Complete financial details were not immediately available, and the two sides were still fine-tuning some elements of the deal late into the night, one team source acknowledged. But sources said the contract is worth approximately $3.5 million per year and that Johnson will receive a $5 million signing bonus on a contract that could be officially signed as early as Friday.
"The terms have been agreed to, now he's just taken it to
someone outside to have the language approved,'' Carolina general
manager Marty Hurney said. "We hope to be able to formally
introduce him later [Friday]."
Johnson, 33, visited with New York Giants officials earlier this week and it is believed that he turned down a contract proposal that reportedly would have paid him $3 million per year. He then met on Thursday with management officials from the Panthers, one of the teams that he publicly cited as a possible landing spot when Dallas released him.
Head coach John Fox, who is vacationing, was not among the Panthers officials involved in the Thursday meeting. But Fox is familiar with Johnson and staunchly advocated his addition to a Carolina passing game that sorely needed a strong No. 2 wide receiver.
Over the past two seasons, the Panthers' passing game has focused on one main receiver and struggled to develop a viable complementary wideout.
In 2005, Steve Smith had 103 catches for 1,563 yards and 12 touchdowns. That accounted for 61.7 percent of the catches and 63.2 percent of the yards produced by the Carolina wideout corps. No other Carolina wide receiver had more than 25 catches last year. In 2004, when Smith missed all but one game because of a broken leg, Muhsin Muhammad accounted for 51.1 percent of the receptions by wide receivers and for 51.3 percent of the yards.
The addition of Johnson, a big, rangy possession receiver, should address the imbalance. His presence will also aid the Panthers' running game, since he is a rugged downfield blocker. It will also result in a battle for the No. 3 and No. 4 wide receiver spots, with youngsters Keary Colbert and Drew Carter vying for playing time. It remains to be seen if Ricky Proehl, one of the league's best possession receivers and currently an unrestricted free agent, will return for a 17th season.
"He is a very talented receiver," Hurney told the AP. "He's smart,
he's tough and he's a physical receiver. He's been extremely
productive. He brings experience and has a Super Bowl ring and
plays with a great passion for the game.
"I know he wants to win another Super Bowl and hopefully that
will be here," he said.
For his career, Johnson has 744 receptions for 9,756 yards and 60 touchdowns in 151 games, including 146 starts. He registered 71 catches for 839 yards and six touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2005, and he started in 14 of his 16 appearances. Johnson was due a March roster bonus of $1 million and had a scheduled base salary of $1.5 million for 2006, and the Cowboys chose to release him, sensing that the loquacious wide receiver would seek to have his contract upgraded.
There were rumblings from Dallas, in fact, that Johnson planned to skip the start of the team's offseason conditioning program because he wanted his contract addressed. Just four days after releasing Johnson, the Cowboys signed wide receiver Terrell Owens to a three-year contract.
The top overall choice in the 1996 draft, Johnson has been outspoken at times during his career, but he remains a productive player, although most scouts agree he is no longer a lead-type receiver. The former Southern California star played four seasons with the Jets and then was traded to Tampa Bay in 2000. In 2003, the Bucs inactivated him for the final part of the season because of his public criticism of head coach Jon Gruden.
Tampa Bay dealt him to the Cowboys in 2004 for wide receiver Joey Galloway. In Johnson's two years with the Cowboys, he averaged 70.5 receptions, 910 yards and six touchdowns.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.