IRVING (AP) — There was no vow to become “Man of the Year” this time. Tank Johnson simply said Wednesday he is looking forward to resuming his career with the Dallas Cowboys.
“I know that I’m not a risk,” he said. “I’m a highly intelligent person and I take pride in a lot of things I do in life. Just like any other human being, I’m going to make mistakes and I’ve made mistakes. As far as the risk goes, I’m coming to Dallas to be a productive defensive lineman and to solidify what (team owner) Jerry Jones thinks of me.”
Since December, Johnson has gone from star tackle on the NFL’s best defense to being unemployed and suspended. He’s also spent two months in jail because of weapons charges — both new and old — and seen a friend get shot and killed.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Johnson for eight games in June. He said then that he would consider cutting the penalty by two games if Johnson stayed on his best behavior — in other words, proved he was living up to his post-incarceration promise of trying to become the “Man of the Year.” Weeks later, Johnson was pulled over for speeding at 3:30 a.m. The Chicago Bears released him soon after.
Although no charges were filed from that incident, Johnson remained unemployed until Jones gave him a two-year contract Tuesday.
“As far as it being a last chance, I’m so focused on making this a great experience and being a Dallas Cowboy that I’m not really too wrapped up in what chance it is,” Johnson said in a conference call from his home in Arizona.
If Goodell’s initial punishment holds, Johnson couldn’t play until Nov. 11 against the New York Giants.
Jones said the team is already talking to the league office about all the things they can and can’t do for Johnson until then. For instance, he can work out at team headquarters, but not with his teammates. He also may be able to visit with the team’s player assistance staff, headed by Calvin Hill.
“The incentive is all there for him to do the right things, make the right kinds of decisions,” Jones said. “We’re going to be working with him. We will have a good read as to how prepared he is to get on the field, basically where he is with his focus and his intent.”
The Cowboys did so much research on Johnson as a person, player and teammate that they didn’t even discuss his past when they met with him Tuesday.
Johnson appreciated that, too.
“Those guys really let me come in with open arms,” he said. “They just talked about me moving forward as a Cowboy and to me that was pretty important.”
Jones has rarely shied from controversial players, especially good ones who can help put his team over the top. Dallas is 2-0 and a legitimate contender in the NFC but already has injuries piling up on defense — including a Tank-sized hole at nose tackle. Starter Jason Ferguson was lost for the year in the opener and his replacement, Jay Ratliff, is a converted defensive end who might not be able to hold up all season.
Besides, Johnson is only 25 and will be making a minimum salary. That makes this a low-risk move with the chance for a high reward.
Coach Wade Phillips said he believes Johnson is sincere about getting his career back on track.
“I talked to him and he said all the right things,” Phillips said. “There are two kinds of guys in those situations — one who wants to get back and wants to change their life and there are the ones that don’t care. He seemed to be the former. He seemed to want to get back going and wanted to play football and knew how much he missed it.”
Chicago coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday that a fresh start might be all Johnson needs.
“I think you can be a good guy and make some bad mistakes. I think that’s what happened with Tank,” Smith said. “I believe in Tank. I still do. You get to a point sometimes, in certain places, where you come to your last chance. That’s what happened here.”
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said Johnson’s jovial personality is missed in the locker room. Urlacher noted that the number of people from within the organization who visited him in jail this summer shows “we obviously cared about him quite a bit.”
Urlacher said the Cowboys are getting a good player, too.
“He’s definitely going to be fresh,” Urlacher said.
Terrell Owens knows all about that, having endured a long behavior-related absence of his own before joining the Cowboys. Like many of his teammates, T.O. was glad to hear about the signing.
“Were going to welcome him just like guys welcomed me,” Owens said.
Added quarterback Tony Romo: “To me, it’s another talented guy that’s trying to help us win the Super Bowl. The one thing we all shouldn’t forget is sometimes it’s good to help people out. Not that we’re helping Tank out, but sometimes it’s good to give people a second chance. I know it’s worked out in a lot of other areas in this game. I think you guys are pretty happy with the way T.O. has been.”