Tank (Johnson) Is a Memory

The release of Tank Johnson is a continuing chapter in the changing face of the NFL. Brad Childress was thought to be a control freak when he traded Daunte Culpepper and released players like Koren Robinson and Fred Smoot. But, he's starting to look much more like the norm rather than the exception a year later.

The Vikings and head coach Brad Childress came under a lot of fire in the spring of 2006 when the team took a hard-line stance with Daunte Culpepper. After getting the clear impression that Pepp wasn't on board with what Childress had planned and seemed more concerned about making sure he got his share of the money than his share of the respect of his teammates, an immediate chasm was created.

That chasm never healed and the Vikings traded away their franchise quarterback to the Dolphins. At the time, fans were shocked. Long before Childress and his "kick-ass offense" were the subject of radio call-in talk show fodder, the talk was about the perception of a hard-ass coach and the vindictiveness of his ways with the players. The message was sent – it doesn't matter who you are or where you play, if you're viewed as a disruptive influence to the good of the team, you're gone. Period.

Things haven't gone well for Culpepper since that decision. Perhaps trying to prove the Vikings wrong, Pepp pushed his rehab hard and quick and he suffered setback after setback last year that, when Nick Saban bailed on the Dolphins, left the new coaching staff wanting someone else – even if he's 37 years old and new to the offense. But Childress was the guy who drew the line in the sand saying he wouldn't tolerate anyone – even the team's biggest star – being a detriment to what he hoped to accomplish. He saw Culpepper as a bad egg and got rid of him.

In his first full year at the wheel of the Vikings, players like Koren Robinson and Fred Smoot followed Culpepper out of town. Despite not having great depth at any of the three positions in which the players Childress got rid of, he made the decisions for what he believed was the good of the team – setting the example that if you screw up, you're gone.

Childress would seemingly find an ally in new Commissioner Roger Goodell. Preaching a no-nonsense approach to the job, Goodell let it be known that there would be ramifications for bad conduct and poor judgment among players. He sent that message loud and clear with a one-year suspension of Pac Man Jones and eight-game suspensions of Chris Henry of the Bengals and Tank Johnson of the Bears. The warning sent to them and everyone else: "Don't be the guy."

The Bears followed suit with the stance Childress and the Vikings took with Robinson a year earlier on Monday, giving Johnson his outright release after he was arrested in the early morning hours of June 22 in Phoenix on suspicion of something called "DEI Impaired to the Slightest Degree." While he was released and not immediately booked or charged, he could still be charged if results come back above the Arizona legal limit for drinking and driving. Johnson, who spent two months in jail for a parole violation stemming from weapons charges, was on a no-tolerance policy with the Bears and, when pushed, the Bears made the same decision Childress did – despite the talent of the player involved, a message needed to be sent.

This could become the hallmark of things to come in the NFL for players who run afoul of the law or the coaching staff. Johnson was a key to the Bears' defensive front four, but, in the end, the organization felt it sent a worse message to keep Johnson and admit his talent outweighed his transgressions than to just cut him and let him go.

The future is now in the NFL and it doesn't look good for those who violate the law – Goodell's or an individual state, county or city.


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