For Jets quarterback Josh Johnson, there is always the same question: Why?
Why keep a bag packed after 16 stops with 13 different NFL teams, not to mention brief stays in the UFL, AAF and XFL? Why continue a journey that began with Tampa Bay in 2009 and has wended its way from coast to coast, north to south? Why, at 35 years old, would Johnson take a call from Jets head coach Robert Saleh and consider joining the Green & White?
Asked in an interview from Denver, where he traveled last weekend when the Jets played the Broncos, if he gets tired of hearing the question, Johnson said: "When I was younger I did because I was still naïve. As I've gotten older it comes with the territory. All I can do is just let people be people and focus on how I respond. People keep asking, but I try to keep the focus on what I'm doing. It's not ideal, my journey, but I'm still doing what I truly love to do. I'm not in the limelight, but I'm a player or two away [from playing]. Keeping things in perspective is what drives me."
As Randy Lange of nyjets.com wrote in early August, Johnson (6-3, 219) was born in Oakland and played his college ball at the University of San Diego, putting up impressive numbers while playing for HC Jim Harbaugh. Before signing with the Jets, Johnson's most-recent gig in the NFL was with San Francisco last season, where he became acquainted with Saleh and Mike LaFleur, now the Jets' offensive coordinator.
"What attracted me was the opportunity to be with Coach Saleh and LaFleur," Johnson said. "In San Francisco I got to know those guys. I was excited for them [when they left for the Jets]. I was still on the Niners at the time. It didn't work out and I was a free agent. I thought it would be a good fit when the opportunity presented itself. I went in for a workout and was grateful to jump on it. I presented myself properly, signed when they wanted to sign me. My role, obviously me being an older player and we got a lot of young guys, is to bring valuable experience. Just bring my knowledge as a well-traveled player, another set of eyes and ears."
Johnson landed in a unique situation with the Jets, realizing that he was the only quarterback with any, albeit, limited game experience in the NFL -- neither rookie No. 2 draft pick Zach Wilson nor Mike White had attempted a pass when it counted. Though his résumé says he's been with 13 franchises, Johnson has only appeared in regular-season games for four teams -- Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Washington. Over his long career he has played in 33 games with eight starts (four with Tampa Bay in 2009, three with Washington in 2018). He's completed 148-of-268 passes (55.2%) for 1,632 yards, 8 TDs and 14 INTs.
"I have moments where I play the what-if game," Johnson said. "There are things you can't control and they can be mentally draining and can weigh you down and lead to bigger problems. I try not to focus on them and acknowledge that I'm human and how I'm going to feel when things don't go your way. It's always possible I may have a moment in a career I love to do. If it never comes, I can say that I put my best foot forward, took every opportunity and earned the respect of people."
Oddly enough, this is Johnson's second stint with the Jets. The first go-round was a 10-day cup of coffee in 2015. He and veteran Matt Flynn were brought in to back up Ryan Fitzpatrick after Geno Smith was injured. In the preseason finale vs. Philadelphia, Johnson came on for Flynn, who started, in the third quarter, completed 7-of-12 passes for 82 yards. By sheer coincidence Johnson also played in this year's preseason finale, against the Eagles, deftly completing 7-of-8 passes for 73 yards and a 144.3 QB rating.
Since then, Johnson has taken up his place in the quarterbacks' room and gets to play the role of the "scout" QB in practice. A member of the practice squad, he been a mentor and/or adviser to the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
"Naturally that's a part of what you do," Johnson said. "When I'm at home, I share information with younger people. I have a foundation [the Fam 1st Family Foundation in Oakland] and what has motivated me is that my mom is a coach. To me, when you get the opportunity to help someone there's no reason not to, especially when it's a teammate. When the Jets win, we all win. We may prepare together, but when you go out there as the quarterback you're on your own, is how I look at it."
The veteran said he likes what he's seen so far from Wilson.
"I think Zach is going through his process, it may take time, there's no set date when it's going to click for him," Johnson said. "He's learning what we all have to learn, which you can't without getting reps. I look at his make up, who he is, and he's like a sponge. A highly motivated learner, a humble kid. It's all in how you approach things. He knows his position and he's not trying to overdo it. He's doing it the right way. Everyone in the NFL wants a [Tom] Brady overnight. But it just doesn't work that way. I appreciate how he attacks each day as if it's the first day. He's very realistic about what will make him special. He has to keep things in perspective, go out and prove it. The negative doubters come with the territory. That's difficult for every human being, accepting and going about it the right way based on what I've seen over the years."
In between his NFL gigs when he's back in Oakland trying to stay sharp and waiting for the phone to ring -- again -- Johnson says he works out with high school players at his old high school.
"It's fulfilling," he said. "I get to pass on some knowledge to the younger generation and I get to compete with them and they help me with my routine, timing, working against the rush. Back in the day, most of the kids used to know who I was. Now sometimes they don't know. They do see my physical ability and understand I know a lot about the game. When we talk and they get more comfortable, they ask why I'm always cut. They typically want to know about all the material things you've got. I try to not focus on that and focus on the process of taking the opportunity that football is and how it can turn around a life with great magnitude."
Johnson is currently at home with the Green & White, keeping ready and biding his time ... until the next time he gets that question: Why?