Defensive end officially in the fold

Defensive end Joe Johnson officially is on the Green Bay Packers roster. The unrestricted free agent from New Orleans signed what is believed to be a six-year deal today with a signing bonus of between $6 million and $7 million.<p>

Johnson immediately upgrades Green Bay's defensive line. Earlier this off-season the Packers released veteran defensive tackle Santana Dotson and end John Thierry. Second-year pro Jamal Reynolds had a shaky first season with the Packers, who are expected to use him mainly as a pass rusher this season.

The Packers and Johnson agreed to a deal in principle last week, but the language in the deal had to be OK'd by the National Football League. It is believed that the contract is essentially is a three-year deal worth $16 million.

"I am excited to finally announce the signing of Joe Johnson," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "Joe brings with him a dimension of experience, toughness and savvy. I feel he is the most dominant defensive player in free agency this year and believe he will immediately impact our defense as a player and impact our team as a leader."

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. He was named to the NFC squad in the Pro Bowl after the 1998 and 2000 seasons.

Johnson 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.

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

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, 16 forced fumbles and five passes defensed.

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