Just when the situation in Cleveland could not have gotten any worse, the Browns made a decision which they believe will make them a better football team. Leading receiver Kevin Johnson was released by the team Tuesday afternoon, in a shocking move which has left his former teammates stunned, maybe more so than Johnson himself.
Selected by the Browns in the second-round of the 1999 draft, Johnson has been the team's leading receiver every season with the team. Scrutinized about his poor blocking skills and less than precise route-running ability by head coach Butch Davis, Johnson had been demoted from his starting spot on the struggling Cleveland offense for last weeks game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Johnson and Davis had crossed paths on numerous occasions since Davis was hired to coach the Browns following the 2000 season. Davis had spoken highly of Johnson, noting he was a very good wide receiver and a player that has as good a set of hands as any in league, just this past off-season. Though league personnel evaluators and other league front office Player Personnel Directors told The Insiders Davis had attempted to trade Johnson on numerous occasions dating back to training camp of 2001.
Going from a player to receive such praise and accolades to the waiver wire is a questionable move. Numerous league executives Tuesday evening confirmed to The Insiders the Browns had attempted to trade Johnson again prior to the 2003 season, but backed off dealing their leading receiver when second-year wide receiver Andre Davis was injured in training camp with a knee sprain.
During the past six-weeks, talks of dealing Johnson heated up, but the Browns were never close to consummating a deal.
Speaking to Johnson late Tuesday evening, he expressed shock and disappointment about being released by the team he wanted to play his entire career for. To further make matters worse for the consistent Johnson, he was led to believe he was not good enough to play a role with the Browns.
"I am disappointed that I am no longer a part of the Browns and no longer with a bunch of really good guys in Cleveland. I don't believe this has really set in yet," Johnson said. "I did not see this coming and did not expect something like this from them (the Browns).
With his release, Johnson is on waivers and can be picked by a team for 24-hours, after this time period Johnson would become a free agent. In the second-year of a four-year 13.35 million dollar contract signed prior to the 2002 season, Johnson appeared to have solidly planted his roots in Cleveland.
"He (Davis) did not believe I was good enough to contribute any longer and he wanted to get his guys on the field. I can respect change, but I do not buy into the notion I am not good enough to play there," Johnson continued. "My phone has been ringing all day since the news broke, I won't be out of a job long."
While Johnson would not discuss what teams had contacted him and/or his agent Tom Condon, the number of teams are plenty. Expect Johnson to be signed by a team Thursday or Friday and possibly be in a new uniform on Sunday.
Polling numerous league executives, insiders, and personnel members, Johnson will be a hot commodity for a team heading down the home-stretch of the season.
"Kevin Johnson is a very solid complimentary receiver, line him up opposite an explosive receiver and he will put up solid numbers for a team seeking a much better than average receiver," one league personnel evaluator said. "My understanding is about 13 teams have contacted Condon (Johnson's agent). To name a few, I know with certainty, the Redskins, Vikings, Eagles, Colts, Buccaneers, Texans, Bengals, Lions, Packers, and Ravens have a significant interest in Johnson."
"As it happens in many cases, a player goes from the basement to the penthouse, the same may happen to Johnson, the interesting thing will be if a team claims him on waivers."
With this shocking move, Johnson leaves Cleveland well before he planned, leaving him appreciative and modest.
"It goes to show, anybody can be cut. I never expected it, I wish all my friends on the team and the fans in Cleveland all the best, I really never wanted to play in another uniform," Johnson concluded.