Keyshawn Johnson retires
AP Football Writer
Keyshawn Johnson retired Wednesday, ending an NFL career in which the outspoken receiver was once one of the game’s biggest threats.
He joins ESPN as a sportscaster and was to disclose his plans at a news conference in Los Angeles at USC, where he starred in college.
“The opportunity to transition from active player to broadcaster at the level of ESPN and ABC was too great to pass up,” Johnson said in a statement issued by ESPN.
“Although I am currently able to play at the same high NFL level that many fans are used to seeing, walking away while at that level is what I have chosen to do. With teams attempting to sign me, and multiyear playing offers on the table, I realized that I have accomplished all of my goals as a professional football player.”
Last month, Johnson worked the NFL draft for ESPN, which was impressed enough to offer him a job. He was released by the Carolina Panthers days after the draft.
“When Keyshawn decided to retire from football, we jumped at the chance of adding him to our NFL roster, especially after his impressive on-air performance during the NFL draft,” ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said. “He delivered passionate opinions and candid analysis, attributes that will make him a first-rate analyst in his new career.”
Johnson, who turns 35 in July, spent 11 years in the league. Last season, he became the 16th NFL player with 800 career catches.
He visited the Tennessee Titans last week and met with coaches and watched film.
But the Titans had not made a formal offer, and team officials had been talking with Johnson about the range and money that would be involved in any deal.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who became friends with Johnson while he played at USC and Johnson was a ball boy, said Monday he thought Johnson’s numbers and production spoke for themselves.
“He still played at a high-level last year. He takes very good care of himself,” Fisher said. “He hasn’t had any injuries per se. Anytime you get a chance to bring an experienced veteran in to add to your roster then it’s a good thing.”
Johnson was the top pick in the 1996 draft, by the New York Jets. After a good rookie season ” 63 catches, eight touchdowns ” for a team that went 1-15, he wrote a book: “Just Give Me The Damn Ball,” which was well-received by the public if not by his teammates.
He eventually earned the nickname “Me-shawn” for that, but his coaches, particularly Bill Parcells with both the Jets and Dallas Cowboys, considered him a hard worker and versatile clutch player. Parcells once called Johnson one of the best players he’d coached.
But Johnson did have run-ins with Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet when they played together and, less than a year after helping Tampa Bay win the 2003 Super Bowl, Johnson’s spat with Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden got him suspended for the final six games of the season.
Johnson then joined Parcells and the Cowboys, where he had two productive seasons, with 141 catches and 12 touchdowns.
The Panthers signed Johnson last year after he was released by Dallas in a salary cap move so the Cowboys could sign Terrell Owens. While Owens had 85 catches for 1,180 yards and 13 TDs last year as the focal point of the passing game in Dallas, Johnson had 70 catches for 815 yards and four touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith in Carolina.