Pepper Johnson didn’t play himself off the New York Giants roster
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ Pepper Johnson didn’t play himself off the New York Giants roster. He talked himself off, probably for good.
A one-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker who had led the Giants in tackles four of the last five years, Johnson became a victim of his own mouth Monday as he and 11 others were either released or waived by new coach Dan Reeves.
The waiving of Johnson reinforced Reeves’ stated desire for players who won’t rock the boat.
Joining Johnson on the cut list were two-time Pro Bowl center Bart Oates, 1991 Super Bowl MVP Ottis Anderson, defensive end Eric Dorsey, cornerback Perry Williams, safety Lamar McGriggs and kicker Matt Bahr. All were starters last year except Anderson, 36, the oldest running back in the league.
Oates is expected to re-sign Tuesday when the roster expands to 53. It remains to be seen what will happen with Anderson, Williams and Bahr. Dorsey, a No. 1 draft pick in 1986, is likely to retire with hip and back problems.
Also released as the Giants reached the NFL’s 47-man limit were tackle Jeff Novak, wide receivers Joey Smith and Eric Weir, tight end John Brandes and defensive end Mark Flythe.
The decisons to cut Johnson and McGriggs weren’t made on talent. Johnson, who led the team in tackles in the preseason, was most talkative when things weren’t going his way.
He complained in 1989 when Bill Parcells took away his starting job because of a holdout, and he threatened mutiny last year when the defense was playing poorly for Ray Handley.
Johnson, a second-round draft pick in 1986, ran afoul of Reeves in two ways this season. He first balked at a proposed move from inside linebacker to outside linebacker and then he left training camp for a week in protest.
Just last week, Reeves said he would rather have a less talented player on his team than a more talented one who wasn’t a team player. Reeves backed up the statement Monday in saying goodbye to Johnson.
″You have to make decisions based on what you think is best for your football team,″ Reeves said. ″These 12 decisions are based on what we think is best. Certainly that decision (Johnson) was one of the ones along with six or seven other ones that were really more difficult because of the contributions they made here in the past and because of their ability to still play in the league.″
Johnson, who was scheduled to make $1.2 million in his final year of a three-year contract, becomes a free agent under the new collective bargaining agreement. He said he wouldn’t mind playing either in Cleveland under former Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick or in New England for Parcells. He also said has a lot of friends in Miami.
It’s extremely unlikely he’ll play for the Giants again.
″My mother always said don’t stay where you’re not wanted,″ Johnson said. ″... I had a pretty decent career with the Giants. I don’t feel my football career is over ’cause the Giants don’t feel I fit in their schemes for the future.″
Johnson, who earned his Pro Bowl berth in 1990, said player personnel director Tim Rooney told him the Giants had tried to trade him but had no takers, because of his contract.
Johnson admitted his mouth probably was one of the reasons he was let go.
″We have a new PR guy (Pat Hanlon) and he tries to tell you every time you have a press conference, everything to say,″ Johnson said. ″I told them, it doesn’t make any sense for me to speak with the media if you don’t want me to say what I think or what I feel. There shouldn’t be any coverups or anything hidden.″
With Johnson gone, Carlton Bailey will join Michael Brooks as the inside linebackers. Bailey and Brooks both signed big free-agent contracts with the Giants this spring, earning them both more than $1.75 million this year.
McGriggs, a third-year pro who started 12 games last season, had been battling Myron Guyton for the starting job at strong safety. However, he also has spoken out of turn at times, including last season when he asked to be traded after Handley made Guyton a starter again. Guyton had missed the early part of the year with back surgery.
McGriggs’ eyes were puffy and watery as he spoke after being waived.
″What can you say?″ he said. ″This is the deal. We’re all professionals but things are going on down there in the locker room that are mind- boggling.″
Oates, the Giants starting center since 1985, said he spoke with Reeves and was encouraged by what he heard.
″If they give me that call and tell me to come in, I’ve got to make that decision,″ Oates said.
Williams, a regular in the lineup since 1984, also could be coming back Tuesday. Bahr, who has made 75 percent of his field goals in three seasons with the Giants, is a question mark because of his short kickoffs.
Anderson’s future is also uncertain. He carried only 10 times last year for 31 yards as the backup to fullback Jarrod Bunch. Rookie Kenyon Rasheed has seemingly beaten him out for that position.