|Andy Lyons/Getty Images|
|Chad Johnson craves attention from the cameras, but here he celebrates a touchdown by going behind the lens.|
CINCINNATI -- For each of the Cincinnati Bengals' 40 seasons, Mike Brown has been a part of it all in some way. First it was at the knees of his father and the franchises' founder, Paul Brown. Since his father's death in 1991, it is Brown who has been the organization's final voice and conscience.
Thus, when Brown says he does not know where things are going with disgruntled, brooding and restless receiver Chad Johnson, that means something.
"The only person who can really answer why he didn't practice today is Chad," Brown said. "I don't understand. But I do understand and he understands that the market will not allow us to just give up and give him away or trade him away. I can't tell you I have a clear roadmap in my mind where this all leads. We want him. He gets told that and told that and told that. At some point he has to know that.
"He made a commitment to us when he signed his contract. We relied on it. He is not someone you can replace quickly. It is not easily done. We are counting on him being here. We are."
And therein lies the crux of the dilemma for the Bengals.
They are counting on a player they cannot count on.
If it were only about the snappy routes and snappy moves and quick hands and quick feet and big-play scores, then you could not find a more dynamic receiver than Chad Johnson to count on. But it is not. It is about much more with Johnson. Especially now, in this town. Especially now, with this team.
On the inside, his Bengals teammates and coaches dealt with his disruptiveness for most of last season. Once the season was done, he made a spectacle for weeks about the franchise's shortcomings and about what he would do to force the team to trade him.
But he showed up to Thursday's mandatory minicamp only to tell the team's doctors he had an "ailment" and could not practice. He told the team it was his back. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told the media it was his ankle.
And then to punctuate the point, Johnson showed up 12 minutes late to the practice field.
Coach Marvin Lewis had told Johnson that if he was not going to practice, do not come on the field. But Johnson loves the cameras. The attention. He came. Everyone saw.
Then in the afternoon practice, Johnson amazingly felt better. He ran some reps with the first team. A new Chad in a matter of minutes.
Quarterback Carson Palmer said he did not talk to Johnson before or immediately after the morning practice.
Johnson believes he has been burned by all parties in Cincinnati, a scapegoat, he says, for the team's recent on-field failures. He omits in the discussion his lack of production in some of his team's biggest moments and how he makes himself a can't-miss target with his sideline and end zone skits and shows. Not to mention his off-color, confrontational interviews when the vibe strikes him.
This is a push-come-to-shove fiasco for the Bengals that will likely grow toward an ugly crescendo. If I were the Bengals, I would explore and keep every option open in finding a way to move Johnson out.
They cannot rely on him.
They cannot count on him.
"I'm focusing on the players here who I can count on," Palmer said, with piercing eyes, in a manner that clearly indicated he has reached his zenith with the Johnson escapade.
The Bengals have built too much and come too far from their days and seasons of complete dysfunction and disrepair to allow this situation to fester. Lewis enters his sixth season as Bengals coach. Consecutive 8-8 seasons were followed by an 11-5, division-winning year in 2005. Since, the Bengals have slipped back to 8-8 and 7-9 records.
"Middling" is how Lewis described it.
The Bengals spent part of their draft resources on receivers and they have a third-year receiver emerging, Marcus Maxwell, who shows excellent promise.
"He works hard," Brown said. "I think he can play in this league. We'll see what comes of it. The tendency out there is to talk us down. Internally, we do not feel that way. We'll see. With all the talk in the offseason, I'd prefer they talk us down."
Actually, the talk now, the focus now, is on Johnson.
Not the Bengals.
The Bengals must find a way to get him on board. Or get him out.