Sports Outside the Beltway

Keyshawn Johnson retires from NFL, joins ESPN

The overall #1 pick of the 1996 Draft has called it quits.

LOS ANGELES – Keyshawn Johnson has caught the damn ball in the NFL for the last time. Johnson, who played a great game and talked one as well during an 11-year career, retired Wednesday despite several offers to continue playing.

He’ll soon be expressing his strong opinions on ESPN.

Johnson has agreed to a multiyear contract, and will appear on several ESPN telecasts, including pre-game shows on Sundays and Monday nights, and do some radio work as well.

Johnson, who turns 35 in July, was released three weeks ago by the Carolina Panthers. He said at least a half-dozen teams offered him a new job.

Johnson became the 16th player in NFL history to reach 800 career receptions and the 26th with 10,000 receiving yards last season, when he caught 70 passes for 815 yards and four touchdowns for the Carolina Panthers.

He finishes with 814 receptions for 10,571 yards and 64 touchdowns in 167 games.

“I wavered time and time again,” Johnson said. “I’ve lived my dream. Now, I’m going to live another dream. I think today is not as emotional as the last two weeks, thinking about it. There were times there were sleepless nights, wondering if this was the right thing to do.”

Parcells became Johnson’s coach with the Jets in 1997 — a year after Johnson caught 63 passes as a rookie for a team that went 1-15. Following that season, he wrote a book: “Just Give Me The Damn Ball,” which proved popular with fans if not his teammates.

Johnson eventually earned the nickname “Me-shawn” for that, but his coaches, particularly Parcells, considered him a hard worker and versatile player. Parcells once called Johnson one of the best he’d coached.

But Johnson did have a feud 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.

He 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 performed well as the No. 2 receiver behind Steve Smith in Carolina.

Johnson worked the NFL draft last month for ESPN, which was impressed enough to offer him a job. He was released by Carolina three days after the Panthers took former USC star wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett in the second round.

Johnson’s release by Carolina came as a surprise as did his retirement. Keyshawn was a good player, but considered a disappointment by many. When you go #1 in an NFL draft, rightly or wrongly a superstar career is expected not just a good and productive career. Too bad Keyshawn didn’t stick around a little longer. A few teams, including my Dolphins, could have used him.

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