TDBH: A dozen years later Thornton makes another strike in stripes

Posted Mar 14, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - March 15, 2015

Twelve years after defensive tackle John Thornton is a linchpin of Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’ first free-agent class, Thornton is now an agent and represents right end Michael Johnson in his improbable route back to Cincinnati after a year hiatus. Last year Thornton and Johnson team for an enormous free-agent deal in Tampa Bay for five years, $43 million that lasts just one season when Johnson hurts his ankle and struggles through a four-sack season for the two-win Bucs. Everyone knows where this is headed even though his old defensive coordinator, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, hosts him for a visit after the Bucs cut him last week. Johnson never gets off the Bengals’ defensive line’s text tree last season and does things like call in to their break-up dinner at training cap. It is dicey for Thornton. Not only does Johnson love his Bengals mates, but Thornton also played for Lewis, Zimmer, and Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes, and his client bolts the Bengals last season. But both sides know they’re better with the other.

“The big thing was taking the emotion out of it,’ Thornton says. “You had to take a step back. The big thing for me was making sure Mike was happy. He’s a small-town guy and relationships are really important to him. That’s why we visited Minnesota and why I went up there with him. To help him take the emotion out of it … And Zim was great. It was impressive. He’s got a real good thing going up there with the stadium and he’s got a real good staff. If I was pushing him anywhere, it might have been there. But, in the end, it had to be Mike’s call, and that’s what you have to do as the agent. The Bengals were great. I was thinking, ‘How can you go home again?’ That could have been awkward. But it was a good deal.”  A good enough deal (four years, $24 million) that Lewis raves in a press release, “Our entire organization is just ecstatic about getting Mike back … “He’s earned tremendous respect from coaches, teammates and management.  He did tremendous things for us while he was here, and we look forward to having him blend back in and uplift us as defensive football team.” Johnson, one of the more active Bengals in the community and a big locker room presence, can’t wait to get started. “I feel like everybody knows we play well together. I don’t know why, we just do,” Johnson says. “We’ve got that chemistry, that bond. We text each other in that group right now making jokes and laughing. That’s\ what makes things go. When you care about them, they care about you. It’s like brothers. We go to bat for each other. If you’ve never been a part of something like that, it’s hard to explain.”

No explanation needed. The four-year deal maxes out at $24 million and Johnson does what Johnson does. He plays an exhaustive 859 snaps on a defense that sets the franchise scoring record for the division champs while quietly coming up with huge plays (a third-down sack in the win in Pittsburgh and a forced fumble on the Bengals 25 in the fourth quarter in Denver to help put the Seed Game into  OT) while stirring the chemistry. But today the bad times also fuel Johnson. He doesn’t want the 2013 Wild Card loss at home to a San Diego team that drilled the heavily-favored Bengals to be his last game in stripes. “I saw a picture of me after the Chargers game sitting on the sidelines and I was thinking, that’s not the way I want my Bengals career to go out,” Johnson says. “I’m not going to go out like that. I get an opportunity not to go out like that.”

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