Work in Sports
Redskins QB proves himself once again
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
LANDOVER, Md. -- He is the quarterback who presides over the best team money can buy. The passer at the controls of that $100 million payroll. And yet at times this year, Brad Johnson has been lost in the background, obscured by the glamour and glitz surrounding him.
Johnson has had to practice patience. While Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder was busy backing up the money truck and bestowing millions on newcomers like Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Mark Carrier, LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels, Johnson was busy biding his time. And waiting for just the right chance to remind us why he should not be forgotten.
That opportunity came Sunday, on the NFL's opening day, before a sold-out Redskins throng of 80,000-plus at FedEx Field. With a world of expectations riding on he and his teammates' shoulder pads, Johnson showed us once again why the Redskins would be wise to throw a little of that Monopoly money his way in his upcoming contract extension talks.
"Yeah, there are some short memories in this league," Johnson said after Washington gutted out its 20-17 victory against Carolina. "You've got to prove yourself every week, and this is one more time that I did."
Washington's win was far from pretty at times. The Redskins didn't make anyone forget the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They just got the job done on a hot, humid and sometimes rainy day. They nosed out a victory by about the nose of the football, which happened to be the margin of Johnson's go-ahead fourth-quarter, 1-yard touchdown lunge.
Patience again was Johnson's best virtue. With Carolina's secondary sitting back soft, hoping to prevent the big play that helped Washington climb out of an early 21-0 hole and outlast the Panthers 38-36 last year at FedEx, Johnson dinked and dunked and took what Carolina was willing to give.
He didn't get greedy, and finished a cooly effective 25-of-36 for 234 yards, no interceptions, no sacks and no touchdowns. He was a flawless 7-of-7 for 68 of his team's 79 yards on the Redskins' game-opening touchdown drive, then capped the 11-play, 87-yard march in the fourth quarter that squashed any real chance of a Carolina upset. He was a remarkable 10-of-10 on this first 10 attempts in the second half, before missing on his final pass of the game.
Running back Stephen Davis, the latest of Snyder's multimillionaires thanks to Saturday's nine-year, $90 million contract agreement, had an outstanding day, bludgeoning the Panthers with a 23-carry, 133-yard, one touchdown rushing performance that grew in resonance as the game wore on.
Future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith came up huge with a game-turning play from his right defensive end slot. His sack and strip of Panthers quarterback Steve Beuerlein in the third quarter altered the game's momentum and field position, allowing Washington to climb out of a 10-7 halftime hole and tie it at 10. Both were deserving stars.
But it was Johnson who again was the Redskins' steadying presence, making the key reads and decisions and exhibiting just the right touch when the game got tight. It was Johnson who refused to allow the Redskins to lose.
And now, is it finally Johnson's turn to cash in? With Davis out of the way, Johnson is the Redskins' lone remaining potential free agent of major significance. Will his patience be rewarded? Will his value be realized?
"I want to sign here, but there are no guarantees," Johnson said. "If you look at last year, this organization hadn't been to the playoffs in six years, and I feel like I was a huge part of that success. And I feel like I'm a big part of the success we'll have this year.
"But they had a plan [the Redskins' front office], and they've stuck to it to a tee. Now we'll see how it includes me. I would love for my career to finish here, but nothing's assured at this point."
The Redskins, Johnson said, have now made it clear that they want to talk contract extension with him this month, and are formulating a proposal. But Johnson has no intention of talking past mid-October. If the two sides can't strike a deal by then, he plans to test the free-agent market in February. If Davis' deal goes through as expected, the Redskins could reapply their franchise tag to Johnson, effectively keeping him off the market. Either way, Johnson believes he holds the upper hand.
"If it's not done by October, I'd be stupid to sign this year," Johnson said. "I thought it should have been done last March, but it being the first year of a new owner, that's the way they wanted to approach it. They could have worked with me and Stephen last year. It would have helped on the cap.
"Sometimes that approach works out and sometimes it haunts you. Hopefully this one will work out. But I feel like I hold the cards here. I'll sign if it's the right contract, not just for me but for the team. It'll have to be the right terms that allow us to stay competitive here. I would like to compete another three or four years here and not have the salary cap situation make us dismantle [the team]."
For now, no one is talking of dismantling these Redskins. They have that Super Bowl-or-bust air about them, and ugly or not, Johnson is determined to bask in victory No. 1. Close, he is quick to point out, doesn't count in the NFL.
"Any time you get a win in this league, you come away with a smile on your face," Johnson said. "Expectations are high and they'll still be high after this. But we accomplished our goal today, winning at home, winning a football game. We're 1-0 and we move on.
"Think about it. When we left Tampa Bay last year [in the playoffs], we lost by one point. They won 14-13, and we went home. A win in this league is unbelievable. And I'm excited about it."