A Rich Tale Of Perseverance

August 28th, 2023

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Yeah, that was him. Same guy.

It’s hard to believe Josh Johnson is still out there, flinging footballs and making guys miss when he starts to scramble. Yet there he was Saturday night against the Bucs — the franchise that once drafted him in the fifth round.

How many years have passed?

Jon Gruden called then-Bucs rookie QB Josh Johnson the team’s secret weapon in 2008.

Jon Gruden was still on the Tampa Bay sidelines and Derrick Brooks was still making plays.

Johnson, 37, has authored one of the more intriguing stories in recent NFL history. He’s one of only four players still active from that 2008 draft, joining Calais Campbell (Atlanta), Matt Slater (New England) and Duane Brown of the Jets.

Johnson completed 6-of-9 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens in a 26-20 setback at Raymond James Stadium. Incredibly, Johnson has been a part of 14 NFL organizations since the Bucs selected him out of the University of San Diego, where he threw 113 TD passes and only 15 interceptions.

The first player ever selected out of UCSD, Johnson keeps hop-scotching around the NFL map. Let’s not forget he also played in the United Football League, the Alliance of American Football league and the XFL during a dizzying 16-year odyssey.

“Josh has jumped on it for a long time,” says Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “He’s a guy that has always had to do it the hard way and always had to fight his way up. He talked to the team about that recently, and here he is, again, fighting for a spot.

What does that say about a career? That is a career that kind of speaks for itself and it’s something that really deserves a lot of honor.”

As a rookie in 2008, Johnson failed to dress as the Bucs finished 9-7 after a 9-3 start. Gruden and GM Bruce Allen were fired after the season and Raheem Morris quickly came to appreciate Johnson’s mobility and moxie. After an 0-3 start in 2009, Morris benched Byron Leftwich and installed Johnson as Tampa Bay’s starter.

Johnson lost all four of his starts that year, completing only 50 percent of his passes, before Josh Freeman took over. His only victory in nine career NFL starts came in 2018, when he led Washington past Jacksonville 16-13.

Johnson executed well against the Bucs’ first-team defense on Saturday night.

The word “doggedness” does Johnson a disservice. Here he is, still competing on an NFL level against much younger players. You can belittle him a perpetual backup, but you can’t deny the determination, the drive and the pride.

“A lot of people try to put you in a box when you go through things that I go through,” he says. “It’s kind of the way of the world to try to label you and do all these different things. And I won’t be defined by that. That’s kind of what my story shows – that you make your own story. I’ve been able to show different things with my legs, with my arms. The guys who get in the huddle with me, understand my experience. Hopefully, I’ve done enough to be able to earn a spot somewhere.”

For the bulk of his pro career, Johnson has been told he’s not tall enough or accurate enough to succeed at the NFL level. When you watched him against the Bucs Saturday night, you saw a confident, poised quarterback who has never lost faith in himself.

“I grew up in a situation where I never thought this was a reality,” he says. “And just always getting another opportunity, to me, was more valuable than anything else and I always saw it that way. Even when you get cut, or whatever, there’s always another team that can call you. And when you look at it from a place of gratitude, you know you still have another opportunity.”

Johnson is listed third on Baltimore’s depth chart, behind Lamar Jackson and Tyler Huntley. He may very well be released during cutdown week, but he won’t be vanquished.

“A lot of faith, a lot of gratitude and a lot of focus on the reality, not the perception,” he says. “To me, it’s about how do I take advantage of those opportunities and build upon them?  I feel like, even at 37 years old, I’m still getting better. I’m a lot different type of quarterback than when I got drafted. To know me is to know my growth.”

Johnson has never been to a Pro Bowl and he can’t go on forever. Soon, this merry-go-round will end. But from his humble beginnings in Tampa, Johnson has written a rich tale of perseverance.

“It’s an impressive thing to be able to maintain that type of tenacity and resilience,” Harbaugh says. “That’s something that I think people should look at and say, ‘You know, I could learn something from that.’ ”

17 Responses to “A Rich Tale Of Perseverance”

  1. ModHairKen Says:

    Fifteen years making a good living, competing, and staying in great shape.

    Compare that to Earl Campbell, Terrell Davis, Ryan Leaf. Short careers. Two great. One not so.

    Point is: How often do elite superstars or flash in the pan 1st rounders have 15 years in this league? This guy should be admired.

  2. Thisisouryear!! Says:

    Great story Ira.

  3. Brandon Says:

    I loved him coming out of school and was super excited when we drafted him. I still think that if Gruden weren’t fired that Johnson’s cater may have transpired way differently.

  4. Bucs33Saints14! Says:

    Also don’t forget the Byron Leftwich began the 2009 season as our starter, going 0-3. It wasn’t all on the QB as the defense was bleeding points. The staff felt the pressure to do something, so they went to Josh J as opposed to Josh F. I remember famous radioman and former Buc Ian Beckles saying “these guys [the coaching staff] don’t know what to do, so they decided they had better do something”. Hopefully Baker is not in the same situation as Byron and the Bucs defense comes together — but an NFL season is always a pressure cooker. I am certainly rooting for Baker, however Trask has certainly looked good.

    Also, this is the most interesting off-season in a long time. With Brady and Winston, there was no controversy about who would be the starter.

  5. FortMyersDave Says:

    Great story Ira. Josh has shown a lot of heart and determination. He definitely is someone you can show to the guys hanging on for life at the bottom of a 53 man roster or on the practice quad and use as an example of what perseverance and never giving up can lead to. I wish Josh all the best in the future and hope he holds a roster spot for the Ravens and with their #1 qb’s injury issues, Harbaugh and the Raven brain trust may want 3 qbs on the active roster or at least one on the practice squad ready to come up at a moment’s notice if they stick with 2.

  6. Bosch Says:

    Maybe he will have a George Blanda season before it is all over with. One difference though. Josh stays in shape. From what I hear, Blanda liked to party. Nothing wrong with that. Just saying if Blanda could have have a season in the sun, why not Josh?

  7. Bojim Says:

    Always there when some needs him. Good guy.

  8. Max Vasher Says:

    Bravo, Sage.
    Great story and refreshingly timely. In these waning days between preseason and regular season when everything has been said and read to death and as we collectively bite our nails waiting to see the first game with the anticipatory zeal akin only to children the week before Christmas; you still find a story of this caliber and then deliver it with grace and gusto. Thank you.

  9. BucsBeBack (Artist formally known as: BringBucsBack) Says:

    I remember Josh Johnson won the “accuracy competition” at a night practice in RJS in 2008. He beat Josh Freeman and I think Byron.

    He didn’t have to be too accurate Saturday night against the Bucs vaunted defense, lead by it’s “defensive genius”. Dudes were WAO (wide a** open) on four consecutive plays. The “D” showed great preparedness!;(

  10. D-Rome Says:

    I was hoping JBF would write an article on Josh Johnson. His ability to stay in the NFL is fascinating to me.

  11. Nicholas Carlson Says:

    Remember when Gruden called him a “career backup” and people got offended and he said he meant it as a compliment? This is what Gruden meant, I bet!

  12. Crickett Baker Says:

    Max said it all. A great and timely article, Ira.

  13. bucsfan951 Says:

    dude has made over $9 million dollars (over $10 million if he sticks with the ravens this year) doing something that he loves and makes him happy.

    happy and successful in life? i call that winning!

  14. Rod Munch Says:

    I always thought he ran a 4.4x – but looking it up again it was a 4.53.

    At the time, that was still incredibly fast for a QB, and I remember Gruden talking about using him as a weapon. I think it was Gruden who talked about how they might bring him in in short yardage and at the goalline, then never did it. I’m not sure why he wasn’t used that way, it seems like a good – just run some play actions at the goalline and roll him out – you’d think that opens up the run a little bit as teams couldn’t ignore his mobility.

    Anyways, a heck of a career he’s had – and a rare good draft pick by Gruden.

  15. garro Says:

    Good one Ira!

    Love a good underdog/over achiever story.

    Go Bucs!

  16. RustyRhinos Says:

    For me, it was great fun to watch OC Monken’s use of Johnson. Congratulations Josh Johnson! You have out “QBd” both Leftwich and Freeman. Hopefully, we see you again play in the NFL this season. Great post Ira. Thank you.


  17. unbelievable Says:

    Wow I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since we drafted him… pretty incredible he’s still playing, even if it’s only as a 3rd string backup.