In a move that immediately upgrades the offense, providing a solid No. 2 wide
receiver to pair with Jimmy Smith, the Jacksonville Jaguars on Wednesday afternoon
were awarded Kevin Johnson on waivers, a day after his release by Cleveland.
ESPN.com confirmed that 16 franchises, an unusually large number, made waivers claims on Johnson. According to waiver rules, he was awarded to the Jags because they had the poorest current record of any teams making a claim. Among the other teams claiming him were the receiver-needy Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets. The Jets on Wednesday placed Wayne Chrebet on injured reserve, ending his season, and exacerbating their need for a wide receiver.
Sources said that Johnson intermediaries spoke with Detroit officials on Wednesday
and urged them not to claim the wide receiver. Johnson personally told some teams
that he did not want to go any further west than Cleveland.
There were erroneous broadcast reports from Cleveland that Johnson was headed to
Detroit, but those came early in the day, hours before the 4 p.m. deadline for
making a waiver claim.
To make room for Johnson on the roster, the Jaguars released veteran wide receiver J.J. Stokes, who joined the team this summer as an unrestricted free agent.
Acquiring the sure-handed Johnson, at least for the balance of this season, gives
rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich another reliable target. Jacksonville has
struggled at the wide receiver spot in general in 2003 and none of the club's
players at the position has more than 26 catches.
Notably, Johnson, 27, is represented by IMG, whose large clientele also
includes Leftwich and Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio.
Johnson was demoted from the Browns' starting lineup last week because coaches felt he had
not blocked well in the running game. Johnson reacted by noting publicly that he was
the Browns' leading receiver in every season with the team. The demotion did not
play well in the locker room, where veterans have questioned some of coach Butch
Davis' past moves, and the release sent shock waves through the roster.
In a Wednesday morning telephone interview with ESPN.com, Davis confirmed that his
staff had problems with Johnson's willingness and effectiveness as a blocker. But he
also said that, as the highest paid and most senior wide receiver on the roster,
Johnson did not step up to his leadership responsibilities.
"Kevin is a good kid," Davis said. "But he wasn't able to consistently do well the
things we asked of him. Remember, when he came here in 1999, it was an expansion
team. The expectations of winning and losing aren't the same as they are now. And he
was one of the more (high profile) players. But as we continued to bring more talent
in here, and his role changed some, he didn't adapt very well.
"For 2 ½ years, we gave him every chance, believe me. And last week, when we demoted
him, we hoped that would be the spark, but it wasn't. He's a talented guy, and he'll
play in the league, but (releasing him) wasn't that tough a decision for us."
In claiming Johnson, the Jaguars now assume his existing contract. But because he is
a "vested" veteran, he has the right to declare himself an unrestricted free agent
after the 2004 season.
His base salary for 2003 is $950,000, which means the Jags owe him a prorated
portion based on remaining games, or about $391,000. Johnson was under contract
through 2006, with scheduled base salaries of $1.45 million (2004), $1.4 million
(2005) and $2.65 million (2006). There were annual workout bonuses of $100,000 and
Johnson is also due a $2 million options bonus in 2005.
Never noted for his speed, Johnson nonetheless led the Browns in receptions in each
of his first four seasons in Cleveland, and topped the team in catches again this
year. Many scouts feel he has the best hands of any wide receiver in the NFL and
that, while he lacks the playmaker skills of a "lead" wideout, he is a prototype No. 2
A second-round pick in the 1999 draft, and one of the few players remaining from the
franchise's first year of its second incarnation, Johnson played in 73 games and
started in all but one of them. He had 315 catches for 3,836 yards and 23
His 9.5 yards per catch this year is well below his career
standard of 12.6 yards, altho there have been mitigating circumstances with the Browns
unable to settle on a quarterback and with injuries to the offensive line that have
affected the passing game.