Bucs deactivate K. Johnson for rest of '03

Club: Receiver's pattern of off-field behavior led to `disruption' on team

Pro Football

November 19, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided that Keyshawn Johnson's on-field performance wasn't worth his off-field posturing and yesterday informed the veteran receiver he would be deactivated the rest of the season.

The startling move effectively ends Johnson's career with the Bucs, even though he has four years remaining on a $56 million contract he restructured this season.

Without going into detail, Bucs general manager Rich McKay and coach Jon Gruden said Johnson's dissatisfaction in Tampa led to a pattern of behavior that had become unacceptable to the team.

It included Johnson missing mandatory workouts in the offseason to stay on the West Coast, where he lives, and missing team meetings this season.

According to McKay, Johnson told the coach and general manager early in the season of his desire to leave Tampa. He said Johnson was "very emphatic" in making his point.

"Realize this - he's not the first player to say that," McKay said in a news conference. "It's the actions that follow it and the disruption created that precipitate where we are today."

The first pick in the 1996 draft, Johnson, 31, built a reputation for going across the middle and making tough catches in eight NFL seasons. But he also was known for being high maintenance with both the New York Jets, who drafted him, and the Bucs, who traded for him in 2000.

He co-authored a book titled Just Give Me the Damn Ball! after his rookie season and has often campaigned publicly to get more passes.

"This was different because I think he was tired of Tampa," McKay said. "I think he tired of the travel between the West Coast and the East Coast. I think he became more frustrated again this year in the offense."

Johnson wasn't happy even though he had a career-high average catch of 14.3 yards last year when the Bucs won the Super Bowl. He spoke glowingly about former Jets coach Bill Parcells earlier this season and admitted his personality clashed with Gruden's.

This season, he has 45 catches, third on the team, for 600 yards and three touchdowns. He complained often about his role in Gruden's offense as the team slid to a 4-6 start, losing the past three games.

"I remember him telling me that he didn't feel that our relationship worked, or our styles or our philosophies meshed," Gruden said. "You have to get the answers from him. All I know is that we did everything we could [to get him the ball]."

The Bucs could not cut Johnson this season without taking a huge hit on their salary cap, and the trading deadline passed in October. They also decided against fining Johnson for missing meetings.

Asked about the timing of the decision, McKay said: "I couldn't even tell you why, other than you finally come to a point where you say, `OK, that's enough. Now it's time for us to act.' ... There's no one incident."

Although McKay left the door open ever so slightly for Johnson's possible return, it's almost certain Johnson will play somewhere else next season. The Bucs will pursue trade options after the season.

Gruden said Keenan McCardell will move to flanker and Joe Jurevicius will become the starter at split end.

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