Larry Johnson Signed by Bengals for Stretch Run

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2009

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 25:  Running back Larry Johnson #27 of the Kansas City Chiefs watches the scoreboard during the game against the San Diego Chargers on October 25, 2009 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The "redeemer" strikes again.

The Cincinnati Bengals have signed former Kansas City RB Larry Johnson, according to ESPN's John Clayton.

After being released by the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago, Johnson was left jobless. He cleared waivers, meaning every team had a chance to grab him and all declined.

From leading rusher to leading a rush to the unemployment line: a humbling experience for a guy that needed just that.

Bengals owner Mike Brown has been nicknamed the "redeemer" in Cincinnati for giving troubled players a second chance (or fifth, for Chris Henry) to be an NFL player. The theory is that a lot of these players have plenty of talent left in them, plus they are as cheap as can be.

Johnson's contract is prorated for the league minimum for the rest of the year. Not bad for a guy that was only 70 or so yards away from being the Chiefs' all-time leading rusher.

But if the Chiefs paid $2.1 million for Johnson to stay away, how much does he have left in the tank?

The Bengals got a steal when they scrapped Cedric Benson off the trash heap. Everybody passed on him till the Bengals signed him during Week Five of the 2008 season. This year he is in the top five in rushing yards with 859 to go along with six TDs.

So why would the Bengals need this guy if they have a top rusher like Benson?

It is nothing more than, in coach Marvin Lewis' words, "a insurance policy." Benson is at 205 carries and is on pace for the seventh most in league history. He is entering uncharted waters, as his career high is only 214. He suffered a hip flexor against the Steelers and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game at Oakland.

Lewis said during his Monday press conference that Johnson would be the fourth running back and that the role of the three backs on the roster would be the same.

“It would have zero affect on Cedric Benson, Bernard Scott, or Brian Leonard,” Lewis said. “I’m very happy right now with what they’re doing and their roles, and I want to see Bernard’s role continue to expand as it did yesterday (Sunday).”

Johnson will be limited in practice and evaluated throughout the week as the club prepares for its trip to Oakland.

Lewis said he will be expected to do all the things a fourth running back is supposed to do, such as special teams. Not sure if Johnson will be okay with that for more than a few weeks. But after eating an extra large piece of humble pie, maybe he has gained a new perspective.

In the end, it is a low risk, high reward move for the Bengals. The locker room is finally strong enough for Johnson to just slide in and do his job. The veterans will not allow him to pull any of the crap he did in Kansas City.

He might not have any gas left in the tank, but it's worth a shot. He had a few outstanding years in KC, and now the Bengals are extremely deep at running back.

He will also come in handy as the temperatures drops and his physical style of play and ball protection will be needed. The NFL is a long and grueling season, and I have no problem with the Bengals going out and making a move to ensure they don't sputter down the stretch.

Oh, and by the way...the Chiefs make a visit to Cincinnati on Dec. 27. I wonder if Johnson has already circled that one on the calendar. Maybe he can pull a Benson and destroy his former team and exact some sweet revenge.