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Posted: Wednesday March 15, 2000 12:16 PM

A Key Deal? 

Bill Parcells's final NFL act may be to unload the Jets' best player

By Peter King

Sports Illustrated "Tell you what I'm doing right now," Jets director of football operations Bill Parcells said a little after 7 a.m. last Thursday. "I've got canisters of videotape here on my desk, and one by one I'm looking at all the top linebackers in the draft. I've done all the defensive linemen, all the tight ends and most of the receivers. I'll look at the top 100 guys in the draft at least."

New York owns the 16th and 18th picks in the first round, and Parcells is exploring the addition of one or two more first-round choices by making a very uncharacteristic move: trading star wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. The Ravens, sitting on the fifth pick, are interested in obtaining Johnson, as are several other teams that need a receiver and are ready to deal draft picks.

Why would Parcells, a win-now guy, ponder such a move? The most popular notion is that Johnson is too much of a self-promoter to fit into Parcells's team framework. That simply isn't so. First, Parcells is the best handler of star egos in the game. Second, contrary to Johnson's image as a selfish pretty boy, he works harder on his game than his teammate and rival, blue-collar fan favorite Wayne Chrebet.

Parcells loves Johnson. Before a December 1998 game in Buffalo in which the Jets clinched the AFC East, Parcells climbed aboard the first team bus set to leave the hotel for the stadium. He was almost always the first one on board, but that morning Johnson beat him to it. "Couldn't sleep," Johnson said. "I just can't wait to play this game." Last week Parcells said, "If I picked an alltime team of guys I coached, Keyshawn would definitely be on it."

Pro football is a live-for-today business, but Parcells the architect -- who will likely retire from football after the draft -- feels an obligation that Parcells the coach might not have felt. From the architect's standpoint, trading Johnson would not be a dumb decision. Johnson, 27, is entering the fifth year of a six-year deal and is slated to make $2.2 million this year. He wants to renegotiate his contract, and market value for a marquee receiver is about $7 million a year. If the salary-cap-strapped Jets deal him to one of the five other teams with two first-round picks -- and get both -- they'll save $1.3 million on the cap, have four first-round selections in a receiver-rich draft and probably be able to sign their best defensive player, free-agent linebacker Mo Lewis, to a long-term contract. They'll also be in a better position to re-sign valued 2001 free agents like nosetackle Jason Ferguson.

Parcells is playing football roulette with the Jets' future. Last week he was trying to figure out the risk-to-reward ratio of trading Johnson. He examined the last five first rounds and noted two threesomes from the bottom third of 1997's opening round. The busts: Steelers cornerback Chad Scott (who went 24th); defensive end Jon Harris (25), now a Packer; and quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (26), now with the Dolphins. The budding stars: Buffalo tailback Antowain Smith (23), Denver defensive tackle Trevor Pryce (28) and Green Bay left tackle Ross Verba (30). There's no right answer. But whether Parcells keeps Johnson or trades him, his last act in the NFL will have repercussions long after he's gone from the league.

Issue date: March 20, 2000

For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, March 15. Click here to subscribe to SI.

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