- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Brad Johnson's football career has taken all kinds of unexpected twists and turns. At one point he found himself throwing passes for the London Monarchs of the World League. Three years later he got hurt and, through no fault of his own, lost his starting job with the Vikings. The year after that everybody thought he was going to be traded to Baltimore and be reunited with Brian Billick, but he wound up in Washington instead.

So we probably shouldn't be too surprised that he's a Tampa Bay Buc this morning, even though he had a second chance to join the Ravens and old buddy Billick. This is, after all, Brad Johnson we're talking about.

I have to admit, I'm disappointed Brad won't be throwing passes 30 miles up the road at PSINet Stadium. It would have been fun watching him try to lead Baltimore back to the Super Bowl and make Dan Snyder look even worse than he already does. After all, if Dan hadn't insisted on adding Jeff George to his football card collection, Johnson might still be the Redskins' quarterback. He's a much better fit for Marty Schottenheimer's low-risk system than George is.

But Snyder drove Johnson off, wouldn't sign him to a contract extension, and his felony was compounded Monday night when Tampa Bay, one of the Redskins' chief rivals in the NFC, sweet-talked Brad into a five-year, $28 million deal. Just like that, the Bucs, who have been looking for a quarterback their entire existence, became a Serious Super Bowl Contender not just a club that lives and dies with its defense.

In a lot of ways, Johnson and Tampa Bay are a perfect match, because time is running out for both of them. Brad will be 33 in September, and Warren Sapp and Co. aren't getting any younger, either. The Bucs have wasted the last two seasons trying to get by with young, limited Shaun King at QB (miraculously reaching the conference title game in '99). They can't afford to go that route any longer.

Yup, signing with Tampa makes a lot of sense for Johnson. First and foremost, it enables him to stay in the NFC, which is not only familiar territory but also happens to be the weaker conference. Heck, the Giants the Giants went to the Super Bowl last season. How hard could it be to overtake them? Staying in the NFC also increases his chances of playing the Redskins and settling a few scores.

With the Ravens, Johnson would have had a fabulous defense behind him, but he also would have had the burden of defending the title. On top of that, the second-best team in the league, the Titans, is in Baltimore's division, which doesn't allow for much margin of error. And frankly, the Ravens' offensive skill players aren't as good as Tampa Bay's. Keyshawn Johnson and Jacquez Green are better than any two receivers Billick has, and Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott are as versatile a backfield running and catching as there is in the NFL.

Last but not least, when Brad looks up in the huddle, he'll see Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel, a couple of guys he played with in Minnesota, staring back at him. That ought to make him feel nice and comfy. The only questionable thing about jumping to the Bucs is their new offensive coordinator, Clyde Christensen. Perhaps you remember him from his days at the University of Maryland (1992-93), when he tutored John Kaleo and Scott Milanovich. This is the first time he has run an offense in the NFL and, well, everybody has a learning curve. (And Johnson, let's not forget, is spoiled. He has spent the last eight years with Billick and Norv Turner, two of the brightest offensive minds around.)

If Christensen works out, though, I expect Brad to hit the ground running in Tampa, just like he did with the Redskins (60.9 percent completions, 4,005 yards, 24 touchdowns and a Pro Bowl berth in his first season). They're going to love him down there love his consistency, love his friendliness, love the southern twang in his voice. He's not Joe Montana, but as the Ravens and Giants showed last season, you don't need Joe Montana to get to the Super Bowl as long as you've got a killer defense.

As for the Ravens, I wouldn't worry too much about them. They won it all with Trent Dilfer at the controls; if Brad Johnson doesn't want their money, I'm sure Elvis Grbac will suffice. He's even two years younger and has spent less time in the body shop.

It seems strange, though, doesn't it? Here's Brad going off to Tampa to try to win a ring a dream that, a year ago, he thought might come true in Washington. How did it go so wrong so quickly?

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