|Friday, March 29
Chiefs give Morton a seven-year, $25.7M deal
By Len Pasquarelli
Here's how things work in free agency these days: The Kansas City Chiefs on Friday located the replacement for starting wide receiver Derrick Alexander more than two months before they plan to release him.
ESPN.com confirmed that the Chiefs have reached a contract agreement with free agent wideout Johnnie Morton, released two weeks ago by the Detroit Lions, on a seven-year deal. The contract is worth $25.7 million and includes a signing bonus of $5.5 million.
Morton, 30, was regarded by most teams as the best receiver still available in free agency. The eight-year veteran also visited in the past 10 days with officials in Tampa Bay and St. Louis, but settled on Kansas City during a Thursday meeting, and instructed his agent to complete a contract with the Chiefs.
The deal ensures the Chiefs will release Alexander after June 1, when the impact against their 2002 salary cap will be somewhat ameliorated.
"It's a tremendous offensive design and a great (coaching) staff," said Morton, who is likely to team with third-year veteran Sylvester Morris, still rehabilitating from knee surgery that cost him the entire 2001 season, in the starting lineup. "I just decided this is the place I wanted to be."
"We're very pleased to have a wide receiver with Johnnie Morton's experience on our team," Chiefs president Carl Peterson said. "Besides his experienced leadership and winning attitude, he has been extremely durable throughout his career in Detroit."
Detroit released Morton to avoid paying him a $1 million roster bonus this month. The move was surprising, in that it came only two days after Lions coach Marty Mornhinweg said that the club "absolutely" would not cut him. At that point, Morton became one of the most coveted veterans in the free agent pool, and for good reason.
A first-round choice of the Lions in the 1994 draft, Morton has posted 1,000-yard seasons if four of the last five years. He remains a very productive receiver, one who still has several solid years remaining in the league, and has 40-plus catches in seven straight campaigns.
For his career, Morton has played in 126 games and started 106 of them. He has 469 receptions for 6,499 yards and 35 touchdowns. Despite inconsistent play at the quarterback position for the Lions in 2001, he still managed to catch 77 passes for a career-best 1,154 yards.
Kansas City struggled at wide receiver last season, particularly after losing Morris to an injury in the summer, and was believed to be considering taking a wideout in the first round of the draft next month. It remains to be seen if the acquisition of Morton changes the team's draft plans.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from SportsTicker was used in this report.