Commentary: Facts and Attacks

BerniesInsiders' David Carducci takes a look at today's events in Berea, as the Browns organization sought to explain why they waived their leading receiver. Are the team's gripes legitimate? Dave offers his view, backed up by conversations with the remaining members of the WR corps...

BEREA - Did Butch Davis have a legitimate beef with Kevin Johnson?

Without a doubt.

Johnson was unwilling to change his style of play. He didn't want to mix it up as a blocker. He occasionally ran his routes short. He demonstrated a "me" attitude in the way he called for the ball and recited his individual statistics to defend his performance.

The Cleveland Browns decision to release Johnson Tuesday came down to a battle of wills only Davis could win.

So why don't the Browns just say that? Simply say Johnson wasn't willing to fit the job description Davis demands his wide receivers to live up to.

Instead, team president Carmen Policy offered an official spin Wednesday morning that turned into an embarrassing personal attack.

Policy's crutch was the cancer Johnson had become in the clubhouse.

According to Policy, after Davis made the decision to bench Johnson prior to last week's game in Kansas City, "it was expected that Kevin would support that young corps of receivers as the second third or fourth receiver, the same way that those young receivers supported him when he was in the No. 1 position. He was unable to do that, and it became apparent he was not going to be able to handle the new, albeit lower position and role he was expected to play."

Policy compared Johnson negatively to quarterback Tim Couch, who also lost his starting job, but "became one of the biggest supporters of Kelly Holcomb once he started, and thank God he was on the team and maintained the attitude he did otherwise we wouldn't have won the Pittsburgh game."

Policy suggested Johnson had become a lousy teammate, a distraction in the locker room, and was now unwilling to help the players who had moved ahead of him on the depth chart. In short, he was a bad influence on the team's other young receivers.

Just minutes after Policy's statement, Johnson's former teammates on the receiving corps told a very different story.

Quincy Morgan agreed with the contention that Johnson did not adequately respond to Davis' requests to change his approach to the game, even after two years. He was surprised, however, when told Policy claimed Johnson had become a bad influence to the young receiving corps.

"Carmen said that?" Morgan asked. "No man, he wasn't a bad influence."

Morgan claimed Johnson "was very helpful (in Kansas City). I'd come to the sideline and he was being positive and telling me things he saw out on the field."

Frisman Jackson said Johnson "helped us out" even after he lost his job to Andre Davis. "He was coaching up Andre Davis because it was Andre's first start," said Jackson. "He was helping Andre out, talking to him. He was helpful and he did his part while he was here."

So why the paint a portrait of Johnson as a complete malcontent?

Davis and Policy were both clearly upset with the fact that Johnson defended himself against Davis' criticism by reciting his statistics after he had been benched. Policy went so far as to even count the number of times Johnson used the word "I" and "me" instead of "we" and "team." That ratio, by the way, was 30-to-1, according to Policy.

"But you aren't human if you take your demotion well," Morgan countered. "Any player who gets demoted is going to take it badly. You can't hide that." 

The Browns should have just stuck to the facts. Johnson never was the complete player Davis wanted at wide receiver, and three years into their relationship, Davis had no reason to believe he would ever become that player.

It is common knowledge around Berea that Davis had his issues with Johnson going back to their first season together in 2001. So after that year, knowing Johnson was far from a perfect fit, knowing his personality and that he would eventually struggle with losing his job to Butch Davis picks like Morgan or Andre Davis, why would the Browns choose to sign him to a $13.85-million extention with a $3.5-million signing bonus?

It's just one of the shortsighted moves that have become Butch Davis' trademark in his first three seasons and put his ability to handle the dual role of coaching and handling personnel matters in question.

Davis picked up a hefty option on Couch's contract, then figured out he didn't fit the system. Now, when Couch inevitably follows Johnson out the door, it will mean two more absent players counting against the Browns salary cap. The Browns are already paying for departed free-agent busts from the Butch Davis era like Earl Holmes and Dwayne Rudd. Safety Robert Griffith is probably next to hit that list.

Whenever Davis signs a big-money free agent, it has become a safe bet he will eventually end up as dead money on the Browns cap.

Davis' success rate in his first three drafts hasn't been much better. His signature pick, Gerard Warren, has never lived up to his No. 3 overall selection in 2001. William Green, taken in round one a year later, has flashed some talent, but his recent arrest on charges of driving under the influence and marijuana possession put his ultimate value in doubt.

The one player who looks like he will pan out is this year's first rounder, center Jeff Faine. But his selection only undermines Davis' 2002 draft, considering he grabbed center Melvin Fowler on day one. That turned out to be a waste of a valuable third-round pick.

The frustration of a disappointing 3-6 start to the season and all of the misses in his personnel decisions already had fans questioning Davis. Considering how unpopular the release of Johnson has been with the Browns faithful, another flop by the Browns this weekend against the lowly Arizona Cardinals (who share the Browns' 3-6 record, by the way) could significantly sour Davis' relationship with the fans.


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