Josh Johnson is accustomed to moving around the NFL. On Wednesday, he moved from one league to another.
Johnson was the first player protected last week in a quarterbacks-only draft held by the Alliance of American Football, which will begin play the weekend after the Super Bowl in February. His rights in the eight-team spring league were owned by the San Diego Fleet.
But when the Washington Redskins needed a backup for a third-stringer — with top quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy out with broken legs, Mark Sanchez is now the starter — they turned to Johnson. The Alliance has an “NFL out” in its contract, league founder and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Polian explains. So Johnson was allowed to terminate his deal with the Fleet and head to D.C.
“He is a good player clearly, and he deserved to be taken where he was in our draft,” Polian said Wednesday, “and we’re glad he has an opportunity with the Redskins. If he is able to come back with us, that would be great. And if he stays with the Redskins, that is what we are here for.”
Johnson, 32, has been active for four NFL teams since being selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by Tampa Bay. He’s also spent time in several other camps, but has not thrown a pass in an NFL game since 2011. He started five games for the Bucs and lost them all.
“I’ve been with Josh,” Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “He was with me at Cincinnati. He was with me at Tampa. And he knows the terminology. So when I say ‘Dusty,’ he knows exactly what it is. ‘Quick seam,’ he knows what it is. So he can function that way, with the cadence, with the terminology.
“When you have three or four days to prepare for a team and get a quarterback ready, you got to have somebody with some familiarity. I felt most comfortable with Josh because he knows our protection calls. He remembers a lot of our terminology. He can move around a little bit. But mainly, for the sake of communication we had to have somebody that had a little bit of background in our system.”
Johnson was brought in by a few teams this year for workouts when they had quarterback injuries, but figured his next on-field performances would be in the Alliance. Given Washington’s bad luck at the position this year, however, there’s a chance he could be playing against the Giants on Sunday.
“I’m grateful to The Alliance for giving me the opportunity to continue my pro career,” Johnson said. “I know I can play this game at a high level and having coach (Mike) Martz, who won a Super Bowl, select me to lead the San Diego Fleet was further validation for me. What I loved about The Alliance was their commitment to players. They made it clear from the jump if an opportunity presented itself to continue my dream of playing in the NFL, they would fully support me. That’s what happened here with the Redskins, and I’m ready to go if and when my name is called.”
Fifteen players who had signed with the Alliance are currently under contract in the NFL. All would be welcomed back to the new league should they not stick in the NFL.