Team felt WR was unhappy as backup

Updated: November 12, 2003, 11:35 AM ET
Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Kevin Johnson led the Cleveland Browns in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns as the club's most consistent playmaker since being drafted in 1999.

Apparently, that wasn't good enough for coach Butch Davis.

In a surprise move, Johnson was released Tuesday by Davis, who benched the sure-handed wide receiver last week.

"It's a complete shock to me," Johnson told The Associated Press in an interview at his home. "I'm still trying to figure this out."

The Browns signed Johnson to a four-year, $13.35 million contract extension with a $3.5 million signing bonus before last season.

Browns president Carmen Policy said the release stemmed from Johnson's inability to accept his role as a backup.

"He wasn't going to be able to handle the new role he was expected to play. The team is better off with Kevin not a part of the process," Policy said at a Wednesday news conference. "It appeared he lost any incentive to compete and participate as a member of the team if he couldn't be a starter."

Johnson, 27, said Davis called him into his office Tuesday to inform him that he was no longer wanted.

"I'm really disappointed in the way it ended, simply because of all that I've done for him," Johnson said. "I never questioned him and I never talked bad about him to anyone or about anything."

Despite leading the Browns (3-6) with 41 catches for 381 yards this season, Johnson had his starting job taken away by Davis, who was displeased with his performance.

Two weeks ago in a loss to San Diego, Johnson dropped a crucial pass on fourth down in the fourth quarter, cut short a route that led to an interception and underthrew a pass on a reverse that should have been a touchdown.

"This is not a knee-jerk reaction," Davis said in a statement. "We have been trying for almost three seasons to help Kevin perform to the level of expectations we have had for him."

Johnson had 192 receptions for 2,181 yards and 15 TDs in 41 games under Davis. In 73 games since he was taken by Cleveland with the first pick in the second round of the 1999 draft, Johnson had 315 catches for 3,836 yards and 23 TDs.

His best season came in 2001, when he set career highs with 84 receptions, 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns.

Benched last week in favor of second-year wideout Andre' Davis, Johnson only got on the field for a handful of plays in Sunday's 41-20 loss at Kansas City.

He had one catch, giving him 73 straight games with a reception. Davis had three catches for 35 yards starting in Johnson's place.

"I wanted to end my career here," Johnson said. "That's what hurts me the most."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press