Tampa ends Keyshawn's season

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. Keyshawn Johnson will get his wish to leave Tampa Bay once the season is over.

Meantime, he won't even get to play.

The Buccaneers shelved their disgruntled star receiver for the rest of the year Tuesday, saying he had become disruptive during a disappointing 4-6 start for the defending Super Bowl champions.

''For whatever reason he didn't want to be here. He let me know that some time after one of our early games,'' coach Jon Gruden said.

The Bucs said they would deactivate Johnson for the remaining six games. He will be paid his full salary and was not fined, general manager Rich McKay said.

The move stunned Johnson, even though he made it clear to Gruden and McKay last month that wanted to leave after this season. The reason was Gruden, not McKay, the two-time Pro Bowl selection said.

''It a shock. I thought we would get through the year,'' Johnson said. ''Why would you do that when you're trying to win another championship?

''You're talking about your best offensive player. And you're going to let him go? That's basically what they did. It doesn't make sense. ... But that's OK. I'll be fine. It didn't work out (with Gruden). It was a bad marriage. Now, I'll move on.''

Johnson is the Bucs' third-leading receiver this season with 45 catches for 600 yards and three touchdowns.

McKay said he spoke with Johnson's agent, Jerome Stanley, and ''we agreed that it will not be necessary for him to be present at our facility for the remainder of the year.''

Johnson said he plans to spend the remainder of the season working as a network television analyst.

Johnson is midway through an eight-year, $56 million contract that included a $13 million signing bonus. He has been unhappy with his role in Gruden's offense and felt the coach was determined to prove he could win without giving Johnson a heavy workload.

''I went to them after the San Francisco game,'' Johnson said, referring to a 24-7 loss on Oct. 19. ''The next day he tried to turn the team against me. He thought I was jealous of other guys getting the ball. All I wanted to do was help the team win.''

Gruden said he was disappointed that his relationship with Johnson didn't work.

''We've worked hard to try to get him the football. ... We want our players to be happy. But unfortunately, it has festered for a while. I believe it has affected him. Certainly we hate to see him go, but that's just part of football sometimes,'' Gruden said.

McKay said Johnson was emphatic about his desire to leave Tampa Bay at the end of this season.

''Following that I really feel Keyshawn's actions changed. His approach to us, to the organization and to the team, changed. A lot of mandatory workouts missed, a lot team functions that are football related that were not attended and it became, in our mind, a problem. And one that needed to be addressed,'' McKay said.

McKay declined to say how many workouts Johnson had skipped, or whether missing a mandatory team meeting on Monday was the final straw.

''We're trying to win football games, and at some point you have to say this is not in the best interest of winning. We had another path we could have taken, which is to go down the disciplinary path. ... But this isn't about money. We're not trying to get any money back from Keyshawn. We're not trying to make an example,'' he said.

Said Gruden: ''It's nothing personal.''

''Hopefully he finds what he's looking for. We're in the same search for excellence and answers to how to get out of the funk we're in,'' he said.

Johnson denied missing any mandatory sessions this season. He was absent Monday, but said it was his understanding that it wasn't a mandatory meeting.

''Whatever. They've got to spin it some kind of way. If they want to blame me for everything that's gone wrong, go ahead,'' he said.

Joe Jurevicius, who returned last week after being sidelined seven games with a sprained knee, likely will take Johnson's spot in the lineup.

''I really enjoyed playing with Keyshawn for the last 2 1/2 years,'' Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson said. ''We won a lot of games together and won a Super Bowl together. It's unfortunate that it had to end this way, and I wish him well.''

Keyshawn Johnson was the first pick in the 1996 draft by the New York Jets. The Jets traded him to Tampa Bay three years ago for a pair of No. 1 draft choices.

Johnson was the Bucs' leading receiver the past three seasons and helped them win their first Super Bowl in January.

The eight-year pro reached 600 career catches quicker than any other receiver except Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison.

Johnson had three catches for 34 yards in Sunday's 20-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

''Keyshawn Johnson is a very good football player. He's been very productive for us. I think everybody knows that,'' McKay said.

McKay spoke with Johnson by telephone after Stanley informed the player of the move.

''He was OK. He understands some of the issues,'' McKay said. ''I'm sure he's surprised. ... By the same token I think he looks at it as he's going to get a fresh start coming down the road, and hopefully he makes the best of it.''

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