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Johnson makes wise move

In a football world where cap-onomics reign supreme, Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson reluctantly agreed to a pay cut for a second straight season, reducing his 2002 salary cap figure to $4 million for a savings of around $1.5 million.

In the end, his willingness to swallow his pride along with his ego probably helped his wallet.

How can a pay cut help his wallet? It can help it when the alternative is to start firing off resumes two weeks into a free agent market flooded with players, but light on cash.

So Johnson reportedly agreed to reduce his base salary from $3.1 million to $650,000 for 2002. But the agreement enables him to receive the $1 million roster bonus due to be paid March 15 as well as a $100,000 workout bonus that is money in the bank for a player often criticized for overworking in the offseason.

His total compensation not including any incentives will be $1.75 million, which is more than he was reportedly offered by the Green Bay Packers after receiving permission to negotiate with another club.

The $1 million roster bonus and a lesser offer elsewhere may have aided Johnson's decision to change his mind about the pay cut at which he originally balked. Two years ago, the Patriots restructured Max Lane's contract to gain cap dollars and eventually cut the player anyway and Johnson surely didn't want to let the team off the hook by accepting a reduced salary only to be released later.

Lane's deal was re-worked so the organization could buy some recovery time on his surgically repaired knee. Lane was eventually let go and didn't sign with another club.

But with the team agreeing to pay Johnson the $1 million roster bonus due Friday, he is virtually guaranteed to be on the roster in 2002. Add the lesser offer from Green Bay and Johnson made the right call by throwing aside any stubbornness to take the best deal available, avoid being released and remaining on the team for which he's played his entire career.

The Patriots did not want to release Johnson, but likely would have without this restructure. With Johnson's recent injury history and reduced role late last season, the organization clearly felt he didn't provide adequate value with a salary cap number of $5.5 million.

But he is a high-character player, a diligent worker and remains a tough run-stopper in the middle of a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Those characteristics fit the player's mold Head Coach Bill Belichick searches for and is why the Patriots wanted to retain the eighth-year linebacker's services.

Linebacker remains a need for the Patriots with Roman Phifer and Bryan Cox still unsigned and no promising young players looking to crack the lineup at that position. Larry Izzo remains on the roster, but has never been more than a fill-in starter while excelling in his role as a special teams maven. Two of last year's regular starters – Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel – are already under contract for 2002, but it is a good bet that the Patriots will remain active in the market for a linebacker in free agency, the draft or both.

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