- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Washington Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson soon may join the Baltimore Ravens. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a viable option, though. And so are the San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.

Free agency begins at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow, and Johnson's agent, Phil Williams, should get his first call from the Ravens. Baltimore is considered the front-runner for Johnson because the passer spent seven years with Baltimore coach Brian Billick in Minnesota before he was traded to Washington in 1999. The Ravens are expected to make a push for Johnson to bolster their anemic offense in hopes of defending their Super Bowl championship.

But Williams quickly halted speculation yesterday that Johnson immediately would sign with the Ravens for a deal that could average more than $6 million with an $8 million bonus. Tampering charges for negotiating before free agency's start aside, Johnson wants to test free agency before inking a contract.

The Redskins' unrestricted free agent could be courted by a number of teams that may further swell pending negotiations in Kansas City, where Elvis Grbac is the incumbent, and in Buffalo, where Doug Flutie was released yesterday.

Williams said no visit to Baltimore has been planned, though the Ravens haven't yet started talks with incumbent quarterback Trent Dilfer. Johnson, who couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, said after the season that Baltimore was his first choice.

"Why close the door on anything," Williams said. "Without a doubt, Baltimore is a possibility, but we don't know anything yet. I haven't been told anything by the Ravens. We just want to go somewhere Brad is appreciated and feels good. The NFL is not easy to figure out."

Although Baltimore won the Super Bowl without a strong quarterback, the Ravens aren't eager to rely as heavily on their record-setting defense again. Johnson was a Pro Bowl selection in his first season with Washington but missed three games with a sprained knee last year and ultimately was benched for two games following coach Norv Turner's late-season dismissal.

Still, Johnson could be the premier available quarterback pending Grbac's status. Johnson was 7-4 last year with 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 75.7 rating. With the team's interior line and receivers hampered by injuries, Johnson's dropoff mirrored the offense's decline from second overall in 1999 to 11th last year.

If Baltimore doesn't sign Johnson, he could reunite with former Redskins coach Norv Turner, who is now the Chargers' offensive coordinator. San Diego is considering taking Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick with the first overall selection in the April 21-22 draft but might opt for Johnson and trade the pick for several choices to bolster its depth. Johnson flourished in Turner's offensive scheme and wouldn't mind reteaming with him.

Tampa Bay was also among Johnson's top choices. The Bucs' 26th-ranked passing offense was considered the prime reason for Tampa Bay's disappointing 10-6 season when the Bucs were considered Super Bowl contenders. Quarterback Shaun King's 75.8 rating was virtually identical to Johnson's, but King is an inexperienced, mobile passer who wasn't able to find receiver Keyshawn Johnson downfield regularly. Johnson's ability to hit second and third options would greatly enhance the Bucs. That Johnson played at Florida State and winters in Florida makes it a convenient choice.

Meanwhile, the Redskins might not replace Johnson until June after many high-priced veterans become available when the salary cap impact is spread over two seasons. Coach Marty Schottenheimer is looking for an experienced quarterback as a viable backup over second-year passer Todd Husak. The Redskins can't afford a high-priced backup because of salary cap constraints, though.

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