The NFL probably will fine Washington Redskins guard Tre Johnson approximately $20,000 but probably won't suspend him from Saturday's NFC semifinal game at Tampa Bay, sources familiar with the situation said yesterday.
League officials, including Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and senior director of officiating Jerry Seeman, are scheduled to review the matter today, according to sources. They plan to review videotapes of Saturday's incident, in which Johnson struck an official twice as he was being pulled away from a group of scuffling players during the Redskins' 27-13 victory over the Detroit Lions in a first-round playoff game.
According to sources, the NFL officials reviewing the matter also will get the input of Bob McElwee, the referee who ejected Johnson following the third-quarter incident.
Sources familiar with the thinking of top league officials said that, barring a last-minute twist today, the NFL likely will discipline the Redskins' Pro Bowler in the same way it disciplined Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Wayne Gandy for a similar incident in the final weekend of the regular season. Gandy was fined $20,000 but was not suspended.
Johnson said he struck back judge Bill Leavy accidentally, and television replays seemed to support that contention. Redskins Coach Norv Turner said yesterday he expects the Pro Bowl guard to be fined but not suspended.
"Based on the reaction of the officials during the game when I talked to them, based on the reaction I've gotten [since then] and based on what has happened in the past with these situations, it's been something that has been fined," Turner said during a news conference at Redskin Park. "It certainly wasn't intentional. It was poor judgment on Tre's part. From everything I've heard, it would be something that would be a fine."
League officials are not inclined to suspend Johnson because they believe he hit Leavy unintentionally, sources said. That apparently is the key, because the NFL suspended Cleveland Browns tackle Orlando Brown indefinitely after he shoved an official to the ground after being struck in the eye by a thrown penalty flag.
The NFL is more reluctant to suspend a player for such an incident than baseball or basketball officials would be because the football season is so much shorter and each game is so important, sources said. The league would be even more reluctant to penalize a team during the postseason by suspending a key player, according to sources.
The Redskins could ill afford to lose Johnson for their matchup with the Buccaneers, who have one of the league's best and most aggressive defenses. Washington already will be without Andy Heck after the veteran left tackle tore a hamstring muscle Saturday. Center Cory Raymer's status also is in doubt because of a pulled muscle in his side.
With the Redskins leading, 27-0, early in the third quarter Saturday, quarterback Brad Johnson threw an interception and was hit by Lions defensive end Robert Porcher as the play ended. Johnson wrestled Porcher to the ground, and Tre Johnson and other players joined the fray. Tre Johnson was swinging his arms wildly at a Lions player when he was pulled away, and he struck Leavy twice on the head.
Turner said that he wasn't pleased that Johnson struck an official but he thinks the player's intentions in protecting his quarterback were good.
"That's what it is to be a team," Turner said. "Tre knows as well as anyone how valuable Brad is to our football team. When he's back there wrestling with a guy of that stature, Tre is trying to help."