Leftwich, Tank steal headlines with new deals

September is supposed to be about games, not deals, yet here were quarterback Byron Leftwich and defensive tackle Tank Johnson stealing Tuesday's headlines with the contracts they signed.

Leftwich signed a two-year, $7 million contract with the quarterback-needy Falcons. Johnson signed a two-year, incentive-based contract that could be worth up to $1.5 million with the defensive-tackle-needy Cowboys. And analysis began.

Atlanta waited two games to act on Leftwich, a player it could have signed shortly after he was released in Jacksonville. The Falcons, however, thought quarterback Joey Harrington would be sufficient.

Rather, he has been inconsistent.

Thus it reached out to Leftwich and signed him to a contract that will pay him $2.35 million in base salary this season. Then, Leftwich's contract includes a $1.15 million roster bonus that the Falcons will have to decide whether they want to exercise by March. If they do, then Leftwich also will earn another $2.5 million in base salary in 2008, with the chance to earn another $1 million from an escalator clause in his contract.

Interestingly, Leftwich's deal is almost identical to Falcons quarterback Joey Harrington's. Like Leftwich, Harrington has a two-year deal that is scheduled to pay him $6 million and also includes another $1 million escalator. This would indicate that Leftwich was determined not to sign for less than Harrington, and the Falcons were reluctant to pay him any more than Harrington.

For now, Leftwich will be put on a crash program to learn a complex offense, and he could be starting within two weeks. But it does not seem as if Leftwich will be ready soon enough to battle former Falcons quarterback Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans on Sept. 30.

The interesting part of Johnson's deal, which his agent Jerrold Colton finalized Tuesday afternoon, is the timing of the Cowboys' bye week, which is Oct. 28, the eighth week of the season, when Johnson is eligible to be reinstated.

But the NFL says that Johnson must sit for eight games, so the soonest he would be eligible to come back would be Nov. 11 at the New York Giants.

Johnson is expected to apply for reinstatement next month. Goodell initially told him that he would be willing to reduce the suspension to six games if Johnson were on his best behavior. But Johnson had a run-in with the law last spring in Arizona, an incident that ultimately led to his dismissal in Chicago.

Even though Johnson was absolved of wrongdoing, the incident is likely to cast enough of a shadow to prevent him from having his suspension reduced. But he could wind up playing for the Cowboys on Nov. 11.

RAVEN BOOSTS

At this time last week, some suspected that Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's career might be over.

Now Ogden is expected to return to practice Wednesday, and probably play Sunday against Arizona.

What happened in the sudden turnaround is this: The damage in Ogden's toe was not with the tendons; it was with the musculature. In laymen's terms, Ogden tore some of the scar tissue in his toe, which was enough to sideline him last Monday night, but not the season.

Ogden will be returning sooner than expected, which is great news for a Ravens front that needs him. It expects Sunday to be protecting quarterback Steve McNair, who also was sidelined for Baltimore's win over the New York Jets with a groin injury.

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