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Johnson open to Bucs job

Tony Dungy was to speak to the free agent, whose agent calls talks "optimistic''.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


TAMPA -- Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson handed the Bucs' Shaun King a stinging defeat in overtime in October at FedEx Field.

Johnson could topple King again -- this time by becoming Tampa Bay's starting quarterback.

The Bucs appear to have emerged as a front-runner in the race to sign Johnson, the NFL's most coveted free-agent quarterback.

To emphasize Tampa Bay's interest and pave the way for a smoother negotiation, Bucs coach Tony Dungy was scheduled to speak with Johnson by telephone Saturday night.

Tampa Bay is competing with at least three other teams for Johnson -- the Ravens, Chiefs and Bengals.

The Ravens, who hastily arranged for former Chief Elvis Grbac's visit Friday, appear to be in a bigger hurry to sign a new quarterback and were pushing Johnson for a decision Saturday night.

Baltimore made identical offers to Johnson and Grbac on Friday with the implied message that the first to accept gets the job.

Grbac's agent, Jim Steiner, was in Baltimore on Saturday trying to wrap up a deal for Grbac, who had dinner at the home of Ravens coach Brian Billick on Friday.

Johnson wasn't playing that game.

Agent Phil Williams said Saturday that Johnson had "definite interest" in playing for the Bucs and said he was "optimistic" about talks with Tampa Bay.

"I've talked to (general manager) Rich (McKay) again (Saturday) on a more serious level and agreed to continue to do so," Williams said. "I'm optimistic.

"If we're able to work something out, Brad Johnson would be thrilled to be there. But we haven't ruled any (team) out."

While Johnson is the first choice of Billick, who was offensive coordinator in Minnesota when Johnson was there, he might have been turned off by Baltimore's strategy to pit him against Grbac.

"No one's position is advanced ahead of the other's," Billick told CNN/SI. "My affection for Brad is well-documented. We're obviously interested in both quarterbacks. ... "I know this: Elvis told me, "I want to go to a Super Bowl. I want to go out a winner.' "

Johnson also has a close relationship with Dungy, who was the Vikings defensive coordinator the first four years of Johnson's career and coached him in the Pro Bowl.

Dungy and Johnson met briefly at the Super Bowl in Tampa in January, but Dungy was unable to make a sales pitch until the free-agent signing period began Friday.

Johnson has tentatively scheduled a visit to Kansas City on Wednesday, but by then the issue could be decided. McKay and Williams are expected to resume talks tonight, and an offer could be forthcoming. The Bucs' decision to claim San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf off waivers Friday has no impact on their fervor to sign Johnson. Leaf would cost $1.5-million in base salary next season, but the Bucs won't owe him a dime unless he is on the roster for the season opener.

McKay made it clear the Bucs will keep a close watch on Leaf's attitude and could release him within a few weeks. Tampa Bay may also seek to trade Leaf for a middle-round pick.

Johnson led the Redskins to the playoffs in 1999 and was named to the Pro Bowl after throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Redskins' season ended with a 14-13 NFC divisional playoff loss to King and the Bucs.

Last season, Johnson struggled and passed for 11 touchdowns with 15 interceptions before being benched in favor of backup Jeff George.

Around the NFL

BEARS: Free-agent punter Brad Maynard, who played with the Giants last season, signed a five-year contract for an undisclosed amount.

BRONCOS: Police are seeking a warrant to arrest tight end Dwayne Carswell after his girlfriend claimed he beat her and pushed her from his car in Pueblo, Colo.

BROWNS: Free-agent offensive lineman Waverly Jackson, 28, signed an offer sheet for a three-year contract. Jackson has played guard and tackle the past three seasons for the Colts, who have seven days to match the undisclosed offer.

CHARGERS: Free-agent cornerback Ryan McNeil, 30, signed a five-year contract worth $15.5-million, ending a one-year stint in Dallas.

DOLPHINS: Free-agent guard Todd Perry, 30, signed a five-year, $7.6-million contract. Perry spent the past eight years with the Bears.

RAIDERS: The Raiders, who successfully sued the league for the right to move to Los Angeles from Oakland and then went back, claim the NFL owes them money for losing the Los Angeles market and have sued the league. They also allege the league interfered with their plan to move from the L.A. Coliseum to a proposed stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood. The league contends it did not force the Raiders out of Los Angeles and that it tried to help a move to Hollywood Park. Jury selection for the Superior Court trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday in Los Angeles.

SEAHAWKS: Seattle signed free-agent defensive tackle John Randle a day after trading for quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, 25. Randle was released Thursday by the Vikings after 11 seasons. The Associated Press reported Randle got a $25-million, five-year contract.

XFL thinks young

The XFL is considering a rule that allows high school graduates who are academically ineligible for NCAA football to play. The idea is in the planning phase, but XFL officials have said it may be only a matter of months before the league approves the proposal. A player must be out of high school at least three years before playing in the NFL.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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