Ravens land Johnson to end receiver quest

OWINGS MILLS – After a wide-receiver quest characterized by a moribund passing game and a nullified trade for All-Pro Terrell Owens, the Baltimore Ravens took another shot at the problem by obtaining veteran receiver Kevin Johnson.<br><br> The Ravens traded their fourth-round draft pick Sunday to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Johnson, a proven NFL target who departed the Cleveland Browns in a messy divorce last November.<br>

Nevertheless, Johnson, 27, carries a high value for the AFC North champions, who placed a waiver claim last fall along with 15 other teams to try to sign the Browns' all-time leading receiver. Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome ended his lengthy wait for Johnson by swinging a trade with Jaguars vice president James "Shack" Harris, the former Ravens' director of pro personnel.

Johnson represents an influx of experience and ability to an undistinguished receiving corps that includes Travis Taylor and Frank Sanders along with rookies draft picks Devard Darling, Clarence Moore and return specialist Derek Abney.

"We've been working this angle for two or three weeks now," Billick said. "We've got a great deal of familiarity with Kevin Johnson. The thing that jumps out about him is his consistency. The guy just makes plays. He's got great hands, he's got great body control.

"Given all the alternatives, especially after the [Owens] situation, this was the most doable and viable deal that we could put together that would have the greatest impact for this team."

Johnson has posted career totals of 332 receptions for 4,089 yards and 24 touchdowns since being drafted with the first pick of the second round out of Syracuse in 1999.

At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Johnson represents a package of decent size, solid speed and sound hands and route-running skills. His career had been fairly controversy-free in Cleveland until last fall except for nagging trade rumors.

"It has been crazy," Johnson said of the past year. "I feel like I am a pretty good player and I have been productive in this league. I think it's a blessing in disguise."
Johnson was criticized heavily by the Browns upon his release. Outgoing Browns president Carmen Policy knocked Johnson for allegedly being selfish, unwilling to block and not accepting a benching prior to being cut.

"It appeared that he lost any incentive to compete and participate as a member of the team if he couldn't be the starter," Policy said of Johnson, who counts $2.1 million against Browns' 2004 salary cap. "It sent a bad vibe to me. It was all about his stats and what he did and how he did it. I think it was an indication of why the coaches were so frustrated." 

Upon his release, Johnson was not only criticized by Policy, but also by coach Butch Davis, receivers coach Terry Robiskie and teammates.

"You see Carmen Policy is no longer with the Browns and coach Davis has full authority," Johnson said. "If that's the picture, [Policy] wants to paint of me, I think anyone that knows me, knows that I never hurt anyone or said anything negative.

"Hopefully, I can show you guys the type of person that I am. I hope that you will see that I am a team guy and I'm committed to winning."

Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end for the Browns, vouched for Johnson, a friend of offensive tackle Orlando Brown and cornerback Corey Fuller, two former Browns now on the Ravens' roster.

"They all know the guy and anything that happens in Cleveland before it hits the news, I know," Newsome said.

Johnson has started 72 games and operates best as an intermediate threat. The Ravens' returning receivers combined last season for 54 catches and three touchdowns. 

Now, they have Johnson and Darling, a promising third-round draft pick, to go with Taylor.

"It's going to be huge," starting quarterback Kyle Boller said. "I think it kind of completes the package."

The Ravens executed a trade for Owens, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, in March. However, the trade was rescinded after a noisy dispute where Owens was eventually sent to the Philadelphia Eagles in a settlement.

"To bring in the veteran presence and proven production of a Kevin Johnson, and the young receiver on the first day in Darling, is just the combination we wanted to come away with," Billick said.

Johnson caught 58 passes for 634 yards and three touchdowns last season. His best season came in 2001, when he caught 84 passes for 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns.

Now, he's with a winning team that's close to his hometown of Trenton, N.J.

"It's the perfect scenario," he said. "I have a lot of friends who play on the team, and it's a first-class organization. I can't tell you how happy and excited I am. It's a great opportunity for me to get going again."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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