Key move may help unlock Buc success

Keyshawn Johnson’s whiney act finally grew stale in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs deactivated their star wide receiver Tuesday after Keyshawn’s recent behavior left them no choice. He has a history of being outspoken, but he crossed the line this season by publicly criticizing his coach and, according to Bucs General Manager Rich McKay and coach Jon Gruden, being a divisive influence in the Tampa Bay locker room.

The phrase “Give me the damn ball” has become synonymous with Keyshawn since his 1997 book of the same title. In the past, though, his verbal demands have been defendable, because, unlike some of the NFL’s other loudmouth players, Keyshawn has always been about winning. When his team won the Super Bowl last season, Johnson was, outside of one sideline argument with Gruden, relatively well-behaved. When he has played for struggling teams in the past, Johnson has spoken up simply because he thinks he can help his team win. There is nothing wrong with that.

But now Johnson has gone beyond criticizing his own role on the team. One month ago, he called Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, under whom Johnson played while with the New York Jets, a better mentor than Gruden. McKay and Gruden said in a news conference Tuesday that several players have complained to them about Johnson’s behavior and that at least some players would likely be happy with Keyshawn’s departure.

The Bucs will have to win their final six games to have a chance at making the playoffs for the fifth straight season, and the task will be made more difficult without their top receiver from the past three seasons. Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell are untested as No. 1 receivers, but the team has to give them a chance if Keyshawn really is causing a rift in the roster.

McKay said Johnson’s deactivation gives the team a better chance to win, and he may be right, but this is more realistically an attempt by the team to draw media attention away from its 4-6 record and allow fans to look toward the future. More changes are undoubtedly coming at the end of what has been an incredibly disappointing season for the defending champions.

By deactivating him rather than releasing him outright, the Buccaneers will have to pay Johnson’s salary despite not playing him. They retain the rights to Johnson, though, and will seek to trade him before next season. The team could soon enter a rebuilding stage, given their poor performance this season, and the draft picks or young talent they will gain from trading the eight-year veteran could be valuable.

The Cowboys would be a natural fit for Keyshawn, as he obviously admires Parcells, who has a knack for controlling seemingly uncontrollable players. Johnson would fit in with Dallas’ offensive scheme, which stresses short passes and ball control, and the Bucs may get a good offer from the Cowboys to send Keyshawn packing for Texas.

The Bucs are still loaded with loudmouth players similar to Johnson, and Tampa Bay fans may be growing tired of it. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp will likely be gone from Tampa after this season, due in large part to his arrogant theatrics. Offensive lineman Kenyatta Walker has proven to be a major disappointment, and he too may be saying goodbye to his teammates. Johnson’s leaving could be the prelude to a chain of events that bring a new team into Raymond James Stadium next season. Hopefully next year’s Bucs learn to leave their mouths and egos in the locker room.