Let's not kid ourselves here. If Tank Johnson had been a no-name practice-squader, he would have been shipped out of town faster than Willie Posey hit the deck upon being shot at Ice Bar. The fact of the matter is that Johnson is a very good football player, and the Chicago Bears need as many of those as they can get their hands on if they're going to bring a Super Bowl title to a football-crazy town.
Johnson's troubles are well documented, so there's no need to rehash the laundry list of offenses here. But just to give a snapshot, it's a scary cocktail of assault rifles, a police raid, illegal drugs, bar fights, neighbor complaints, an unsolved murder, dangerous rottweilers, endangered children, unjustified entitlement, and unfathomable negligence. And all of that in the span of about 48 hours.
Johnson pled guilty to parole violation last week and was sentenced to 120 days in jail. He was taken away immediately and is currently behind bars, although he could be released in as little as 60 days should he behave himself. Johnson still has to face weapons charges and plans on pleading innocent to those.
The Bears released a statement last Thursday after Johnson was taken into custody:
"We continue our support of Tank, and he will remain a member of our football team. Tank has made many positive changes to better his life. We believe he will continue on this path at the conclusion of his sentence."
But the same question remains: Is the public relations nightmare worth what he brings to the huddle?
Nobody can deny the fact that Johnson is a pretty good defensive tackle. In 14 games last season, he totaled 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, and even recorded a safety in Week 13 against Minnesota. Incredibly athletic at 6'3" and 300 pounds, when paired with a healthy Tommie Harris, the two of them form one of the more feared interior defender tandems in the NFL.
But make no mistake about it, Harris is the star while Johnson is the complementary player. Johnson replaced current free agent Ian Scott in the starting lineup this past season, and although he is certainly a more well-rounded tackle than Scott, he needs to get better as a run-stuffer. Johnson does not command double-teams like Harris does, and he was completely dismantled by Jeff Saturday of the Colts in Super Bowl XLI.
If the Bears decided to sever all ties with Johnson and re-sign Scott, would the defense really be affected that much? Scott was the valedictorian of his class in high school and for the most part has been a model citizen while wearing a Bears uniform. Stopping the run was a legitimate problem for this team for long stretches in 2006, so perhaps making the switch from Johnson back to Scott wouldn't be such a bad idea anyway.
Plus, you would satisfy all the hate-mongers out there who claim that the Bears are only sticking up for Johnson because he's a good player making a manageable salary.
It's the same question sports fans have heard all too often: Does talent always win in the end?
Look at Adam 'Pacman' Jones in Tennessee. This young man has been treading water in a sea of character issues from the day he was selected in the first round. The latest scandal involves a shooting at a gentleman's club in Las Vegas last month that he and his entourage allegedly incited.
Jones is a PR department's worst nightmare, but he's also a talented cornerback and one of the most dangerous return men in the league.
Should the Bears give Johnson his walking papers, his agent will be fielding phone calls from interested teams faster than Jack Bauer can extract information from a hostel on 24. Defensive tackles are always in high demand, especially ones with his rare combination of size and speed. Even Jones, who, unlike Johnson, has shown very little contrition for his many wrongdoings, wouldn't be unemployed for long should the Titans pink-slip him.
In all likelihood, Johnson will be a Bear once again next season. The NFL is sure to suspend him a few games for violating the league's personal conduct policy, so even if he does work his way back into the good graces of the organization, GM Jerry Angelo will have to be on the lookout for a DT or two in next month's draft. Dusty Dvoracek is coming back from injured reserve and Antonio Garay will also be in the mix, but neither has much of a resume at this point.
To Johnson's credit, he seems genuine in his desire to put all this behind him and become a better man. Maybe he has finally been scared straight after watching his best friend get shot and killed before his very eyes. But much like the Deltas in Animal House, he's guaranteed to be on some sort of double-secret probation for the foreseeable future.
Luckily for Johnson, the Bears appear to be a little more lenient than Dean Vernon Wormer.
|John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.|