Work in Sports
Calling an audible
Agent: Redskins' Johnson to test free-agent market
Updated: Wednesday October 18, 2000 11:38 AM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
That scenario, first reported Sunday on CNN's NFL Preview, became even more of probability Tuesday when Johnson's agent confirmed that his client will not conduct contract negotiations with the Redskins until the start of free agency next spring, if at all.
Johnson, who earned his first Pro Bowl berth last season, when he led Washington to its first playoff appearance in seven years, is in the final season of a four-year, $15.5 million contract that he signed in December 1996, while he was still with Minnesota.
In September, Johnson told CNNSI.com that he would cut off all contract talks with Washington by mid-October if he did not a contract extension offer to consider. He reiterated that timetable in an interview Saturday, noting that he had heard nothing from the Redskins despite being told by the team that his situation would be addressed early in the season.
"The way I look at it is, Redskins ownership has made choices, and they have the right to make those choices," said Atlanta-based agent, Phil Williams. "That choice has been to not sign Brad. So our choice at this point, and quite frankly we've felt this way for a while now, is simply to wait until free agency opens to discuss contract terms with any team.
"Brad will give everything he has, his heart, mind, soul and body, for the rest of this season to the Washington Redskins. After that, he'll make the best choice for his future. They basically took their Pro Bowl quarterback and made him their last priority. And we were fine with that timetable, but we just found out over time, the word priority was probably not the right word to use."
Williams stressed that the Redskins will not have a window after the season ends and before free agency begins to negotiate exclusively with Johnson. In short, Washington is no longer Johnson's priority. Asked if Johnson would consider the Redskins if they made a belated contract offer, Williams said: "What for? Based on our experience, what's the chance of that happening anyway?"
If he stays healthy for the rest of this season and continues to produce, Johnson, 32, would easily be the centerpiece of the free-agent quarterback crop in 2001. St. Louis is also expected to entertain trade offers for their high-profile backup, Trent Green, who is ironically the former Redskins starter that Johnson replaced in 1999.
Baltimore, coached by Brian Billick, Johnson's former offensive coordinator in Minnesota, is seen as the team with perhaps the best chance to land Johnson. According to a league source, Johnson would covet the chance to again play in Billick's system and views the Ravens as the team he would most like to sign with.
Other quarterback-challenged teams beside Baltimore that could prioritize Johnson in the free agent market include Seattle, San Diego, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, Tampa Bay and possibly Miami.
Williams said he and Johnson were in agreement on their decision to break off the possibility of any talks with Washington and address the issue of Johnson's future now, thereby removing it as possible distraction for the rest of the season. Williams said he did not inform the Redskins of the decision Tuesday, but that the club's management has been aware of Johnson's timetable.
"I haven't spoken to them in some time," Williams said. "Why should I communicate with them? They have made no effort to contact me or negotiate with us. There was some initial disappointment with that stance, but that is their business, their choice. That's in the past now. Brad just wants to focus on football from here on out, not a contract.
"Brad feels very wanted by his teammates and coaches and is happy in the environment of playing with them. But aside from that, all he knows is there has been no efforts to negotiate a contract with him and no endorsements from the management."
When reached for comment Tuesday evening Redskins director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato declined comment on any aspect of the situation, adding "I don't want to talk about anyone under contract."
After their well-publicized offseason spending spree, Washington faces serious salary-cap consequences as soon as next season, and likely has come to the conclusion that it can't afford to re-sign Johnson without seriously gutting portions of their roster. The Redskins are already committed to pay the top 15 players on their roster a combined $55.3 million next season. The league-wide team salary cap is expected to fall somewhere in the range of $68 million.
There is virtually no chance the Redskins could use their vacant franchise-player designation on Johnson, a source said, because the likely one-year franchise salary for a quarterback next season would conservatively be in the $7 million range. None of which would come in the form of a signing bonus, meaning it could not be pro-rated for salary-cap purposes.
Johnson is scheduled to earn about $4.3 million before incentives this season. Redskins backup quarterback Jeff George, signed this offseason as a high-priced insurance policy behind Johnson, was given a $2 million signing bonus and a $500,000 base salary this year, but is scheduled to earn a $3.75 million base salary in 2001.
Since the start of this season, Johnson has said he would have to see how the Redskins are going to resolve their serious cap problems before he would agree to re-sign. But by not approaching Johnson, Washington has either decided that it can't make Johnson fit into its current cap situation, or doesn't believe he is its long-term answer at quarterback.
"This offseason, they told us they had a plan to deal with Brad early in the season," Williams said. "They said they wanted to take care of their first-round picks [LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels], then Deion Sanders and then Stephen Davis. We said that's fine. They did all that, but I've never really had a serious communication from then since.
"People forget where this team was last year before Brad got there. He came in and brought some excitement to that team when it needed some. But despite that, he got no support this year from the team's management."
Johnson has played this season amid the backdrop that Snyder was the driving force behind George's signing, and that the Redskins' aggressive owner has been less than firm in his support of Johnson. Redskins head coach Norv Turner has been recognized as being more in Johnson's corner, and did not overreact to Washington' 1-2 start by yanking Johnson. The Redskins and Johnson have rebounded with four consecutive victories and are tied for first in the NFC East at 5-2.