Monday, March 29, 2004
Washington gets sixth-round pick in '04 draft
By Len Pasquarelli
For a guy who averaged exactly one rushing attempt per season in the first three years of his career, fullback Bryan Johnson is pretty popular.
So popular, in fact, that over the past week, he wasn't sure from one day to the next where he'd be playing in 2004.
The uncertainty ended Monday when the Washington Redskins dealt Johnson to the Chicago Bears for a sixth-round choice in this year's draft.
The trade came only three days after the Redskins matched a restricted free agent offer sheet Johnson had signed with the New Orleans Saints, a move that permitted Washington to retain his rights.
Confused by all the permutations transpiring in Johnson's career? Imagine how he felt as his rights were bouncing back and forth.
"Look, the good thing is, everything has worked out for the best, and he's in a good situation," said agent Derrick Fox. "The people in Chicago are good people and Bryan is excited about being a part of what is going on there."
Johnson's dizzying odyssey began on March 19, when he signed a four-year, $4.7 million offer sheet with the Saints. That deal was front-loaded with the gamble that the Redskins, who had a week to match the offer sheet, would pass on a contract that includes a roster bonus of $800,000 and a first-year salary cap charge of about $2.2 million.
But just before last Friday's deadline, the Redskins opted to match the offer and retain Johnson, at least for the time being. That time frame, as it turned out, lasted less than 72 hours. The Redskins and Bears began discussing a deal late Sunday afternoon and completed the transaction Monday morning.
The Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills were also interested in acquiring Johnson.
Teams had a small window of opportunity to complete a deal. The offer sheet Johnson signed with New Orleans, and which was assumed by the Redskins when they matched it, included a 48-hour no-trade clause. That meant Washington couldn't discuss a trade until Sunday afternoon, and the team wanted to have a deal in place before Tuesday, when the $800,000 roster bonus is due.
Because there is no signing bonus involved in the deal, the Redskins do not have any financial liability and Johnson leaves no "dead money" on the team's cap. Getting a No. 6 choice for Johnson now gives the Redskins three choices in next month's draft. Had the Redskins not matched the New Orleans offer sheet, and permitted Johnson to depart to the Saints, they would have received no draft choice compensation since the fullback entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
Chicago now figures to have a completely revamped backfield with two free agents, Johnson at fullback and Thomas Jones at tailback, in the starting lineup.
Perhaps the only surprising element to the trade is that a tough, lead-blocking fullback, one with solid receiving skills, is critical in the new offense being installed by Joe Gibbs in Washington, and Johnson certainly meets that job description.
Johnson, 26, joined the Redskins as an undrafted free agent linebacker from Boise State in 2001. In his rookie training camp, coaches moved him to fullback, and he has been a quiet but effective performer there ever since.
He has carried just three times for five yards and has 33 receptions for 314 yards, and has yet to score his first NFL touchdown. But the 245-pound Johnson is a terrific lead blocker in the running game and has improved his pass blocking skills as well.
New Orleans had sought Johnson as a replacement for departed fullback Terrelle Smith, one of the NFL's premier blockers at the position, who signed with Cleveland two weeks ago as an unrestricted free agent. The Saints did sign venerable fullback Sam Gash but hoped to further upgrade at the position.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.