- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Quarterback Brad Johnson has stopped waiting for the Washington Redskins to negotiate a contract extension, dramatically increasing the likelihood that he will play elsewhere next season.

The decision by Johnson and agent Phil Williams, of which The Washington Times learned last night, virtually ensures that the 32-year-old Pro Bowl passer will reach unrestricted free agency on March 1.

"I personally do not understand why Brad was not a priority to this organization, but that doesn't matter," Williams said in a phone interview. "What matters is that they made a choice. Now we have a choice, and our choice is not to think about a new contract until free agency."

Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, will attract large offers as a free agent, offers the Redskins would be foolish to challenge after allowing him to reach a position of such bargaining strength. His signing bonus alone could exceed $10 million.

Thus current backup Jeff George would start next year, unless the team chooses to make Johnson its franchise player. That, however, will require the Redskins to create a considerable amount of salary cap room, which could handcuff their ability to re-sign other players and pursue free agents.

A quarterback would cost upwards of $6 million to franchise a cap number approximately $2 million more than any Redskin this season and Washington already is over the projected 2001 cap of $67-$68 million. The Redskins have committed $69.908 million to 2001, according to league sources.

Williams, asked if he believes the Redskins will be financially capable of franchising Johnson, said: "Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? No. The cap can be manipulated, but only so far. You never see quarterbacks franchised, because the franchise number is a higher one, and because teams generally don't let Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks reach that point."

The Redskins have made no attempt to re-sign Johnson, who last year guided the club to its first playoff appearance in seven seasons. It was Johnson's first year as a Redskin, after he was obtained in a Feb. 15 trade with the Minnesota Vikings for three draft picks.

Johnson and Williams have known for months that a contract extension was unlikely, but they continued to wait for the Redskins to start talks. Now the waiting is over.

"This is a distraction that needs to be laid to rest, period," Williams said. "Brad is totally focused on helping the team win right now. No extra distractions are needed."

Williams expressed disappointment that the team ignored Johnson this offseason while signing free agents Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders, Mark Carrier and George, then draft picks LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels.

The Redskins wrapped up a one-year deal for running back Stephen Davis, their franchise player, three days into training camp, then negotiated a new nine-year, $90 million contract for Davis just before the season started.

All told, Washington's 2000 payroll under second-year owner Dan Snyder is the highest in league history, approaching $100 million. But nowhere in the process was Johnson's expiring contract addressed.

"Brad became the last priority to the team," Williams said. "I didn't want to believe that at first, but as time went on I have realized that's the case. I didn't like it, but that's not the issue. The issue is that the Redskins made choices. I may agree or disagree with those choices, but it's Snyder's team. He can do whatever he likes. We're totally at peace."

Johnson already has overcome a Week 4 quarterback controversy when fans and media blamed his lack of deep completions for the team's 1-2 start. Surprisingly, the controversy seemed to bring Johnson and George closer together, rather than driving them apart.

Johnson since has improved his quarterback rating to 81.2, sixth-best in the NFC. The Redskins' offense ranks seventh in the NFL.

"Brad wants to stay healthy and lead the Washington Redskins as far as possible," Williams said. "Whatever happens after that, happens. [The contract] is on the back burner of Brad's mind. He doesn't even want to think about it. He just wants to win."

Asked if an enormous proposal from the Redskins would re-open discussions, Williams replied: "I absolutely doubt that [proposal would be made]. If they haven't had enough time to know what type of player Brad is, I don't know whether they ever would."

Pressed on whether discussions could be re-opened, Williams replied: "I've always been irritated with people who say, 'Never.' People are human beings. Honestly, I hope they don't [try to]. People can change their minds, but I don't see that happening."

Note The Redskins inked a three-year deal yesterday with HealthSouth Corp. for the Birmingham, Ala.-based health care company to be the team's official sports medicine provider. Already a prominent advertiser at FedEx Field, HealthSouth holds similar pacts with more than 50 pro teams and with the PGA, Senior PGA and LPGA. The company's medical staff is led by prominent orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, whose recent work with the Redskins includes injured center Cory Raymer.

• Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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