The Whacking of KJ

Swerb looks at the Browns release of Kevin Johnson, and offers a somewhat different take than we've seen to date.<BR><I>(Fan Commentary)</I>

Butch Davis rolled the dice and gambled on Kevin Johnson.  And he lost.

He lost 3.5 million dollars of Al Lerner's money, which was paid to Kevin via the form of a signing bonus when his contract was extended in 2002.  He lost 1.75 million dollars worth of salary cap space for next season, considered "dead money" on the team's '04 payroll due to the fact that the one half of KJ's signing bonus must be pro-rated next season because we released him with two years left on his four-year deal.  And he lost a valuable draft pick, likely a third or fourth rounder, which we easily could have obtained in exchange for Kevin this off-season.

Butch gambled on the fact that KJ would improve on what he saw as the weak areas of his game, which have been well publicized over the past few days.  Kevin has never been much of a blocker.  His run after the catch ability is desperately lacking, not helped by his frequent dives to the turf to avoid taking a hit as well as his unwillingness to get smacked in the mouth to gain the extra yard.  He has below average speed for a wide receiver.  And his route running has been called into question.

This all being said, Kevin Johnson is one of the finest possession receivers in the game, with a pair of the surest hands in the NFL.  He has started every game as a Brown since our return, and has caught a pass in each one of those contests.  The numbers he has posted in his first four years in professional football compare impressively with some of the greatest receivers who have ever played in this league.

And Kevin thought all that was enough.  Butch Davis didn't.

Butch Davis has an enormous ego.  To be purposely undermined by a player who he saw as heavily flawed that at the same time thought so highly of himself slowly ate away at the man.  Butch can live with frequent mental mistakes by players (see Morgan, Quincy) who are physically gifted and buy into playing the game the way he wants to see the game played.  But if you have a difference of opinion from Butch on what is important, and play the game your own way…you may just end up waived and in Detroit.

If there were three adjectives I could throw out there to describe what I think Butch Davis values in his players, I would use the following:

Versatility, athleticism, and consistency.

Kevin's unwillingness to play special teams and inability to stretch the field on offense made him a one-dimensional player to Butch.  Athleticism is one thing Kevin has always lacked.  And once the consistency went out the door this year in uncharacteristic performances versus the Chargers and Patriots…KJ was doomed.

There were other factors at play as well.  The Browns are a leaderless team, and KJ never really stepped into that role when I'm sure a lot of powerful people in the organization assumed he would do so after signing his new deal before the '02 season.  There was also the fact that Carmen Policy hinted that "the position coach", Terry Robiskie, a very well liked and well-respected man, was at peace with and supportive of this decision.  Just last week, KJ intimated that the relationship between he and Robiskie was "great" and that he "thought of him as a father figure".  Maybe this gives us a hint at just how out of touch KJ was with what the coaches expected and demanded out of him as a wide receiver in the Butch Regime.  And then of course you have the comments that KJ made to the media about "not wanting to take hits" and that "Chris Palmer was the best coach he played for" that were likely the final straws that broke the back on his career as a Cleveland Brown.

This move has created a whirlwind of controversy here in Cleveland with most fans taking the side of KJ, a guy that always came across as a very likable guy to the mainstream media.  Part of it also has to do with the fact that with such rampant roster turnover each season, he was one of the last links to the 1999 team that brought pro football back into this town. 

I blame them both.  I blame Butch for misjudging KJ and costing the Browns room under the cap next season as well as what we could have gotten in return for him via trade. 

I blame Kevin for putting what he saw as important above what his head coach wanted out of him.

In the end, the fans of this football team lose.  Hey, at least we're used to it.

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