You knew that 2008 was going to be a rough season when the days preceding Super Bowl XLII was heavily inundated by Chad Johnson interviews. Not the kind funny man that we once knew, no. This was a different Chad Johnson, with a calm, premeditated demeanor that some of us believed was orchestrated by our favorite Oil Slick.
When Jim Rome asked Chad in late January if he wants to be traded, Chad simply replied, "I'm going to leave that to the Shark (agent Drew Rosenhaus)." For most of the interview, Chad was very self-centric, explaining that he felt as the victim of some scapegoat conspiracy; even proposing himself as the team's best player. John Clayton, around the same time, said that his angle for a trade was simply positioning himself for a new contract. Before all this started, I was pretty confident that I could defend Chad on nearly anything. Not because he was my favorite player (Willie Anderson held that mantle), but my impression at the time was when he started being known in the NFL, he made cheering for the Bengals fun as hell. Not for just his play, but his mouth, celebrations and all that jazz. Being a fan of a team that was miserable before 2003 (at the time), I was thrilled with the change. It was refreshing.
People broke out archives, calculators and pencils with thick eraser ends. What was the salary cap hit if the Bengals would trade Johnson. Numbers weren't adding up. I came up with a lower number. Geoff Hobson reported somewhere in the $5-7 million range -- who then upped his number inside the $6-8 million range a few days later. Mark Curnutte released a report that modified his number from $8.8 million to $8.03 million -- the accepted number.
A source told Chris Mortensen the following week that Johnson would sit if he wasn't traded. Johnson also claimed that Lewis stopped talking to him, feeling betrayed. Oil Slick went into damage control, releasing videos, eventually promising that Johnson would, in fact, play in 2008. Another early February report was released that two unnamed General Managers figured a team could get Johnson with a low first-round pick and a third-round pick. An unnamed coaching candidate claimed that Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder was interested in trading for an elite receiver.
Marvin Lewis finally said that a trade wasn't happening. "They can stop the presses, quit killing trees and move on to other things." However, the Bengals decided they weren't going to let Chad Johnson dictate their actions, when a Washington Times sports reporter said, "two Cincinnati sources told me that there's no way that the Bengals will let Rosenhaus force them to trade Chad Johnson no matter how badly the unhappy Pro Bowl receiver wants to be a Redskin."
Late in February, we were closer to the belief that the Bengals would hold onto Johnson. We wrote that "the issue of team unity and chemistry, should be more worrisome", calling for Johnson and head coach Marvin Lewis to mend their broken fence.
Then, out of nowhere, Shaun Smith said that Chad Johnson threw a punch during the notorious Half-Time breakdown during the Bengals Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "He swung on Marvin. . . . [Johnson] shattered the training room glass. . . . He swung on Marvin [and] hit Marvin in the eye. . . . Then he tried to swing on wide receivers coach Hue Jackson, who's now in Baltimore." The Bengals and Johnson refused comment.
On April Fools day, Lewis reiterated that Johnson is going nowhere, opening up a bit. "Unfortunately Chad put himself in that situation," Lewis said. "A lot of people who really had an affection for him fan-wise and people around the league see him in a different light and that's unfortunate. Some of the things he's gone on record and said one way or the other he's going to have to deal with them one way or the other." Chad was definitely killing his character -- thus, our name for his Character-suicide Campaign. Rumors started popping up about other interested teams, like the Eagles and Cowboys.
When Chris Henry was released, it became more apparent that the Bengals would keep Johnson. Then, Peter King released this nugget that eventually won support from the fans, media and especially the players.
I think this is the scene at the NFL meetings that few who saw it will soon forget. Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who is trying to engineer a hostile takeover of Chad Johnson's status with the Cincinnati Bengals and force a trade, was in close conversation with Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis. Rosenhaus was gesturing and speaking quickly while Lewis stood straight up, arms folded across his chest, looking stern and mostly saying nothing. It went on for a few minutes, and Lewis kept his arms folded with a stone face.
We enjoyed that Lewis wasn't going to be bullied by Oil Slick. That was nice. However, even though we believed that Johnson wouldn't get traded, our growing belief that trading him was becoming priority. Worried about distractions, potential locker-room cancer, and the likelihood of a decent return from a team investing in his trade, too much made sense for trading him. So by now we're really on that wagon.
Then, the notorious trade offer was made. ESPN originally broke the story claiming that the Bengals refused two first-round draft picks in 2008 and 2009. The Redskins had a deal in place to give Johnson $21 million in guaranteed money. PFT claimed tampering charges on Oil Slick and Snyder for working a deal with a player already under contract. Lewis denied all.
Oil Slick began a last ditch effort I termed "Begging Like Weasels", right before the trade, pleading to the Bengals that a trade be made. Jay Glazier said on the same day.
"It's too late to salvage this. People just don't understand how bad it has gotten. Last year, in a team meeting before a game...coaches asked if anyone had a problem with Chad. Carson Palmer stood up and said, "yea, I have a problem with him". Chad and Carson began arguing. Chad was screaming at Carson in the middle of the room"
Later we learned that the trade offer was a first round pick in 2008, and a conditional third round pick in 2009. The conditions? If Johnson recorded 80 receptions, the Bengals would receive the Redskins 2009 second-round pick. If he caught 95 passes, that pick is further upgraded to a first-round pick. Merrill Hoge said that the Bengals wanted two first round picks, no exceptions or conditions.
Then the thawing began. When Johnson showed up in Cincinnati during mandatory camps, the headlines were furious. For a time, Johnson, wearing jersey and helmet, meandered around, hands on hip, watching his peers run drills. Then he started running drills, showing up for meetings, and then fully practiced. All in the same day. Apparently, it was an ankle injury that slowed his morning up slightly; so it was claimed.
Johnson and Lewis were caught talking, and the brief conversation went like this.
Marvin Lewis: "When you gonna come give me some love?"
Chad Johnson: "Ain’t no love no more. It’s business."
Marvin Lewis: "Oh, okay. Good. Business is playing."
Later, Johnson said to Lewis, "It’s scary when you got someone great, and he’s playing pissed off." Lewis laughed it off. Then, out of nowhere, Johnson was fully back. Talking shop with Palmer, going through drills, leaving his frustrations out of the press. Chad had a procedure done on his ankle (that he should have done after the win against Miami in 2007, as requested by the team), then tore his labrum against the Green Bay Packers in pre-season game #1.
Johnson became a teammate, said the right things. When he was booted from Pittsburgh before a Thursday night game, he was apologetic and immensely remorseful. When asked about the offense's woes, he said the right things.
Johnson would go on to have his worst career season. Hurt late in the season, Johnson would sit out the final two games. But Johnson in 2008 was a roller coaster. Thank god 2008 is over.
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