Even though he returned to practice last week, the Bengals apparently decided they hadn't seen enough of the new and improved Rudi Johnson this summer and cut the man projected to once be their bell-cow running back in 2008.
Peter Schaffer, his agent, said Saturday from Denver, "That's what we've been told."
Amid reports the Bengals have approached Willie Anderson about a pay cut, the Bengals were expected to announce their cuts at head coach Marvin Lewis' 3 p.m. Saturday news conference but have moved it back.
"We want to keep this positive," said Schaffer, who negotiated a five-year deal for Johnson that had two years left. "Obviously we got wind they were moving in a different direction when (ESPN) reported they were trying to trade him. We think Rudi's got plenty of football left and we're going to look for the best situation for him."
Johnson's release, which first surfaced on ProFootballTalk.com Saturday afternoon, appears to leave the Bengals with three running backs in Chris Perry, Kenny Watson, and DeDe Dorsey. Lewis, showing some impatience with Johnson's lingering hamstring problem, made Perry the starter a few weeks ago.
It may not be a John McCain-sized gamble, but it's a gamble just the same for the Bengals. They have basically exchanged one of their most durable running backs of all time for one of their most fragile in Perry.
But the Bengals must also think it's a gamble to keep Johnson after basically no training camp, a stretch during which Lewis has harped on the importance of practicing.
Johnson, who turns 29 in a month, hurt his hamstring in the first week of camp and never played in a preseason game during a curious August the Bengals reportedly tried to trade him.
Perry, who has been healthy for an entire season only once in his five NFL seasons, practiced nearly every day and while he only averaged 3.1 yards per carry in the preseason, he was able to carry 39 times for the most active four-game stretch of his career.
But before he hurt his hamstring last year and was limited to 2.9 yards per his 170 carries, Johnson had made his mark as a relentless inside runner supplying first-down reliability. From 2004-2006 he led the NFL in carries and twice set the Bengals' season rushing record after taking over for Corey Dillon late in the 2003 season. He also has three of the four busiest seasons by a back in Bengals history, topped by his 361 carries in 2004.
He arrived back in Cincinnati this spring refreshed and invigorated after putting on about 12-15 pounds during the offseason in an effort to get back to his more powerful days of '04 and '05, when he set the club rushing record in back-to-back seasons with an average of 4.2 yards per carry.
Still, Johnson claimed earlier this week that the Bengals have been trying to get rid of him ever since they drafted him out of Auburn in the fourth round in 2001. And there were some grumblings about his inability to hit the home run.
Since 2006 he has averaged 3.5 yards per carry and hasn't had a run longer than 22 yards in 29 straight games and a run longer than 33 yards in 48 straight games.
Throw in Johnson's hamstring problems and their inability to see what he can do, and it appears the Bengals weren't going to spend $3.5 million this season on Johnson's salary to find out.
One slim option is they could re-sign Johnson at a lower rate.
Could one landing spot be Miami? While head coach of the Cowboys, Bill Parcells expressed interest in Johnson amid a flurry of Dillon trade rumors in 2003.
The Bengals figure to save about $3 million on the salary cap with the move.
Reports say that the Bengals are trying to get a new deal with Anderson, the man they consider to be their greatest right tackle in history. Anderson, a four-time Pro Bowler tied with Jim Breech in appearing in the sixth most Bengals games of all time with 181, remained a backup to Stacy Andrews after training camp.
Anderson 33, a week away from beginning his 13th season, looked to rebound from the most injury-plagued season of his career. A foot injury from late in 2006 iced him for the entire 2007 preseason, but it was a deep knee bruise in the third game of the regular season that stopped his streak of 116 straight starts and limited him seven games.
Anderson embraced the move to start Andrews, but he also said his goal was to get back into the lineup. The Bengals wanted to see him practice and he did work the bulk of training camp until the last two weeks or so. He didn't practice the week before the third preseason game against the Saints, but took a lot of snaps and even went into the fourth quarter.
He didn't play Thursday night in the preseason finale, when veterans such as Johnson, Carson Palmer, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh also sat.
With Anderson set to make about $3 million this year, they may have not been ready to pay him that kind of money to back up.