Redskins Are Pursuing C. Johnson

By Jason La Canfora and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Washington Redskins, who repeatedly have said they want to emphasize the draft over acquiring high-profile stars, continue to pursue trading their first-round pick for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson, sources said yesterday.

Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis confirmed yesterday to ESPN and the Associated Press that his team turned down the Redskins' most recent offer: a first-round pick and a conditional third-round pick for Johnson.

Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, said only: "We'll just leave it with what Marvin Lewis said. I really don't think there's anything to add to that."

The deal remains unlikely because the Bengals have refused to budge on their stance on Johnson's availability and would take an $8 million salary cap hit if he is traded before June. After the Redskins approached Cincinnati, Bengals owner Mike Brown reiterated he would not trade Johnson, who has publicly lashed out at team officials and teammates while trying to force a trade, said NFL executives who have spoken with Cincinnati.

Washington's pursuit of Johnson or another top wide receiver who might be dealt before the draft is expected to continue up until the Redskins make their first-round pick, the 21st overall, on Saturday. Acquiring Johnson has been the Redskins' No. 1 offseason objective and they are prepared to guarantee him about $21 million as part of a new contract, according to league sources.

Washington hopes to provide developing quarterback Jason Campbell with a bigger target as the team transitions to new coach Jim Zorn's version of the West Coast offense. As reported in January, owner Daniel Snyder and Cerrato told several of their head coaching candidates that they were seeking Johnson, who is 6 feet 1, 192 pounds, to be the primary target for Campbell.

Zorn, while meeting with reporters after the Redskins' pre-draft news conference at Redskins Park yesterday, was asked whether he could handle Johnson, who is among the league's most outspoken and animated players. "I really don't know Chad all that well and I haven't spoken to him, obviously," said Zorn, alluding to league rules that prohibit teams from contacting players under contract with other clubs.

"You'd really like to get to know a guy before you jump in. In this kind of situation, I don't know yet. You'd hate to comment or speculate on something that's really not there. . . . He's a great, great football player. No question about it."

Johnson, who is represented by Drew Rosenhaus, has been lobbying for a trade since the end of last season, when the Bengals finished 7-9. Although he no longer speaks to Cincinnati reporters, he has given interviews nationally and told ESPN last Wednesday: "I want to be traded before the draft, and if that doesn't happen, I want to be traded as soon as possible," Johnson said. "I don't intend on reporting to anything."

Johnson, 30, had a typically productive season in 2007, with 93 receptions for 1,440 yards and eight touchdowns. In seven seasons, he has caught 559 passes for 8,365 yards and 49 touchdowns.

Yesterday, Lewis was adamant about what Johnson should do.

"I've stated our case with Chad," Lewis said. "He has a contract through 2011. He's stated without an opportunity to go to a different team and a new contract, he wasn't going to play. I think he's a man of his word and says he's not going to play, so don't play."

If they don't get Johnson, the Redskins might try to trade down in the first round if the top players they have targeted are off the board when they pick. Cerrato acknowledged he has spoken with many teams about trading down, but "whether it happens or not, you just don't know right now," he said. "There has been a lot of interest from teams to move up, but everybody is interested on Monday. Come Saturday, we'll see. It's just hard to say. It all depends on who's there and what they offer you."

While the Redskins continue to monitor the situation in Cincinnati, they have focused their draft efforts on Oklahoma wide receiver Malcolm Kelly and Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling, team sources said. Listed at 6-4, 224 pounds, Kelly fits the size requirements of a big wide receiver. The Redskins brought him in for a visit recently, traveled to Oklahoma to attend one of his workouts and are expected to evaluate him at another private workout tomorrow in Oklahoma.

Kelly, who declared for the draft after his junior season, is second on the Sooners' all-time list with 2,285 receiving yards and fifth with 144 receptions. With 21 career touchdown receptions, Kelly is tied for seventh in Big 12 Conference history.

At an April 9 workout for NFL scouts on the Oklahoma campus, Kelly had a disappointing performance in the 40-yard dash. And after being clocked at 4.68 seconds, Kelly raised eyebrows in making critical comments about the surface he ran on and how Oklahoma's staff conducted the workout.

Kelly, who said he had 40-yard dash times of 4.5 seconds and 4.47 seconds in another workout earlier this month, ran for scouts again last week at Oklahoma City and posted times of 4.69 seconds and 4.63 seconds, according to a release from Oklahoma's media relations department.

As for Kelly's comments after the workout, "that's not the type of person he is," Kelly's agent, Chad Speck, said last week. "He never had that type of reputation. It's not something that happened in the past and it's not something that will happen again. He was just frustrated. He would be the first person to tell you he didn't handle that as maturely as he should have."

The Redskins have dropped many players from their internal draft board because of character questions, Cerrato said. "You evaluate every piece of the puzzle," he said, not commenting specifically on Kelly. "All pieces of the puzzle, you put it all together, and evaluate it as a whole. You don't evaluate it individually. You put it all together and look at the whole body of work."

As for Merling (6-5, 280), Washington's attention has turned from defensive tackle -- which defensive coordinator Greg Blache considered to be a strong position of need -- to defensive end in recent days, in part because of factors beyond the team's control. There will be a huge drop-off after the top four defensive tackles are selected in the top 10 picks, scouts said, and it would be a stretch to take one in the top two rounds where the Redskins pick. Washington, however, likely will consider selecting Arkansas standout Marcus Harrison (6-3, 317) in the third round if he's still on the board.

Merling rates higher than Miami defensive end Calais Campbell (6-8, 280) at this point with the Redskins, sources said, but things could change after the final workouts this week. Merling slid down some boards after requiring sports hernia surgery. As with Kelly, however, Merling is a junior with a big upside, scouts said.

"He's working out on Thursday," Cerrato said of Merling. "We'll get a chance to evaluate him."

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