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Raiders, Titans eyeing Keyshawn

Veteran wide receiver hasn't ruled out broadcast role

Posted: Monday May 7, 2007 7:25PM; Updated: Thursday July 26, 2007 11:56AM
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Keyshawn Johnson isn't sure which team he'll play for in 2007 -- or if he'll play at all.
Keyshawn Johnson isn't sure which team he'll play for in 2007 -- or if he'll play at all.
Gary Bogdon/SI

By Michael Silver, SI.com

Keyshawn Johnson may be catching passes in 2007 from the prize of this year's draft class, or he may become a key target for last season's Offensive Rookie Of The Year.

Or, if the money's not right, the free-agent wideout may be talking about JaMarcus Russell, Vince Young and the rest of the NFL's passers on TV.

SI.com has learned the Oakland Raiders and the Tennessee Titans are the leading contenders for Johnson's services in the wake of his release last week by the Carolina Panthers. The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks have also expressed interest in signing the 34-year-old wideout, who is also pondering a permanent move into a second career as a television analyst.

Johnson caught 70 passes for the Panthers last season but was cut last Tuesday, three days after the team drafted ex-USC wideout Dwayne Jarrett in the second round. Johnson, working as a guest analyst for ESPN, had lauded the pick on the air, saying he planned to mentor Jarrett, and his release clearly caught him off guard.

Drafted first overall by the New York Jets in 1996, Johnson also played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys before signing a four-year contract with the Panthers last March. Among those teams interested following his release by the Cowboys a year ago were the New York Giants, New England Patriots and the Seahawks, who have since acquired a pair of high-priced receivers in Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. Of those three teams, only the Seahawks are believed to be interested this time around.

Johnson, who has 815 career receptions, has averaged 70.3 catches over the past three seasons. He is durable, having missed just three games due to injury in his 11-year career (he was placed on the inactive list for the Bucs' final six games of 2003 following a dispute with coach Jon Gruden), and is regarded in league circles as a physical possession receiver and a vicious blocker who improves teams' running games.

The Titans, who lost leading receiver Drew Bennett to St. Louis via free agency, are seeking a reliable target for Young, who went 8-5 as a first-year starter in 2006. Tennessee's leading returning receiver from 2006, Brandon Jones, caught just 27 passes. Johnson has known Titans coach Jeff Fisher since the future USC star was a Trojans ballboy during Fisher's playing days as a standout defensive back.

The Raiders traded wideout Randy Moss to the New England Patriots during the draft and could team Johnson with deep threat Jerry Porter to give Russell an underneath threat. Johnson's children live in the East Bay with his ex-wife, Shikiri, which makes the prospect of joining a team that went 2-14 in '06 far more attractive from his perspective.

Johnson believes he has at least two or three productive seasons left. However, he has told friends he will not play for the minimum and is willing to pursue his options as a TV commentator if he does not receive an offer to his satisfaction. Johnson hopes to sign with a new team quickly -- perhaps by the end of this week and if nothing happens in that time frame he may elect to retire and begin his new career.

Johnson, who lives in Los Angeles during the offseason, received no interest from the San Diego Chargers, despite the fact their current roster lacks an established receiver.

There is a division within the Seahawks' hierarchy on whether to pursue Johnson. A source says coach Mike Holmgren is supportive of the move while general manager Tim Ruskell is hesitant. The Packers, who tried to trade for Moss and are hoping to give Brett Favre another reliable receiving option opposite Donald Driver, have expressed interest, but Johnson is reluctant to play in Green Bay.