Keyshawn Johnson was awfully busy last Saturday morning, what with the barbecue for about 40 that he would be hosting later that day at his Los Angeles home. But the man whose midweek trade had changed the face of the 2000 NFL draft understandably felt compelled to see how the first round was playing out. So, with a few friends and family members by his side, the newest Tampa Bay Buccaneer turned on his TV just as his former team, the New York Jets, used its first pick—the 12th on the board and one of four the Jets would have in Round 1—to select Tennessee defensive end Shaun Ellis.
"I thought, A defensive guy? Here they go again. I mean, I know they can't replace me, but I thought maybe they'd at least try to fill my position," Johnson, the Pro Bowl wide receiver, said on Sunday with a hearty laugh. Make no mistake: Since he was traded to the Bucs on April 12 for the 13th and 27th selections in the draft, Johnson has been as happy "as I've seen him as a professional," says his agent, Jerome Stanley. Of course, Johnson's new six-year, $52 million contract extension, which includes a $13 million signing bonus, has something to do with his state of mind. Johnson confessed that he had a grin stuck on his face all day Saturday, even as he spoke to the dozen former Jets teammates who attended his barbecue. From them, he said, came morose shakes of their heads. "They didn't want to talk about it," said Johnson of the deal that sent him to Tampa Bay, "like they couldn't believe it had happened."
That reaction was commonplace in New York. The city's tabloids took daily swipes at the Jets for letting their fifth-year star go, and many of the team's fans cut loose on sports talk shows. Johnson spoke bluntly as well on Sunday, particularly about his feelings toward New York's new coach, Al Groh. After the Jets refused to renegotiate the receiver's $2.4 million-per-year contract, which still had two seasons left on it, Groh likened Johnson's reaction to that of an adolescent—"when you asked your father for an increase in your allowance, and he said, 'Not right now.' "
Upon hearing that, Johnson became incensed. "I knew then that I couldn't play for the guy," he said. "In the conversations we had, He wasn't at all appealing to me. He was questioning me, asking me if I can be a star for him, saying, 'I need you to be a star on this team next year.' What the f—- did he think? Who the f—- did he think I was, some nobody? He acted like I hadn't done a f——— thing for the last four years, like I haven't been in the league at all. I'm not a kid, begging for money."
Johnson believes that Groh and new owner Woody Johnson had a desire to rebuild and wanted him gone all along, that they'd hoped Johnson would overreact and look bad doing so, and thus make them appear justified in trading him. "The only thing I can think is that they're trying to buy time," said Johnson, who had threatened to hold out if the Jets didn't renegotiate. "If I look like the bad guy, then they can say, 'Well, we had to trade him, and since we did, now we have to rebuild.' But if that's so, just come out and say it—don't lie to the fans."
"We have the team we have now, and we're going to go play with it," Groh said later on Sunday. "That story is done with me. It's time for this team to get on with the future."
Keyshawn's feelings toward Woody Johnson were equally acerbic: "I don't get him at all, maybe because I've never met or spoken to the man. If I were him, I would've at least tried to see what I looked like before I traded me. He bought the team in January, and I was traded in April. He never spoke to me. What a joke. If he would've come to me and said, 'Son, I'm a man of my word, and though we can't do anything long-term for you now, here's what we can do,' then I would've listened to whatever he had to say. But that never happened."
Asked if he would have preferred to stay in New York had such a dialogue occurred, Johnson betrayed more than a hint of bitterness. "There are a lot of reasons I didn't want to go. Hell, I just bought a brand-new house," he said. "But they hid behind their policy [the team historically has refused to renegotiate contracts with more than one year remaining on them], and things never got that far."
When the subject of Bill Parcells—the former coach who as head of football operations surely had a say in the trade-was broached, Johnson, after a pause, was supportive. "I believe if Bill Parcells was in charge, I wouldn't have been traded," he said. "People tell me he must have had something to do with it, but until he tells me otherwise, I'll believe he didn't.
"See, it's too much to follow Bill Par-cells. Ray Handley couldn't do it with the Giants, Pete Carroll couldn't do it in New England. Groh knew it, too, so he wanted to rebuild, and in a way I applaud him for that. Now Groh won't have the pressure of winning with a Parcells team."