The Bears had two ways they could have disciplined Tank Johnson, and fortunately for the troubled defensive tackle, the organization chose the less severe option.
Johnson will be suspended for this Sunday's game against Detroit. Head coach Lovie Smith deactivated the former Huskie for last week's tilt against Tampa Bay but was adamant that it was not punishment. Johnson will be eligible to return for the season finale at home against Green Bay.
Speculation had been running rampant in Chicago that Johnson could be deactivated for the rest of the season or maybe even released. A second-round pick out of Washington in the 2004 NFL Draft, he is still playing under the terms of his rookie contract and would not have seriously affected the salary cap had he been cut. Johnson is scheduled to make $406,460 this season - although this suspension will cost him a game check - and is signed through 2008.
Johnson took responsibility for the poor choices he has made recently and is well aware that he needs to make some changes to his lifestyle.
“A lot of the tough times that I have encountered are some of the decisions that I’ve made in my life," Johnson said on Tuesday at Halas Hall. "And some of the decisions I have made, I need to get them corrected.”
Johnson knows that this is his last chance and feels it is ultimately up to him how the rest of his story in Chicago will be written.
“It’s my job to make these changes," he said. "Any time you’re given a second chance in life, I believe it’s up to you to take advantage of it. This is my chance to take advantage of it.”
The Bears consulted with NFL authorities in terms of the action they could take, and according to general manager Jerry Angelo, the league gave the organization two options. Either they could suspend Johnson one game for conduct detrimental to the team, or they could simply cut him. Angelo said the organization as a whole felt that the best decision was to hand down the suspension but still hold on to Johnson.
The Bears were cautious about making a snap decision and made sure to take in all the angles before rendering their judgement.
“When you’re talking about a person’s livelihood," Angelo said, "you take that very seriously, and you take your time. And you make sure that you get the input needed, and we did all that. Collectively, as an organization – ownership, coaches, players, myself – we all agreed that the right thing to do was to keep Tank and keep working with him.”
Angelo proclaimed that the team's decision to retain Johnson had nothing to do with on-the-field matters or fielding the best team possible for the upcoming postseason.
“Our decision wasn’t based on the playoffs," he said. "When the players came to Lovie, when the staff met with Lovie, when I met with Ted Phillips and Michael McCaskey, the playoffs were never brought up. It was never brought up about, ‘We need this guy on the field to help us win.’ It’s about him. We felt the wrong message to send to our football team and to our organization and what we stand for would be to turn our backs on him.”
The Bears have won their second consecutive NFC North division title and wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs last week.
Late last Thursday morning, Johnson's residence in the northern-Chicago suburb of Gurnee was raided by police after being under surveillance for six weeks. The raid lasted only six minutes, but the authorities found six unregistered guns - including two military-style assault rifles - in addition to over two ounces of marijuana. According to the police report, several of the weapons were in plain view and some were fully loaded and ready to fire.
Johnson was not home at the time of the raid but turned himself in to Gurnee police late Thursday afternoon. He was charged with six misdemeanor counts of possession of a firearm without a Firearm Owner's Identification card. William B. Posey, Johnson's self-proclaimed bodyguard and childhood friend, was taken away from Johnson's house in handcuffs and charged with felony marijuana possession.
Johnson posted a $1,000 bond and was released on his own recognizance. Posey - a convicted felon - posted a $10,000 bond and was also released.
On Friday at the Bears facility in Lake Forest, Smith and Angelo addressed the matter for the first time. Smith announced that Johnson would be deactivated for the upcoming game against Tampa Bay, and Angelo stressed that Johnson was on thin ice with the organization. Johnson later spoke to reporters and offered an apology to the team for being a distraction and promised to clean up his act.
That promise lasted less than a day.
Later that night, Johnson and Posey went to Ice Bar, a trendy nightclub in the River North neighborhood of downtown Chicago. At approximately 1:30 on Saturday morning, the two of them were involved in a fight inside the club. Posey was shot during the altercation and pronounced dead shortly thereafter at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Johnson was questioned by police about the incident but is not a suspect in the case. The shooter is still at large.
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