Commentary

Cutting ties with Henry magnifies Bengals' need for Johnson

Cutting No. 3 receiver Chris Henry after his latest arrest makes this much clear for the Bengals: Making Chad Johnson a happy camper is an even greater priority, writes James Walker.

Originally Published: April 3, 2008
By James Walker | ESPN.com

The uneasy marriage between Ocho Cinco and the Cincinnati Bengals needs reconciliation.

Pronto.

Disgruntled receiver Chad Johnson became more important than ever to the Bengals today following the release of receiver Chris Henry. The talented but troubled former third-round pick turned himself into authorities Wednesday after allegedly punching an 18-year-old male in the face.

ESPN Radio: Johnson Reacts

Chad Johnson discussed his rift with the Bengals, his contract status and his surprise at the release of Chris Henry with Max Kellerman and Brian Kenny on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York. Listen
Henry's alleged incident resulted in his fifth arrest since 2005 -- and the final straw for the Bengals.

If the Bengals hold firm on their stance, it appears any small chance of Cincinnati trading Johnson has been virtually erased. Henry had the talent and potential to replace Johnson as the starter, but with the former West Virginia star no longer on the team, the Bengals have little depth at receiver.

In addition to losing Henry, Cincinnati would receive less than market value for Johnson in a trade and take an enormous $8 million salary-cap hit. It's simply bad business.

Receiver now becomes a priority in the draft for the Bengals, but still not the top priority.

The team has two Pro Bowlers in Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. There are much bigger needs to address at defensive line and linebacker on a Bengals defense that ranked No. 27 in 2007.

[+] EnlargeChad Johnson and Chris Henry
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesWithout Chris Henry (15), the Bengals need disgruntled Chad Johnson (85) more than ever.

But keep in mind the third receiver is an important staple in Cincinnati's offense. There is depth at wide receiver in the draft, so watch for the Bengals to take a peek at the position in the second to middle rounds.

Cincinnati struggled last year during Henry's NFL-imposed eight-game suspension for poor off-the-field conduct. The team had trouble finding a replacement and was 2-6 without Henry and 5-3 once he returned.

Currently Antonio Chatman is the No. 3 on the depth chart. But the No. 1 issue right now is No. 85.

The public back-and-forth between the Bengals and Johnson needs to be resolved soon. He is under contract until 2010, with a team option through 2011, and according to the Bengals, that marriage will continue. Otherwise he will not play in the NFL next season.

Johnson is not wrong for feeling unhappy. In his prime years, he signed a multiyear contract extension with the Bengals when they were coming off a playoff berth in 2005. Since then, Johnson has played at a Pro Bowl level and the team has gone 8-8 and 7-9. He feels duped.

The positive news for Cincinnati is that Johnson said Wednesday on ESPN's "SportsCenter" that he plans to rejoin the team when it's mandatory.

Part of the reason Johnson is campaigning to get out of Cincinnati is because he no longer feels wanted by the Bengals.

After today, that should no longer be an issue.

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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