The Journey of Johnson

Brad Johnson's road back to being an NFL starter has been filled with controversial on-field decisions – and none of them made by him. His success this year is setting up another potential controversy next year.

All Viking fans know that Brad Johnson was the starting quarterback with the Vikings and was traded away in the aftermath of the 1998 season. But do you remember the details of Johnson's time with the team and how he left?

Brad Johnson took over for the injured Warren Moon during the 1996 season, starting eight games. His first season as a part-time starter showed promise as Johnson threw for 17 TDs and 10 picks with a passer rating of 89.4. Johnson became the full-time starter the following year and the Vikings surprised the NFL by jumping to an 8-2 record. A couple of losses brought them back down to earth and had them facing the Packers in a key divisional game on a Monday night at the Metrodome. Unfortunately for Johnson and the Vikings, he had sustained a neck injury late in the game against the New York Jets the previous week. Against the Packers, Johnson could not get anything on his throws and had trouble gripping the ball, and the Vikings suffered an embarrassing loss. It was finally discovered the Johnson had the injury after the Packers game and he missed the rest of the season, with Randall Cunningham taking over.

1998 saw the Vikings get off to a good start by beating Tampa 31-7 and then facing the Rams at home. The Vikes won a high-scoring game against the Rams, but Johnson got hurt in the game. Ironically, the noise at the Metrodome may have been the real culprit in the injury, as a Rams defensive lineman slammed into Johnson's leg on a non-play – the Vikings had been called for a false start. Johnson stayed in one more play and came out, replaced by Cunningham. Johnson threw seven TD passes in less than two full games that season but never started another game for the Vikings in his first stint with the team.

Following Randall Cunningham's brilliant '98 season, the Vikings decided they couldn't keep both Johnson and Cunningham, so they traded Johnson to the Redskins for the 11th pick in the NFL draft. Denny Green remarked at the time that the Vikings had made a great deal in getting a first-round pick for Brad Johnson. The Vikings, coming off a record 556-point season were in great shape to draft an impact defensive player (Jevon Kearse) with the pick they received for Johnson. Instead, they drafted Daunte Culpepper.

This year, Johnson came back to Minnesota after successfully leading two other teams to the playoffs (Washington and Tampa) and winning the Super Bowl with the Bucs.
The man he was traded for got hurt and Johnson returned to his starting role with the Vikings and so far has led them to a 6-2 record as a starter. Johnson has taken a beating in many of the games this season behind a weak and injured offensive line but has somehow managed to stay healthy.

It's too bad that Johnson ever got hurt and lost his job as QB with the Vikings. Who knows what could have happened if they had a steady QB over the years? Maybe Johnson would have led them to the Super Bowl in '98; maybe the Vikings would have drafted Jevon Kearse instead of Culpepper in the '99 draft with a draft pick they received for Randall Cunningham instead of Johnson. We'll never know.

While Johnson's missed opportunities with the team are unfortunate, I can't agree with the sentiment expressed by some that the Vikings should now trade Daunte Culpepper and make Johnson the starter next season. Brad Johnson is 37 years old. Deciding to make him your starting quarterback for the long term is not a realistic solution. If they trade Culpepper, they'll have to draft or trade for another quarterback who can start within 2-3 years. Also, Culpepper's trade value is questionable since he had such a serious injury and isn't likely to be fully healthy until the 2007 season. If the Vikings can keep Johnson another year, there may be a controversy next year since Daunte isn't might not be ready to play until well into the season. If the Vikings get off to a good start under Johnson, can/will they bench him when Culpepper is ready to return? One thing is certain – it will be interesting.

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