An article was recently posted on this fair web log talking about the Bengals' identity in which the author brought to light the viewpoint from a number of writers and the perceived on-field identity. I agree with everything stated in the article, but I want to bring to light another identity that may not be getting much attention. There could be a number of reasons why. Perhaps no one sees what is going on, or maybe they do and don't feel it warrants mention. The Bengals have been trying out and signing players that have a storied past that may bring an unwanted identity to the team. The identity of a criminal rehabilitation center comes to mind.
Nearly every team in the NFL is concerned about their identity both on and off the field. The league itself is concerned with its identity of supporting criminal activity as well, evidenced by the enactment of the Personal Conduct guidelines. These guidelines were created after a rash of arrests a few years ago in hopes of deterring players from making decisions that could bring a foul light to the league. To date, the number of arrests has decreased in comparison to the years prior to enactment.
During the rash of arrests, the Bengals led the pack in that category. They had developed an identity of supporting this behavior as punishment was light and varied. No matter how many times a player got arrested, the team seemed to look the other way. The burnt orange and black stripes were considered more like the black and white stripes of prison uniforms. Only after the NFL stepped in and started to suspend players did the team and players start to stay away from hearing the slam of a jail cell.
Lately however, the Bengals seemed to have taken a different approach to filling needs for the team. Instead of shying away from players with a troubled past, they have opened the door giving them another chance playing at the top level of football. Is it because the team may be so desperate to produce a winner that they are looking the other way regarding past issues; or do the Cincinnati Bengals believe that they are a rehabilitation center for criminal football players?
Chris Henry could be considered the start of the current trend. After getting arrested multiple times, Henry was released by Marvin Lewis but was trumped by Mike Brown who exercised his authority and had Henry re-signed. Henry responded to the second chance as he was turning his life around, staying away from legal problems and becoming an asset on the field. Unfortunately, the turnaround never saw completion as his life and professional l football career were cut short.
Cedric Benson and Tank Johnson were both released by the Chicago Bears due to their off-field problems. In Benson's case, an argument can be made that it was also his ineffective play while with the Bears as his production decreased during his short career there. Benson responded to his second chance by reestablishing himself as the premier running back that the Bears hoped he would be and Tank made instant impact in helping the defense stop the run.
Larry Johnson landed with the Bengals after he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs when he used his Twitter account to say some venomous things about his coach. Before this, he was arrested several times ranging from disturbing the peace to aggravated assault, his last arrest coming in October of 2008. His signing was to help spell Benson in preparation for the playoffs. Known for being vocal if not satisfied on the field and sulking when criticized, he came in with a humbled attitude and able to show he was still able to run effectively gaining 107 yards against the Cleveland Browns.
Matt Jones was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars after he was arrested for felony possession of a controlled substance which turned out to be cocaine. Just as Benson, an argument can be made that his production could be the ultimate reason. To compound the problem, he failed a mandatory drug test which garnered him a three week suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. How he responds to the second chance presented by the Bengals remains to be seen.
The Bengals coaching staff recently held a tryout for Adam "Pacman" Jones. I don't know if there is enough space to talk about the situations he has found himself in over his short career. With the current pattern of the Bengals overlooking an individual's past, do not be surprised if he is signed.
Most NFL teams would not have considered taking a second look at these players due to valid concerns regarding their off-field identity. Mike Brown is known for having a soft heart and being very loyal to players and coaches. It appears he is a firm believer in giving second chances to those having had troubles in the past that caused them to fall out of favor with their first team. Possibly being called the Criminal Players Rehabilitation Center is not a concern to Brown. As long as the players stay away from serious trouble and the team continues to win, the stigma associated with this identity will wane.