will address Keyshawn's contract situation," he said.

As for trade rumors, Groh said: "While there has been considerable speculation about the possibility of trading Keyshawn, the Jets will not entertain any trade offers at this time."

But he added this qualifier: "As in recent years, we remain committed to fielding the most competitive team possible on a year-to-year basis. We will continue to evaluate and consider all viable opportunities to improve our team."

Ravens executives were unavailable to comment. Owner Art Modell and his son, David, the team president, were in Florida on vacation; vice president of player personnel Ozzie Newsome was in Tuscaloosa, Ala., attending a workout; and coach Brian Billick was vacationing in South Carolina.

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