August 7, 2003 at 12:58 PM EST - Updated June 23 at 7:34 AM
By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) - Kevin Johnson's locker was stripped bare, a sight nearly as stunning as the veteran wide receiver's release by the Cleveland Browns.
No. 85, a fixture for nearly five seasons, was long gone.
"It's very strange," said receiver Quincy Morgan, whose locker butted up to Johnson's. "It's something I have to get used to, but I have to go ahead and play football. The guy right next to me. It's very emotional for me."
However, there were no tears or moving tributes by Browns players on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Johnson, the club's leading receiver and top playmaker since 1999, was cut by coach Butch Davis.
The Browns (3-6) are moving on without their No. 1 wideout. Not that they have much of a choice.
"It's not all about K.J. around here, man," Morgan said. "We've got guys that can play football."
Both Davis and Browns president Carmen Policy said Johnson's release was the direct result of his inability to accept his recent benching.
It capped more than two years during which the club had been frustrated with his Johnson's selfish attitude and disappointed with the 27-year-old's play.
Johnson, who signed Wednesday with Jacksonville, failed to block or run proper pass routes. He was also unwilling to correct his mistakes or be supportive of his teammates, Davis and Policy said.
Last week Davis started second-year wideout Andre' Davis in place of Johnson, who only had made one catch in about 10 plays during Cleveland's 41-20 loss at Kansas City.
"It appeared he lost any incentive to compete and participate as a member of the team if he couldn't be the starter," Policy said.
Butch Davis said he had run out of patience with Johnson.
"There was no other way," he said. "We tried just about everything humanly possible. We tried benching him and it (his performance) went further south. You could tell it wasn't going to get any better."
After Johnson (pictured, above) recorded career highs in catches (84), yards (1,097) and touchdowns (9) in 2001, the Browns gave him a contract extension before last season that included a $3.5 million signing bonus. Policy said the club hoped the deal would motivate Johnson, but it seemed to have the opposite affect.
The Browns, however, thought enough of Johnson to put him on the cover of this year's media guide along with Morgan, Andre' Davis and fellow wideout Dennis Northcutt.
"We've tried to do everything to promote Kevin," Policy said. "We tried to do everything to make him feel wanted. He's our No. 1 receiver and with that classification comes a responsibility. There's an obligation, a duty.
"You have got to conduct yourself and you have to perform in a way that serves as an example for every other receiver. If they are going to see the No. 1 guy, who gets paid the most, running short routes because he wants to, that doesn't sit well with the organization, the coaching staff and it shouldn't sit well with other players. That's why he is held to a higher standard."
Browns defensive end Kenard Lang said he was unaware of Johnson's shortcomings, and he wasn't about to challenge Policy's critique of his former teammate.
"If Mr. Policy saw it, I saw it," Lang said. "I'm not arguing with the man. Whatever he says, goes."
However, none of the Browns were willing to characterize Johnson as a bad teammate.
"He was never a negative influence, not to me and not to other guys," safety Earl Little. "I don't watch their (offensive) game film. All I know is that in the locker room he was a cool guy and a good teammate."
After being benched last week, Johnson stood in front of his locker and defended his production over the past 4½ seasons by quoting many of his impressive stats.
That bothered Policy, who pointed out that Johnson used "I, me and my" 30 times in the interview session.
Morgan said he dropped the phone when he learned Johnson had been let go. He was surprised by the timing, but not that Davis and the Browns' coaching staff had given up on him.
"They gave K.J. two years to correct what they wanted to correct," Morgan said. "You want the scoop? That's the scoop. It was not two weeks. They gave K.J. two years."
Morgan said Davis' decision to release Johnson sent a strong message to Cleveland's players.
"It lets you know if you're not doing your job you can have it taken away from you," he said. "I think that's what everybody is looking at right now. If you're not doing your job, they're going to get rid of you."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)