by Brian Allee-Walsh
New Orleans sants inside linebacker Vaughan Johnson has signed a four-year contract apparently worth $4 million, sources familiar with the negotiations said Monday.
Johnson’s contract, which includes long-term annuities and other creative payout clauses, makes him the highest paid Saints’ player. He is 29 and coming off his second consecutive appearance in the Pro Bowl.
Saints President/General Manager Jim Finks also announced the signings Monday of two key veterans, tight end Hoby Brenner, 31, and defensive lineman Jim Wilks, 33. Each signed a two-year pact. No other contract details were disclosed.
“I’ve always felt, ability-wise, that I was in the top group of linebackers in the NFL,” Johnson said when reached Monday night at his home in Morehead City, N.C. “That’s all I’m going to say. I’m happy with my contract. That’s why I signed it. I’m happy that it’s over, and I can concentrate on playing football.”
Asked if his new million-dollar contract would quiet critics of the Saints who question their frugal spending habits, Johnson said: “I say they’re getting better. But they have to. The salaries are going up all around the league.”
Johnson’s agent, Joe Courrege, said the contract was consummated March 1, but he would not discuss other financial details. Courrege said he spent 10 days in Southern Baptist Hospital in early February after suffering a collapsed left lung upon arrival in New Orleans from his home in Dallas.
“It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t overnight,” Finks said of Johnson’s negotiations. “But it is done. He’s happy, and I’m happy that he’s going to be in training camp.”
Last season, Johnson said he anticipated a protracted negotiation and was prepared to hold out if the numbers weren’t right. He earned a base salary of $400,000 in 1990, well below what outside linebackers Rickey Jackson ($775,000), Pat Swilling ($700,000) and other top linebackers in the league earned.
This season, Jackson will earn $825,000 and Swilling $775,000 in base salary. Johnson, who played two seasons with the Jacksonville Bulls in the USFL before joining the Saints in 1986 has played in two consecutive Pro Bowls.
“There was a willingness by Vaughan’s agent to get it done and not drag it out,” Finks said. “He didn’t want to make a media event out of it. He wanted to get the job done, and we got it done.”
Last season, Jackson missed part of training camp, and Swilling missed his second consecutive training camp because of contract disputes.
“This is a good sign,” said Saints inside linebacker Sam Mills, who will earn a base salary of $337,500 this year, the final one of his contract. “To get Vaughan signed this quick is a positive thing for this team, because generally speaking, our starters don’t get signed this quick.
“This means we can get into camp and get to work right away. It’s a surprise, but it’s a good step for this organization.”
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