Johnson, who has been working out regularly, is contemplating resuming his playing career, according to reports in Yahoo! Sports and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He is a three-time Pro Bowl pick with 10,571 career receiving yards, and in his last season with the Panthers caught 70 passes for 815 yards and four touchdowns. He might decide before the end of the month, when the free agency period opens.
"I like challenges," Johnson told Yahoo! Sports on Monday. "The challenge of helping to turn a team around, to help get it to the next level, that gets my competitive fires burning. I have the itch, and right now I'm trying to decide how strong that itch is."
There has been speculation Johnson received an offer from the Miami Dolphins, a team now run by former fellow analyst Bill Parcells, who also coached Johnson when they were together with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.
Johnson, who will be 36 years old in July, said no offer has been extended, though he acknowledged the two talk often.
"Me and Bill talk all the time. We talk about football a lot. We talk about everything, except playing for the Miami Dolphins," Johnson said in Wednesday's Sun-Sentinel. "He's helping me go over the pros and cons of coming back versus staying at ESPN. He's always treated me like a father figure more than anything else. But not once has he said, 'Come play for me in Miami.' "
Johnson and the Dolphins would be a logical fit. Not only is he comfortable with Parcells, but he is familiar with the team's new offensive coordinator, Dan Henning, who called plays when Johnson was with the Jets and Carolina. The Dolphins also have plenty of room, about $35 million, under the salary cap.
Johnson has emphasized that he retired because the Panthers had cut him after the 2007 NFL draft, and after most teams already were well-supplied with wide receivers. The Tennessee Titans had offered a two-year deal worth nearly $8 million, including incentives, but Johnson turned that down, and became an analyst with ESPN instead.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.