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AFC: Cool it, Keyshawn

AFC: Life after Marino










AFC column
Tuesday, April 18
Jets took Keyshawn's bluff

What message were the Jets sending when they traded (gave away?) Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week?

Keyshawn Johnson
Keyshawn Johnson (right) shows off his new Bucs jersey with owner Malcolm Glazer.

Are they trying to win now, or are they rebuilding?

The controversial transaction, which has Jets fans livid at the move, would suggest the latter.

One thing is for certain with the Jets right now: Al Groh, who hasn't even coached a game for the Jets yet, is already under siege -- particularly after Johnson placed all the blame for his departure on Groh, saying that Groh refused to "communicate" with him and never asked what he wanted.

The good news is the Jets, as they entered the 2000 NFL draft, possessed the most first-round picks (Nos. 12, 13, 18 and 27) of any team in NFL history. They got the 13th and 27th from the Bucs and traded their 16th and a second-rounder to San Francisco for the 49ers' 12th in the first round.

The bad news is, now that they've kept all four picks, can they sign them? And did they make the right picks?

Johnson is a known star commodity, not to mention the Jets' identity. Those picks are like lottery tickets. You never know if any of them will lead to a big payoff.

What was most disturbing about the Jets' trade of Johnson was that it seemed clear that Groh and the rest of Jets' management, caved in to the pressure that Johnson's agent, Jerome Stanley, put on them with his threats to have Johnson become a colossal distraction by holding out of training camp until he got a new contract.

The reality of the issue was this: With two years still remaining on his deal, Johnson had no leverage. There's little reason to believe he would sit out for two years, and those who know Johnson well know his ego wouldn't let him sit out a single game.

The Jets, however, failed to see that and they ran scared.

Early in the process, Bill Parcells was telling people he was so ticked off at Stanley and Johnson that he was going to send them to "Siberia."

At the end of the day, however, Parcells and the Jets did Johnson a wonderful favor. They gave him everything he wanted in the way of money (8 years, $56 million, including a $13 million signing bonus) and playing for a contender. He became the highest-paid receiver of all time and went to a team that last January lost in the NFC Championship game.

Hardly Siberia.

Johnson's clear-cut victory over the Jets sets a poor precedent for players who think they can make noise and get out of a contract they don't like.

The consensus among Johnson's former teammates is disappointment to see him be shipped. Johnson was a popular figure in the locker room as well as the most productive player on the team.

When you trade away someone like Keyshawn Johnson you're trading away someone that you know what he can do and what he brings to a team. In exchange, you're getting the unknown.
Bryan Cox

"When you trade away someone like Keyshawn Johnson you're trading away someone that you know what he can do and what he brings to a team," Jets linebacker Bryan Cox said. "In exchange, you're getting the unknown."

"I'm not sticking around for rebuilding," Cox went on. "I don't have many years left in this game and I want all of them to be good years. Whether this is the last year or whether I go somewhere else after this season, I don't want to be a part of rebuilding anything. I'm too old for that. I want to win in the here and now."

In the wake of the news that Johnson was going to Tampa Bay, rumblings around the league -- including from out of Tampa -- were of shock that the Jets would agree to move Johnson, their best player, for so little.

Many believe the Jets ran scared from Stanley's threats.

"Here's one case where everyone would would benefit from the formula of George Young," said a high-ranking official from an NFL team who requested anonymity. "I don't think George Young (the former long-time Giants GM) would deal a guy like that. If George Young were handling this, he'd know (Stanley's threats) were just rhetoric, and he'd know the strength of the player.

"I don't think George Young would throw the baby out with the bath water. Johnson is their biggest producer. They could be crippling their team."

One prominent NFL agent said he spoke to a Buccaneers front office person, who said, "I cannot believe (the Jets) are making this trade. I am shocked that we're getting this deal done. I can't believe (the Jets) are doing this."

The fact is Johnson's gone for what amounted to the Jets' fear of seeing their salary cap situation get out of hand. The question now, though, is this: Where do they think they're going to get the money for four first-round draft picks?

The signing bonuses of the four players picked in last year's draft at the same spots the Jets drafted on Saturday add up to over $13 million. Ironically, Johnson got a signing bonus of $13.03 million from the Bucs.

For the Jets, it's a dark day and a prospective long season unless they make something out of those draft picks. Because the message being sent to their fans by the Jets, who were supposed to be building to "win now" (up until now), is that they're resigned to the dreaded "R word" -- rebuilding.

I know I would have taken less money to stay in New York, but the Jets never communicated with me to find out what I wanted.
Keyshawn Johnson

And doesn't that seem fruitless for a team with a star quarterback like Vinny Testaverde with perhaps a couple years left and with a new head coach who's under immense pressure to win ASAP in the wake of Bill Parcells' departure?

Almost as disappointing as the trade itself was Johnson taking somewhat of a low road out of town, blaming the entire thing on Groh and, in a fit of revisionist history, saying that he would have stayed with the Jets for less money that the Bucs signed him for.

"I'm sitting here happy as pie, but shocked, too," Johnson said after the trade was made official. "I guess no one man is invincible.

"I wanted to stay in New York as bad as anyone, believe me," Johnson said. "It didn't get done. The new people (Groh) came in when (Parcells) stepped aside and decided to go in a different direction."

Johnson acknowledged that the decision to trade him "was everyone's call, but if you want to take a percentage it was more Al's decision."

Johnson said he last spoke to Parcells the Monday before the trade.

"He told me they're giving Jerome permission (to talk to the Bucs), that he doesn't want to do it, that it's not all his decision to do it," Johnson said. "I never asked to be moved. It wasn't about the money; it was more about getting communication."

When it was pointed out to Johnson that he'd spoken to Groh a few weeks ago, Johnson said, "He told me, 'We don't know what we're going to do. Our position stands where it's been. We're not going to trade you. I'll keep in contact with you.'

"I'm not saying Al Groh is the villain, but Parcells tried to get something done before and when you are a boss, you try and let your people make the decisions," Johnson went on. "Parcells is not making the final decisions anymore. He's helping moreso than he's pulling triggers and strings.

"Based on that, he's not the final decision maker in the thing. Al Groh makes the decisions, just like Bill Belichick would have. Everyone knows Parcells is going to step aside in a minute."

Johnson then said, "I know I would have taken less money to stay in New York, but the Jets never communicated with me to find out what I wanted."

Unfortunately, neither Groh nor Parcells made himself available for comment.

In the wake of making the most significant trade in franchise history, the Jets' brass who pulled the trigger on it was in a familiar place whenever there's a trace of controversy: Hiding behind closed doors in bunkers.

There was only one purpose for the trade and that is for the Jets to be a highly competitive team this season and for seasons to come.
Al Groh

Instead of standing up front for a mere 10 minutes and answering some questions their deserving fans would want asked and answered in the wake of this volatile move, the Jets would offer only a scant 98-word prepared statement from Groh.

One thing is certain in this mess, if this deal was made by the Giants, things would have been handled in a much more professional, respectful manner with a press conference making the involved parties available for comment.

It's totally understandable that the Jets' brass, particularly with four first-round picks in hand, was wildly busy working on the draft, but to not give 10 minutes out of the day to explain such an historic move is disrespectful to every fan that pays those raised ticket prices to see Johnson -- one of the most popular players ever to wear a Jets uniform.

This was just another in a series of disheartening and disappointing moves by the Jets, who in the last year or so have watched team owner Leon Hess die, Testaverde's torn Achilles tendon rupture the Jets' title hopes, Parcells step down and Bill Belichick step up and then down.

And now this: The trading of Johnson, a proven star, for one middle and one late-round first-round draft pick, neither of which might prove to be anything but a backup or a training camp body.

"We have made this trade with Tampa Bay fully aware that Keyshawn has been a wonderful player for the Jets and that it will be a challenge to replace him," Groh said in his canned statement. "I am sure he will continue to be such a player for the Bucs and we wish him much success.

"There was only one purpose for the trade and that is for the Jets to be a highly competitive team this season and for seasons to come. The acquisition of two more first-round picks creates many opportunities for us in the draft, including more maneuvering."

Bottom line: The Jets, afraid of the fuss Johnson would cause Groh's first training camp, caved in to Johnson's agent and gave them exactly what they wanted all along. The Jets did better than renegotiate Johnson's deal; they allowed for him to strike it rich beyond imagination.

He's now right where he wants to be: The highest-paid receiver in the game. More fodder to feed Johnson's immense ego. Now he can actually think that, because he makes more money than Jerry Rice, that he's better than Rice. That, of course, will never be in the real world.

"Keyshawn likes money," said one Jet player, who's friendly with Johnson.

The Jets' reasoning for trading away Johnson was so they wouldn't have to tear apart their team based on the financial contraints Johnson's demands would put them under. However, the four first-round picks will cost them a projected $14 million in signing bonuses alone.

Where's that money coming from?

Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post writes an AFC notebook for

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