Bengals sign ex-Chiefs RB Johnson through end of season

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson signed a deal with Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday to serve in a backup role for the AFC North leaders. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but the deal runs through the rest of the 2009 season, reported NFL.com's Steve Wyche.

The Bengals officially announced the signing at a press conference.

"He's starting from scratch," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "He knows what he has at stake and at risk. He gets an opportunity to start anew, just like anybody would. He's paid the price for what's gone on in his past, things he's said, things he's done. And it came to a finality in Kansas City. Now he's here, and it's a new start, a new opportunity. It's what we're all excited about.

Live chat: Steve Wyche

NFL.com senior writer Steve Wyche was asked during his weekly live chat about the risk vs. reward of signing Larry Johnson.

"I see absolutely no risk at all. He will be a short-timer who will be a model citizen in order to resurrect his image and on-field ability. If he acts up, he'll be cutting his cord to the NFL. The Bengals could let him go and his reputation would then be tarnished beyond repair. I don't think that will happen, though." More ...

"He's learned some lessons, and I think that's a good thing. We just all have to move forward."

The Bengals waived defensive tackle Orien Harris to open a roster spot for Johnson, who will be fourth on the depth chart at the outset.

The move comes eight days after the Kansas City Chiefs let him go as he was set to return from his second suspension in the last 12 months. The Bengals have one of the NFL's leading rushers this season in Cedric Benson, but he has a strained hip muscle.

Lewis first spoke with Johnson last Thursday and told him he would be last on the depth chart. He said he told Johnson he essentially will be an insurance policy in case Benson or one of the other running backs got hurt during what's shaping up as a playoff season.

Benson had to leave an 18-12 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday with a hip injury. The Bengals (7-2) think he could play Sunday in Oakland.

Johnson is moving into a low-profile role. Lewis plans to use him on the scout team in practice, where he would pretend he's the other team's running back. Lewis doesn't expect him to be active for any games soon.

Johnson turns 30 on Thursday, and his production has declined in recent years. The Chiefs let him go following several controversies, releasing him last week on the day he was due back from his second suspension in the last 12 months.

He found a second chance in Cincinnati, which has a history of providing them for troubled players. Owner Mike Brown has referred to himself as a "redeemer." He brought Chris Henry back to the team before the 2008 season -- over Lewis' disagreement -- and the receiver has stayed out of trouble since then. Henry is out for the rest of the season with a broken left arm.

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The Colts and Patriots aren't the only teams in the AFC. The Chargers and Bengals should have everyone's attention now after quality wins Sunday, writes Steve Wyche. More ...

When injuries decimated their group of running backs last season, the Bengals signed Benson to a one-year deal despite his off-field problems. He had two alcohol-related arrests in Texas. The cases were dropped when grand juries declined to indict, and the Bengals offered a deal.

Benson has revitalized his career in Cincinnati -- he ranks sixth in the league in rushing with 859 yards and leads the NFL with 205 carries, only nine shy of his career high with roughly half a season to go. His backup, Bernard Scott, is a rookie chosen in the sixth round from Abilene Christian.

Lewis has assured Benson he will be the top running back with Johnson in town. During an interview Tuesday with Sirius XM Radio, Benson sounded open to it.

"Yeah, I mean, well, you know, it's good for him," Benson said. "I was once in that position, and he's getting his opportunity again. In all aspects we definitely plan on it to be a contribution to the team. If he can help the team in a positive way, then I'm all for that."

Johnson was benched for three games in 2008 by former Chiefs coach Herm Edwards for violating team rules. The NFL added a game for violating its player conduct policy. He later was sentenced to two years' probation after pleading guilty to disturbing the peace at a Kansas City night spot.

Three weeks ago, he posted a gay slur on his Twitter account and questioned the competence of coach Todd Haley, drawing a two-week suspension. The Chiefs decided to cut ties with him rather than let him return.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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