Thurman's rep: Release by Bengals came after dispute over family issue

Updated: May 19, 2008, 7:42 PM ET
By James Walker | ESPN.com

The Cincinnati Bengals released middle linebacker Odell Thurman on Monday and, according to one of his representatives, the move was due to a dispute over the amount of time Thurman was away from the team dealing with a family matter.

Pacman Jones

Thurman

Thurman, reinstated by the NFL on April 21, already was on a short leash with the Bengals after missing the past two seasons for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He missed the past several weeks of organized team activities to be with his ailing grandmother, who recently died, according to his representative, Safarrah Lawson.

The funeral for Thurman's grandmother was on May 12 and the Bengals wanted him to rejoin the team for workouts soon after, Lawson said. But Thurman remained with his family in Georgia through Monday, at which time the team informed him he was no longer a Bengal.

When announcing the move, the Bengals did not mention any specifics as to why Thurman was released.

"The NFL provided Odell the opportunity to earn his way back onto our team, but we have not seen the right steps taken by him," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "With our offseason work in progress and new talent added at our linebacker position, we've determined it's best to keep moving in a direction that does not include Odell."

After numerous off-the-field incidents, the Bengals are taking a zero-tolerance approach with their players this season. Last month, receiver Chris Henry was released by Cincinnati after another arrest. Henry's case is still pending.

"It's unfortunate that this day has come," Lawson said. "Odell worked very hard to get back to where he could play football again. Circumstances just made it impossible to where he was able to be in Cincinnati as much as the team would have liked the past month or so dealing with these family issues. It was something he had to deal with."

The difference between the cases of Henry and Thurman is that Thurman has steered clear of trouble recently and was reinstated by the NFL. He is sure to garner interest around the league because it's a certainty that he will play football in 2008.

"I think Odell will be an asset to any team," Lawson said. "He has a lot to prove. If you saw him play his rookie year, he was a phenomenal football player. … This kid is a playmaker. He'll get on the right team in the right situation, and honestly, I can't say that a change of scenery won't be a bad thing for him."

Lawson said Thurman was surprised after learning of his release.

The Bengals stuck with him and took an interest in him personally and professionally for two years, only to waive him months before his expected return to the field.

"[Odell is] extremely disappointed," Lawson said. "It's just from the fact that he wanted to repay [owner] Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals for the faith that they put in him. He wanted to repay that very badly. He's saddened that this day came."

In recent months, Thurman had been working out near his home in Monticello, Ga., and also at the University of Georgia in nearby Athens.

Because of injuries and Thurman's suspension, linebacker had been a star-crossed position for the Bengals the past two seasons. At one point in 2007, the team was forced to switch defensive end Robert Geathers to outside linebacker because of the shortage of bodies.

A starter in 2005 when he led the Bengals in tackles as a rookie, Thurman was initially suspended four games in 2006 when he missed a scheduled drug screening. The sanction was subsequently increased to a year after Thurman was arrested on DUI charges on Sept. 25, 2006.

Citing confidentiality guidelines, league and team officials declined to say last July why Thurman was not cleared then for reinstatement.

Two men in Monticello, Ga., filed a complaint last spring, alleging Thurman kicked and hit them at a party two days after he settled his drunken driving case in Cincinnati. The men later dropped their complaint, and no charges were filed.

Despite missing much of his rookie training camp because of a protracted contract impasse, Thurman appeared in 15 games in 2005, all as a starter, and registered 148 tackles, one sack, five interceptions, nine passes defensed and four forced fumbles. The former Georgia star and second-round draft pick was a candidate for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Thurman had two years left on his original rookie contract with the Bengals. The deal would have paid him $520,000 in 2008 and $615,000 in 2009. He lost $785,000 in salary during his two-year suspension.

ESPN.com's John Clayton and Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

ALSO SEE