Packers close in on Johnson

The Green Bay Packers are expected to announce the signing of free agent defensive end Joe Johnson either today or Friday. Johnson, one of the premier defensive ends on the free agent market this season, reportedly agreed in principle Wednesday to a six-year contract with the Packers.<p>

Johnson visited Green Bay on March 13. Packers head coach and general manager Mike Sherman also went to New Orleans to visit with Johnson. The Packers reportedly made an offer this week and have given Johnson and his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, until Friday to accept the deal.

The contract is essentially a three-year deal worth $16 million, including a signing bonus of between $6 million to $7 million, according to The total deal is for six years.

Johnson, entering his ninth season, had nine sacks last season, when he played 13 games with a torn left triceps. He played his first eight seasons with the Saints, and has displayed an ability to defend well against the run as well as rush the quarterback.

If Johnson signs with Green Bay, he will play opposite Vonnie Holliday. Both could be moved inside on passing downs to make way for Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (13.5 sacks last year) and Jamal Reynolds, the 10th overall pick of the draft last year. The Packers released veteran defensive tackle Santana Dotson in February. Defensive tackles Gilbert Brown and Jim Flanigan are unrestricted free agents. But the Packers are high on two younger defensive tackles – Rod Walker and Steve Warren, who missed last year recovering from a quadriceps injury. reported that Green Bay had to restructure the contract of center Frank Winters – from a base salary of about $1.5 million to $750,000 – to create enough cap space to finish the deal.

Johnson has some mileage on him, but the Packers obviously feel that he has at least three good years left in him. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2000 and named Comeback Player of the Year after missing the entire 1999 season with a knee injury. He also made the Pro Bowl in 1998.

Johnson, who turns 30 in July, has played in 106 games with 104 starts. He was the Saints' top draft pick in 1994. Johnson has 51 career sacks and 14 forced fumbles.

The Packers also have had negotiations with free agents Renaldo Wynn (Jacksonville) and Grady Jackson (Oakland).

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