CINCINNATI -- Offensive tackle Willie Anderson and running back Rudi Johnson, who lost their starting jobs during training camp, were released on Saturday as part of the Cincinnati Bengals' moves to reach the 53-man roster limit.
The Bengals also released cornerback Deltha O'Neal, who was relegated to a backup role entering his 10th season. Those three players combined for six Pro Bowl berths in the last five seasons.
"The play fell off in '07, and we just haven't seen a lot of change thus far this year," coach Marvin Lewis said, referring to the three players. "It's kind of a hard decision to make, but it is the decision we made at this point and we'll go forward."
The 33-year-old Anderson was the most tenured Bengal, having played 12 seasons in Cincinnati. Injuries limited him to seven games last season, ending his streak of four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. He became a backup to Stacy Andrews in training camp, and declined to take a pay cut to stay with the team. He would have made $3.15 million in salary.
"This wasn't a decision based on my play, I want to make that clear," Anderson in a phone interview. "They weren't comfortable with two guys making big salaries at the same position. I'm not mad or bitter about this, but I am disappointed in the timing. I thought I was competing for the job and I thought I showed that even after the injuries of last year that I can play and I can practice."
Lewis said the decision to release Anderson was "very tough."
"He has been significant to me," Lewis said. "He has been significant to this organization, beyond me. We'll see what happens. It may not be over."
The Bengals would be interested in bringing Anderson back -- at a reduced salary -- if no other team is interested.
The 28-year-old Johnson missed most of camp because of a hamstring injury, making him expendable. Chris Perry, a first-round pick in 2004, moves into the starting job after having a healthy preseason.
Johnson ran for a club-record 1,458 yards in 2005. Hamstring problems limited him to nine starts and a 2.9-yard average last season. When the hamstring problems reoccurred in training camp, the Bengals moved on. Johnson would have made $3.2 million on his contract.
"We haven't seen Rudi play (in preseason)," Lewis said. "I've seen Rudi practice very few times, and cut it loose very few times. I thought he had an outstanding offseason. I thought he had a great spring and was doing everything, but unfortunately, he seemed to suffer from the hamstring."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press