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AFC column
Thursday, March 30
Memo to Keyshawn:
Keep your cool

The Keyshawn Johnson contract rift with the Jets has reached a state of calamity, contradiction and hypocrisy.

Al Groh
Al Groh said Keyshawn Johnson is acting like a child being turned down for a raise in allowance.

What began with some public posturing on both sides -- including Johnson and his agent floating word that Johnson will hold out of training camp unless his contract is renegotiated and the Jets listening to some teams make trade offers for Johnson's services -- has evolved into a potentially ugly, acrimonious situation that won't soon go away.

The first thing that needs to be understood is this: Johnson, the Jets' star wide receiver, has two years remaining on his contract -- a six-year, $15 million deal with a $6.5 million signing bonus. That contact, it should be noted, was given to Johnson before he caught a pass or ran a route.

The next thing that's important is this: Four years into his contract, Johnson is clearly underpaid compared to his contemporaries. He's scheduled to make $1.74 million in base salary this season and $1.9 in 2001. Add to that about $1 million in incentives and Johnson is still underpaid.

The Jets, however, as a rule have not redone any contracts with more than a year remaining. They, too, are severely salary cap challenged. Jets coach Al Groh contended that, even if the Jets wanted to renegotiate Johnson's contract, it would wreck the team, because he'd have to cut a number of players to fit Johnson's new deal under the cap. One player, as an example, who could be a casualty if Johnson got a new deal, might be Chris Hayes, one of Johnson's best friends.

This is an obvious sticky situation based on the basic premise.

The problem that's arisen is a ridiculous stance taken by Johnson and his agent, Jerome Stanley, who have become angered by the Jets being so public about the situation. Groh came out last week saying that Johnson is not on the trading block and the team will not renegotiate.

Then, this week at the NFL's annual meetings in Florida, new Jets owner Woody Johnson said contracts should be honored, referring to Johnson's potential holdout.

That, too, incensed Johnson.

And finally, speaking to reporters at the meetings this week, Groh was asked how Johnson responded to the Jets' stance during a phone call between the player and the coach. Groh made a harmless analogy that Johnson was like a child being turned down by his parents for a raise in allowance.

Stanley and Johnson reacted to Groh's words as if their manhood were being challenged. Ridiculous. They were merely seeking something to be angered about.

This is a classic waste-of-energy disagreement in that it's almost gone beyond the original reason for the discord.

"To be a party to this young man and his family and having to pick up a newspaper and read a comment about somebody's child asking for an allowance increase and getting told 'no,' that is outrageous," Stanley said. "This is not a little boy. This is a man with a family, and he doesn't want people making those statements. He doesn't want to be talked down to."

What's outrageous is that Stanley and Johnson could become so angered over a harmless analogy.

There's no question nerves are now beyond frayed in the Johnson camp, where Johnson on Tuesday came undone publicly after all-but swearing he wouldn't talk about his contract or dealings with the Jets.

After weeks and weeks of coyly avoiding reporters and playing it cool by not commenting on his desire for a new contract with the Jets, Johnson lost his cool.

Johnson lashed out at the Jets for the first time, publicly announcing his stance and anger with the organization for refusing to renegotiate his contract.

I guess you can say I'm dangerously close (to not wanting to play for the Jets) ... and once I get there, there will be no turning back. There's a level of no matter what they discuss with me, I may not want to continue with the Jets. I'm almost there, but I'm not quite there yet.
Keyshawn Johnson

Johnson, saying he felt "disrespected," went as far as to say that he's close to not wanting to play for the Jets ever again -- regardless of whether they give him a new contract or not.

"I guess you can say I'm dangerously close (to not wanting to play for the Jets) ... and once I get there, there will be no turning back," Johnson said. "There's a level of no matter what they discuss with me, I may not want to continue with the Jets. I'm almost there, but I'm not quite there yet.

"No matter how much money it's going to be, I'm almost at that point, where I can just say, 'I won't play for the Jets anymore.' "

Asked specifically about seeing his name on the trading block, Johnson said, "I'm very disappointed and feel very disrespected."

"It's not even about the finances right now," Johnson said. "It's about the respect aspect of it. Deal with me like a human being, like a 27-year old man with two kids who serves his community in New York, as well as L.A. I've been giving respect for four years. Now I expect you to deal with me with respect."

Johnson, who's said through his agent that he doesn't believe fans want to hear him talk about his contract, broke his word when his temper flared.

"I won't take part in the offseason program until certain things I've discussed in privacy with the Jets are discussed," Johnson said. "As far as training camp goes, I haven't gotten that far down the line yet."

This looks like it's going to be a long, acrimonious process unless cooler heads prevail. Johnson, who is already holding out from the Jets' offseason strength and conditioning program, is expected to hold out from minicamps and training camp.

And from there, who knows?

Johnson should gather himself, realize he's got two years remaining on his contract and that, if he takes the high road for a year, he'll make his big contract next year in a renegotiation. He's forged his career here as a team leader, one of the hardest workers on the team and a popular figure in the locker room.

A long training camp holdout that hurts the team will do nothing but tarnish everything Johnson has built to date.

Dolphins face defensive dilemma
The Dolphins are on the verge of finding themselves in defensive trouble.

Miami defensive tackle Tim Bowens said he intends to exercise an option in his contract that will make him an unrestricted free agent after the 2000 season, meaning the team could lose every starting defensive lineman to free agency before 2001.

Tim Bowens

Agent Drew Rosenhaus confirmed to the Miami Herald late Tuesday that Bowens will use the option in his contract rather than take the $6.5 million he is scheduled to earn in salary and bonuses in 2001 with another $8 million due in 2002.

Bowens, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal before the 1998 season, could join starting defensive tackle Daryl Gardener and starting defensive ends Jason Taylor and Rich Owens as unrestricted free agents.

Though the Dolphins will likely try to re-sign Bowens and the rest of the starting defensive linemen to extensions, it's uncertain the team could keep its entire group of players scheduled to be free agents after next season, because they must re-sign others.

The Dolphins will try to re-sign or extend current contracts for cornerback Sam Madison, offensive tackle Richmond Webb, Taylor, offensive tackle Brent Smith, Owens, Gardener, Bowens and kicker Olindo Mare.

Dillon makes demands known to Bengals
Speaking of agent-speak, the agent for disgruntled Bengals running back Corey Dillon told the Bengals this week his client won't negotiate with Cincinnati until after the NFL draft, won't attend mini-camp and might sit out the first 10 games of the season if they don't accommodate his wish and send him to another team.

Corey Dillon

The agent, Marvin Demoff, said Dillon is demanding to be signed to an offer sheet by another team before at April 10 deadline.

The Bengals have tendered Dillon a one-year deal for $1.37 million, which means a team would have to give up a first- and third-round pick if the Bengals chose not to match their offer.

Much like receiver Joey Galloway did in Seattle last season, if Dillon holds out until the last six games of the season, he still would gain a full season under the labor agreement, making him a fourth-year unrestricted free agent in 2001. Or, he could report following the trading deadline in Week 6.

Typical mess in Cincinnati.

Coaches poll: Colts team to beat in East
In a poll of the AFC East coaches, conducted by the Boston Globe, the Indianapolis Colts were the overwhelming favorite to win the division.

Bill Belichick of the Patriots, Dave Wannstedt of the Dolphins, Al Groh of the Jets, and Phillips made Colts the team to beat.

Indianapolis coach Jim Mora, however, said Buffalo was the team he thought would win.

"At the end of the regular season, when we played them in Buffalo, I thought they were the best team in the AFC," Mora said. "But I didn't realize how good Tennessee was until they beat us in the playoffs. Buffalo, to me, will be as strong as any team in the AFC."

Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post writes an AFC notebook for that appears every other Thursday.

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