Work in Sports
Bucs give Johnson $56 million deal, release Emanuel
Posted: Thursday April 13, 2000 11:15 AM
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Keyshawn Johnson won't have to demand the ball from his new team.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the two-time Pro Bowl selection the highest-paid receiver in the NFL on Wednesday, and intend to give him plenty of opportunities to make a difference in their offense.
"I welcome that because in this day and age, we all know that you have to throw the football," Johnson said after signing an eight-year, $56 million contract to complete a trade that sent a pair of first-round draft picks to the New York Jets.
"I think the organization knows that. That's why they went out and gave up two first-round picks to try to get somebody they can rely on to deliver that for them."
Johnson received a club-record $13 million signing bonus and immediately became the highest-profile offensive player in team history. He had two years remaining on the six-year contract he signed as the first pick in the 1996 draft, and unsuccessfully sought to renegotiate the deal with the Jets.
Fearing a holdout next season, New York opted to trade Johnson, receiving the 13th and 27th picks in this weekend's draft. The Jets, who have an unprecedented four selections in the opening round, already owned the 16th and 18th picks.
"Money was an issue, yes it was. But it wasn't the only issue," Johnson said of leaving New York. "It never got to the point of talking to the Jets. They never asked what do you want or what could possibly satisfy you."
To make room under the salary cap for Johnson, the Bucs released receiver Bert Emanuel, who was scheduled to earn $4.2 million next season. One of the reasons the team was in the market to acquire an impact player was Emanuel was a major disappointment after signing as a free agent two years ago.
"I think we're getting one of the best receivers in the game, and his play week-in and week-out exhibits that," said NFL defensive player of the year Warren Sapp.
"The only thing you have to do is turn the film on. We have a saying: `The eye in the sky never lies.' He's been performing in this league for four years and we expect him to do the same thing here."
Tampa Bay failed to score an offensive touchdown five times, including the NFC title game, and ranked 30th among 31 teams in passing and 28th overall while averaging just over 13 points.
Nevertheless, the Bucs had their best season in franchise history because of a defense that was so dominant the team won two of the five games the offense couldn't get into the end zone.
"Everybody knows the Tampa Bay Bucs have an extraordinary defense that put them in the NFC championship game last year," Johnson said. "I hear all the time, all they need is 17. Well, we're definitely going to try to give them that 17."
The 27-year-old receiver is the third Pro Bowl player to be added to the Bucs offense since the team failed to score a touchdown in an 11-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams in the NFC title game, joining center Jeff Christy and guard Randall McDaniel.
In addition, Mike Shula was fired as offensive coordinator and replaced by Les Steckel, who is installing the offense the Tennessee Titans used to make it to the Super Bowl last season.
"They're making it easy for me right now. I'm excited," said second-year quarterback Shaun King, who doesn't see the trade for Johnson changing the Bucs' commitment to getting the ball to running back Warrick Dunn and Pro Bowl fullback Mike Alstott.
"With the defense we have, the additions we've made on the offensive line and two running backs we have, I still think our main focus will be to run the ball. But when we do decide to throw it, he gives us another weapon, another threat."
Johnson, who had been scheduled to earn $2.4 million with the Jets in 2000, gives the Bucs the big, physical playmaker they've yearned for years. His receiving yardage for last season alone (1,170 yards on 89 receptions) surpassed the career numbers for all but one of Tampa Bay's other young wideouts.
"I think we've turned a weakness into a strength," Sapp said. "Now we've got to just put it all together and go out and win some ball games."