Saddled in 2003 by a passing game that statistically ranked as the league's worst, the Baltimore Ravens took a major step toward improvement Sunday, trading for veteran wide receiver Kevin Johnson during the fourth round of the NFL draft.
The Ravens swapped their pick in the round, the 120th selection overall, to Jacksonville. Given the shabby status of the Ravens aerial attack, and Johnson's proven productivity over his five-year career, it was a fairly modest price to pay.
Johnson, 27, has now changed teams two times in the past six months. He was waived by the Cleveland Browns the second half of last season, and awarded to the Jaguars after more than half the teams in the league submitted claims on him. Baltimore was one of the teams, but Jacksonville got Johnson by virtue of having the poorest record among all the clubs that made waiver claims.
The former Syracuse standout was the second-round choice of the Browns in the '99 draft and the club's leading receiver over a four-year stretch. He fell out of favor with coach Butch Davis last year, who suggested Johnson was not a hard worker, did not take well to instructions, and was a poor influence on younger players.
But what Johnson has never been accused of was lack of production and the Ravens, who did not have a wide receiver with more than 39 catches in the 2003 campaign, desperately needed to upgrade at the position. Even in a 2003 season that ranked as his poorest, when he split time between the Browns and Jaguars, Johnson recorded 58 catches.
Baltimore also used a third-round pick on a receiver, Devard Darling of Washington State. Its "lead" receiver at present is Travis Taylor, but the former first-round choice has been hounded by nagging injuries and by inconsistency throughout his career. Johnson became expendable to the Jaguars when they chose Reggie Williams of Washington in the first round and then used the fourth-round pick acquired from the Ravens to grab another wide receiver, Ernest Wilford of Virginia Tech.
The deal was also helped along by the relationship between Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Jaguars vice president James Harris. The latter once served as the Baltimore pro personnel director under Newsome, until moving on to Jacksonville last spring to head the football side of the operation.
Johnson has two seasons remaining on his contract and the Ravens made try, at some point, to make adjustments. He is due base salaries of $1.4 million for 2004 and $2.65 million in 2005, with a $1 million roster bonus due next spring.
In five seasons, Johnson, who does not have great speed but is acknowledged by many scouts as possessing the best hands in the league, has 332 receptions for 4,089 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has played in 79 games and started in 72 of those appearances.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.