Veteran passes up several teams to come full circle
Just two years after winning a Super Bowl title with the Buccaneers, quarterback Brad Johnson is on the move again.
Seemingly prepared to finish his long career playing for the same franchise with which he began his NFL tenure, Johnson on Wednesday agreed to contract terms with the Vikings. He was released by the Bucs nearly three weeks ago for salary-cap reasons.
Johnson will sign a four-year, $6 million contract, which includes a $1.2 million signing bonus. His total compensation will be $2.2 million for the '05 season; it is not known how that contract compared to offers from other teams.
Minnesota drafted Johnson in the ninth round of the 1992 draft. His decision to rejoin the Vikings came after Johnson generated considerable interest as a free agent by teams seeking an experienced backup. The 36-year-old Johnson chose the Vikings after considering offers from Seattle and Chicago. He also visited with the Dolphins and Lions.
Only in Miami, which it is believed did not make a formal contract proposal, might the 13-year veteran had an opportunity to start. Every other team with which Johnson visited regarded him as a valuable insurance policy for a younger quarterback.
"Part of this [decision] is coming to a comfort zone," Johnson acknowledged. "And that means being comfortable with your role and with the people around you. There is a sense of familiarity [in Minnesota] and it's a good situation."
Johnson began his career on Minnesota's bench for four seasons, but his career has now come full circle. He will serve as the backup to Daunte Culpepper, one of the NFL's rising stars, a player coming off a career season who rarely misses playing time. Since winning the job in 2000, Culpepper has missed only seven starts in five years, including only two in the last three seasons.
The need for a backup to Culpepper arose when Gus Frerotte, who had been No. 2 in Minnesota the past two years, signed with Miami as an unrestricted free agent. Even before Frerotte officially departed, Vikings officials targeted Johnson as a potential replacement.
"He's someone we know and respect," vice president Rob Brzezinski said.
Only a week ago, Johnson spoke about his desire to find an opportunity to possibly start again. But reality set in quickly and he finally had to decide on which of the backup situations most appealed to him. Agent Phil Williams said his client will have "no problem at all" fitting into a reserve role for a team with which he once started, and will be "totally supportive" of Culpepper.
The two have never worked together, but there is one key connection between them. After the 1998 season, the Vikings traded Johnson to the Washington Redskins for first-, second- and third-round picks in the '99 draft. Minnesota used the first-round choice gained from the Vikings in that deal, the 11th selection overall, to take Culpepper.
Johnson, who wasn't even a starter for much of his college career at Florida State, did not start his first NFL game until 1996, his fifth season in the league. In stints with Minnesota (1992-98), Washington (1999-2000) and Tampa Bay (2001-2004), he has started in 99 of his 115 appearances. He has 2,166 completions in 3,504 attempts for 23,913 yards, with 143 touchdown passes, 98 interceptions and a career passer rating of 84.0.
Only three times has Johnson started all 16 games in a season. He has thrown for 3,000 yards on five occasions and for more than 4,000 yards once. The highlight of his career came in 2002, when he led the Bucs to victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVI.
With Johnson headed to the Vikings, there still remain several teams -- Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Green Bay and possibly New England -- seeking a veteran backup.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton also contributed to this story.