Former Redskins and Vikings QB Brad Johnson is now a Buccaneer
Rich McKay's Rolodex must be stuck. When he flips through the file for offensive help each spring, his finger keeps landing on J.
On Monday, McKay's Tampa Bay Buccaneers landed the biggest fish in this year's free agency pond, agreeing to terms with former Washington QB Brad Johnson on a five-year contract (terms were not disclosed). Johnson played the last two seasons with the Redskins after spending his first seven seasons (1992-98) in Minnesota.
Johnson will arrive in Tampa on Tuesday morning to undergo a physical and sign the pact. The Buccaneers generally make announcements of agreements only after the contract has been signed, but due to the magnitude of the signing, McKay released the news on Monday evening.
"I'm always hesitant to announce an 'agreed-to-terms', but we have agreed in principle on a five-year contract," said McKay. "Brad will come in, have a physical, execute the contract and hopefully have a press conference in the afternoon."
Last year, the Buccaneers made the cover of Sports Illustrated for the spring's boldest move, the trading of two first-round draft picks to the New York Jets for Pro Bowl WR Keyshawn Johnson.
Keyshawn Johnson was every bit the competitor the Buccaneers had bargained for, but it wasn't enough, as Tampa Bay's passing attack remained mired at 26th in the league rankings and the Bucs found themselves bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Now, Tampa Bay is hoping that a Johnson & Johnson partnership has the cure for what ails the offense.
The receiver facilitated the move from the Jets to the Bucs last season by agreeing that Tampa was a prime destination for him and sitting down for extended contract talks with Tampa Bay. Similarly, Johnson the quarterback helped take the Bucs from long shots to big shots in this year's negotiations by setting his sights on Florida.
"I think that Brad was very motivated, and that certainly helped this transaction take place," said McKay. " I got that impression from (Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) after Tony talked to Brad, and in dealing with Brad's agent, Phil Williams. They were motivated (to sign with the Buccaneers) and they were happy that we were motivated."
Dungy and Johnson have a strong relationship from their years together with the Minnesota Vikings, where Dungy was the defensive coordinator from 1992-95. In an exclusive interview with WTVT Fox-13 in Tampa, which was shared with Buccaneers.com, Johnson confirmed his desire to be reunited with the Bucs' head coach.
"I'm excited to be a Buccaneer," said Johnson. "I have a lot of respect for the organization and for Tony and for the guys I played against for so many years.
"I feel like I'm putting myself in the best position to be successful and to win at a high level, and that's with Tampa Bay."
Johnson has reason to believe that the Buccaneers are primed for a Super Bowl run.
With Shaun King as the starter at quarterback for the last five games of the regular season and throughout the playoffs in 1999, Tampa Bay advanced to the NFC Championship Game and narrowly lost to St. Louis to miss out on the franchise's first Super Bowl berth. The Bucs went 10-6 with King at the helm in 2000 and fell one win shy of defending their NFC Central title, but lost in the first round of the playoffs at Philadelphia on New Year's Eve.
Tampa Bay's offense improved from 28th in the NFL in 1999 to 21st last year, mostly on the strength of the running game's improvement from 15th to ninth and the addition of Keyshawn Johnson. The team's defense slipped from third to ninth but still finished in the top 10 for the fourth consecutive season and was responsible for six defensive touchdowns plus a team-record 55 sacks.
"We felt like we were a football team that is going to try to compete for a championship, and this is a nice piece of the puzzle," said McKay.
That apparently also occurred to Johnson, who was reportedly courted quite heavily by Baltimore and Kansas City. While Johnson's move to Baltimore – where he would have been reunited with Brian Billick, his former offensive coordinator in Minnesota – was considered a likely occurrence in February, he apparently had his eye on Tampa. That's how a scenario that would have surprised McKay two weeks ago came to pass.
"I would have thought there was a remote possibility (of the Bucs' signing Johnson)," said McKay of his feelings in late February. "But in free agency, things tend to happen that you don't predict, and this was one of them. Whenever you get a contract of this size, it usually takes awhile."
How big? Well, the Buccaneers are adhering to team policy by not announcing financial terms of the contract, but Johnson was expected to draw a deal sizeable enough to eliminate from contention the majority of NFL teams, many of which possessed less room under the salary cap than the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay certainly made a dent in that cushion on Monday, but now must continue with the rest of the free agency process. In fact, free agent DE Simeon Rice was in town on Monday night to have dinner with the Bucs' personnel men. Tampa Bay also has four starters who became unrestricted free agents last Friday: CB Ronde Barber, G Frank Middleton, S Damien Robinson and T Jerry Wunsch.
Said McKay of the Johnson contract and its effects on the remainder of the Bucs' pursuits: "It wasn't small potatoes, but we're still alive!"
On Monday evening, though, it was a time to concentrate on Johnson, one of the most significant free agent acquisitions in franchise history. A proven winner in the NFL, Johnson owns a career record of 33-19 in 52 starts and has an excellent TD-INT ratio of 79-57. Johnson's other career totals include 1,126 completions in 1,821 attempts (61.8% completion rate) for 12,973 yards and a strong passer rating of 84.7.
"I think what Brad brings to the table is experience, leadership and ability," said McKay. "That's three pretty good traits at the position. It brings us another proven starter at the position, in addition to Shaun, a player that has played in the league, started in the league and won in the league."
Last season, Johnson won seven of his 11 starts with the Redskins, completing 228 of 365 passes (62.5%) for 2,505 yards, 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Statistically, Johnson's best season as a pro came in 1999, his first year in Washington, when he racked up 4,005 yards on 316-of-519 passing and notched a career-best 24 TD passes versus 13 interceptions.
Just minutes after the signing on Monday, McKay elected to leave the issue of the impact of Johnson's signing on King to Dungy. However, he did indicate that the Bucs' bold move could affect the status of Ryan Leaf, the fourth-year hurler who was claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay on Friday.
"I talked to Ryan about it today even, before we knew what was going to happen," said McKay. "I said I wanted to talk to him if and when this happened. And I will talk to him now, because clearly this might have an effect on him. He's going to determine that a little bit as to how he wants to proceed. Does he want to come in and compete, or does he feel like he'd be better off in another situation? We'll talk to Ryan and see how he feels about it."
First things first, however, and that's a chance for Johnson to meet his new coaches, teammates and fans on Tuesday. In particular, there's another Johnson (no relation) that he might want to hook up with as soon as possible.