Bears withholding judgment on Johnson's status

Updated: December 15, 2006, 8:20 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

His arrest on Thursday, along with the six misdemeanor counts of possession of a firearm without an identification card, will bring Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson under NFL scrutiny under terms of the league's personal conduct policy.

But unless Bears officials decide to impose team sanctions against the three-year veteran, Johnson's latest legal entanglement might not alter his playing status for the rest of this season.

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A league official told ESPN.com on Thursday night that the NFL was aware of Johnson's arrest but was still gathering information. In such cases, the NFL typically delays any action until a player is provided due process through the legal system, and that could take months.

The Bears could take action, by either fining or suspending Johnson, but on Thursday evening coach Lovie Smith did not appear inclined to make a quick decision on the defensive tackle's status. That could mean Johnson plays in the Bears' game against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"Tank's status right now is just like it was before," Smith said. "As I get [more] information, I'll make decisions from there."

A team source said the Bears probably would have no determination on Johnson's status before Friday.

Johnson, 25, has started the past 10 games at nose tackle for the Bears, after winning the job from Ian Scott following the first three games of the year. His loss, combined with the season-ending hamstring surgery on starting under tackle Tommie Harris on Tuesday, would leave Chicago without both interior starters. It would also further thin what was regarded earlier in the season as one of the NFL's deepest line units.

"If we would lose Tank, or any of our other defensive linemen, that would put us down to seven [linemen on the roster]," Smith said. "That would make it more difficult, but it is a strong group that we have. We have other good players that we feel comfortable playing."

Johnson is in the third season of a five-year contract and his 2006 base salary is $425,000.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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