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The Key to 2004 is familiarity

By RICK STROUD
Published January 11, 2004

ST. LOUIS - Keyshawn Johnson is the only Bucs player working in the playoffs. But as soon as his gig on NFL on Fox is over, he would like to know where he is playing in 2004.

If not sooner.

Now that the Bucs hired Bruce Allen as general manager, Johnson will ask the team to release him immediately rather than wait.

Johnson, who was deactivated for the final six games by coach Jon Gruden, is owed a $1-million roster bonus in March that the Bucs are not expected to pay, thereby making him a free agent.

He is compiling a list of teams that he might play for next season, but there are only a few criteria.

"I'm only going to play for a coach that I'm familiar with," Johnson said recently. "Or at least for a team with a GM that I know who hires the coach."

Which team is Johnson most likely to land a job with?

There are several factors, not the least of which is money. However, it's clear Johnson prefers the Cowboys or Patriots.

Johnson's relationship with Cowboys coach Bill Parcells goes beyond football; it's nearly paternal. Receiver Joey Galloway could be a salary cap casualty, creating a spot for Johnson.

The Patriots, led by another of Johnson's former coaches, Bill Belichick, could use receivers. How much they will have to pay for one is another matter.

"But it would be a good fit and I'm familiar with the division," Johnson said.

Now for a few other possibilities. Start with the Jets, Johnson's former team coached by former Bucs assistant Herman Edwards. After Johnson was deactivated, Edwards was the most outspoken in condemning the move. Plus, Johnson loves the bright lights and big city.

"I never wanted to leave there in the first place," Johnson said. "It was strictly a situation where they didn't want to pay me and traded me to Tampa."

The Falcons, with GM Rich McKay, and the Panthers, with former Jets offensive coordinator Dan Henning, are possible. But at the end, expect Johnson to be a Cowboy.

FOND FAREWELL?: Allen wants to meet with player personnel director Tim Ruskell and asked him to interview for his current position in the revamped front office. To date, Ruskell has declined.

Ruskell still is a candidate for the Miami Dolphins GM position. Failing that, he could be reunited with McKay in Atlanta.

AND IT FEELS SO GOOD: There were many reasons for Allen to leave the Raiders and become Bucs GM. A promotion, for one, and more money. But Allen says it was the chance to reunite with Gruden.

"That one feeling I have the night before the game and in the morning," Allen said. "I'm always confident with Coach Gruden and his staff that we have a chance to win the game. It's an exciting challenge, one I was willing to take.

"I looked at this as a brand new challenge, something that could get the engines running and moving at 1,000 miles an hour."

[Last modified January 11, 2004, 01:33:09]

Today's lineup
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