Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Updated: May 2, 11:16 AM ET
Panthers cut Johnson after drafting wide receiver
ESPN.com news services
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the Carolina Panthers drafted Southern California receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round Saturday, Keyshawn Johnson was ecstatic.
"This is a great pick. We need another wide receiver," Johnson gushed while working as a draft analyst for ESPN. "This guy is much like me. I'm going to teach him how to play from the point of attack."
He won't get the chance.
The Panthers deemed their older former USC receiver was expendable Tuesday. Johnson, the 6-foot-4 possession receiver and 1996 No. 1 overall pick, was released to make way for a younger 6-foot-4 possession receiver taken with the 45th pick.
"They said they wanted to get younger," Johnson told the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. "That's fine with me. I'd like to go somewhere and help someone win another Super Bowl."
The Panthers also selected receiver Ryne Robinson in the fourth round of the draft. While he will likely be primarily used as a punt returner, he did catch 91 passes at Miami of Ohio last season. The Panthers also have receivers Drew Carter and Keary Colbert -- plus star Steve Smith.
"We appreciated the contribution of Keyshawn in his season with the Panthers," coach John Fox said. "He brought us high production, but at this time, we are in a situation in which we have a number of young receivers and thought this was the right time to make the decision."
Johnson, who will turn 35 in July, had 70 catches for 815 yards and four touchdowns last season and became the 16th player in NFL history with 800 career catches. The Panthers signed Johnson last year after he was released by Dallas in a salary cap move so the Cowboys could sign Terrell Owens.
It was hoped Johnson would take pressure off Smith, who was Carolina's lone option in 2005 and was shut down in the NFC Championship Game by Seattle. But the Panthers, plagued by injuries, stumbled to an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs.
Numerous calls placed to Johnson by The Associated Press on Tuesday were not returned. Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said he had a couple phone conversations with him.
"I don't think he agreed with the decision. I think he feels like he could have come in and helped us in our goal of trying to get to the playoffs and win the championship, but I think he understood our thought process," Hurney said. "I would just say he didn't agree with it."
Johnson has said in the past he would like to work in television after his career his over. Recently he indicated he'd be interested in becoming a general manager of a team someday.
However, Johnson said late last season he wanted to play at least two more years and get to 1,000 career receptions. Johnson didn't appear to be slowing down last season and several teams are in need of receivers.
Johnson was taken by the New York Jets with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 draft. He's always been productive but has also clashed with coaches and teammates while earning the nickname "Me-Shawn." He wrote the famous tell-all book "Just Give Me the Damn Ball" after his rookie season that ruffled feathers.
Johnson later helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. But a year later, Johnson was deactivated for the final six games after a feud with coach Jon Gruden. Speaking with the St. Petersburg Times, Johnson joked that he won't discount the possibility of returning to Tampa.
"Me and Jon Gruden together again. You never know," he told the paper laughing. "Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner did it."
Still, Bill Parcells, who coached him in both New York and Dallas, called Johnson one of the best players he's ever coached, and there was no apparent rift between Johnson and Fox in Carolina. When Johnson signed with Carolina, he said he was content being the No. 2 receiver behind Smith.
Johnson did express strong support late last season for offensive coordinator Dan Henning, who was eventually fired. After the final game, Johnson said he might retire if Henning was let go but later backed off that statement.
"I think all you have to do is look at the timing of this decision to figure out that there was nothing more to this than the fact we made the commitment to develop our younger wide receivers," Hurney said. "The decision was made that we had a big enough group of young wide receivers that we were going to commit in that direction."
Jarrett, who had a school-record 216 receptions and a Pac-10 record 41 touchdown catches, will be in town Friday for Carolina's minicamp. It was expected Johnson would spend the weekend razzing him.
Instead, Jarrett could be working with the first team.
"We feel the young guys will step up and fill the roles behind Steve Smith," Hurney said.
It's going to be a tough market for Keyshawn Johnson to find a new home. He's 34. Johnson's next job could be at the NFL minimum of $820,000, writes John Clayton. Blog
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.