Updated: 5:45 p.m.
LewisBengals head coach Marvin Lewis defended Chad Johnson again Wednesday and said the club won't even think about discussing trading its disgruntled wide receiver.
In an interview in preparation for next week's NFL scouting combine, Lewis also said the team is currently still in a 4-3 base defense but indicated that could change in the next month as personnel changes.
Lewis targeted both front lines as top priorities for the offseason and said the Bengals are going to use their franchise tag in free agency but wouldn't say the candidates. He did say that free-agent defensive end Justin Smith and right tackle Stacy Andrews are key players on each front. Without getting specific, Lewis said progress has been slow in negotiations for long-term deals with the club's own free agents.
Citing his commitment to re-energize the running game, Lewis said the Bengals are going to look at running backs in the upcoming draft. He also said the Bengals are going to change their tact in pursuit of a tight end prospect. Because it is so difficult to find college players that can both catch and block, Lewis said he'll try to find athletes that can first catch but have the ability to develop into blockers.
"They can stop the presses, quit killing trees and move on to other things," Lewis said of the Johnson media orgy. "There is, at no point, anyone in the Bengals organization who has ever uttered anything about trading Chad Johnson. Nor will he be traded.
"Our player, we know, is very passionate about the game. He continues to play at a very, very high level. He's been very, very productive. We're conscious of that. He's been well compensated."
In the wake of Tuesday's Washington Post story that revealed the Redskins' interest in trading for Johnson, Lewis sent a message to old friend Dan Snyder, the Redskins owner, through the front door.
"There is no such thing as behind-the-door deals in the NFL," Lewis said. "That will not occur because the team in question is not willing to trade their player. Nor have they thought about trading their player. Nor have they discussed trading their player. Nor will they discuss trading their player."
Lewis hasn't personally spoken to Johnson since the final game of the season, but he said others from the club have. Assistant strength coach Ray Oliver, for instance, spent time with Johnson at last week's Pro Bowl.
Although he wouldn't elaborate on who, Lewis feels Johnson is feeling external pressures.
"It's unfortunate for Chad that he is being cast in this light. It's really not fair. So once again I will go on record in defense of him," Lewis said. "We've had a great relationship. All I want to do is see Chad continue to be a very, very productive NFL player and help us win a lot of football games. That's not going to change."
Lewis said he believes Johnson can come back into the locker room after going public with his trade demands and general overall unhappiness, and cited the case of Michael Strahan's holdout before he helped the Giants win the Super Bowl.
"I think everyone in the NFL realizes that contracts and these kind of things unfortunately can be a big part of what the game is all about," Lewis said. "What you have to do as a football team is you have to learn to put some of that aside and not really worry about those things and you go back to work as a football team and move forward. And that happens in how many cases?
"The Giants just won a Super Bowl with maybe their best defensive player who was contemplating supposedly retirement. He came back, he didn't get paid any more money and he just played. That's the way it is."
Lewis also denied a story in which a source close to Johnson said that Lewis stopped talking to him in the second half of the season. Even though media members saw Lewis at least talking to him on the field before practices.
"Any of you who have been around here knows differently because you watched it," he said. "Hell, there was a picture in the paper. That was in the second half of the season, right? When it was my fault because he does what he does."
Lewis said he went through a similar problem with perception when head coaching jobs opened up in places where he had previously coached, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, and his name surfaced even though he signed a five-year contract after the 2005 season. Johnson is signed through 2011.
"I wish people would understand. It was the same thing with me," Lewis said. " 'You're going to Pittsburgh, you're going here, there.' I have a contract, and nobody is going anywhere. This is not pick up my Pixie sticks and move on. It doesn't work that way. With any of us ... it isn't that way (in the NFL), so I wish people would believe it wasn't that way."