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Keyshawn Johnson retires, joins ESPN

Keyshawn Johnson gave up football for a microphone, retiring from the NFL and taking his opinionated voice to ESPN.

LOS ANGELES (May 23, 2007) -- Keyshawn Johnson gave up football for a microphone, retiring from the NFL and taking his opinionated voice to ESPN.

Johnson, one of the NFL's top receivers during an 11-year career, agreed to a multiyear contract and will appear on several ESPN telecasts, including pregame shows on Sundays and Monday nights.

"I've done everything I wanted to do in my career. I tried to find as much as I could to push me back and play football for one or two more years," Johnson said at a news conference on the Southern California campus, where he starred in college.

"I wavered time and time again," he 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."

Johnson turned down several offers to keep playing, including one from the Tennessee Titans.

Jerome Stanley, Johnson's agent, said his client agreed to terms what he called a substantial deal with ESPN.

"We're very, very pleased," Stanley said, adding that the Titans offered a two-year deal with most of the money guaranteed.

Johnson, who will turn 35 in July, said at least a half-dozen teams offered him a job.

"Those guys were terrific, from Lane Kiffin to Bill Belichick to Jeff Fisher," Johnson said, referring to the coaches in Oakland, New England and Tennessee, respectively. "They all wanted me to play football for them. At the end of the day, it just didn't fit into what I wanted to do now."

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.

"When Keyshawn decided to retire from football, we jumped at the chance of adding him to our NFL roster, especially after his impressive on-air performance during the NFL draft," ESPN executive vice president Norby Williamson said. "He delivered passionate opinions and candid analysis, attributes that will make him a first-rate analyst in his new career."

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.

He visited the Titans last week, meeting with coaches and watching film.

Fisher, who became friends with Johnson while he played at USC and Johnson was a ball boy, said May 21 he thought Johnson's numbers and production spoke for themselves.

"He still played at a high level last year. He takes very good care of himself," Fisher said. "He hasn't had any injuries per se. Anytime you get a chance to bring an experienced veteran in to add to your roster then it's a good thing."

Johnson was the top pick in the 1996 draft, being selected by the New York Jets. After a good rookie season -- 63 catches, eight touchdowns -- for a team that went 1-15, he wrote a book: Just Give Me The Damn Ball, which was well received by the public if not by his teammates.

He eventually earned the nickname "Me-shawn" for that, but his coaches, particularly Bill Parcells with both the Jets and Dallas Cowboys, considered him a hard worker and versatile clutch player. Parcells once called Johnson one of the best players he had coached.

But Johnson did have run-ins 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.

Johnson 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.

The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2007, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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