Teammates knew Johnson wanted out

Updated: November 19, 2003, 8:39 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- When Keyshawn Johnson spouted, some of his teammates listened and others tuned him out.

"Me being a veteran, I can let one thing go in one ear and out the other. Some people can't," Tampa Bay receiver Keenan McCardell said.

"Some people need to vent their emotions. When you're losing, you can't do that. ... I really think he just needed to get some things off his chest."

McCardell, like many of the other Buccaneers, were only mildly surprised when the Super Bowl champions decided Tuesday to deactivate Johnson for the remainder of the season.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection likely will be traded or released next year.

"I don't want to make it seem like it was a distraction. It wasn't like he was around here being a jerk all the time," safety John Lynch said. "That's not his personality. He was here -- he showed up -- he was working. But it just was clear that he didn't want to be here. That affects the karma in the locker room. That affects everything."

The defending champs began life without their star receiver on Wednesday, holding team meetings in the morning and a two-hour practice in the afternoon in preparation for Monday night's game against the New York Giants.

Johnson's name remained on a locker full of his equipment, however the Bucs clearly are trying to move on.

"Obviously, people are going to have their opinions about it, but at this point it doesn't matter," linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "You've got to get your focus back on the field and worry about the things that are important to this football team and that is preparing to get a win."

Johnson was unhappy with his role in Gruden's offense and let the coach and general manager Rich McKay know that he didn't wish to remain in Tampa Bay beyond this season. Although he vowed to continue to play hard, McKay said the eight-year pro's attitude changed and eventually became disruptive.

Gruden and McKay denied they were trying to make an example of Johnson or send a message to the rest of the team, which is stuck in a three-game losing streak and in danger of missing the playoffs.

"It sends a message to Keyshawn, obviously. I don't know what it does for the rest of the team," cornerback Ronde Barber said.

"I don't know if we look at this as a spark. I think we need to spark ourselves. I think we need to realize the gravity of our situation right now. We're 4-6 and a loss or so away from playing spoiler roles for the rest of the year. That's enough of a motivating factor, I think."

While no one questioned Johnson's effort on the field, several players agreed with Barber's assessment that management could not allow anything -- or anybody -- to become a negative influence in the locker room.

McKay and Gruden said Johnson missed several mandatory workouts and meetings, an allegation the receiver denied.

"I think with everything that takes place you have to buy into the team. You have to buy into things that are said and told to you," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "Obviously, there were some things that took place between management and Keyshawn that they didn't agree upon, and management made the choice for themselves."

Added Lynch: "I think he wanted to be a good team guy and continue to put forth the effort. But one of the things that makes this such a great game is that if your heart's not in it, it doesn't work. And I think ultimately, that manifested itself in different ways, and this is probably best for both sides and we move on."

Joe Jurevicius, who's missed most of this season with a knee injury, will move into Johnson's spot in the lineup opposite McCardell, who's having one of the best seasons of his career.

Reggie Barlow, Karl Williams and Charles Lee also could get more playing time.

"It's a team game. It's not just on me. It's not on them," said McCardell, who has 49 receptions for 748 yards and seven touchdowns. "It's everybody on this offense."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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