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Vet vetting

Updated: 7 p.m.

When was the last time the Bengals cut three of their former Pro Bowlers on the same day?

It happened Saturday as the Bengals cleared out right tackle Willie Anderson, running back Rudi Johnson, and cornerback Deltha O'Neal on Cutdown Day to get down to the 53-player limit.

They all made Hawaii in 2005 as the Bengals celebrated the AFC North title. Johnson's 1,458 yards and O'Neal's 10 interceptions in that season are still in the book as club records.

"Obviously the play fell off in '07, and we just haven't seen a lot of change thus far this year," said head coach Marvin Lewis in a late afternoon news conference. "It's a hard decision to make."



Even though he returned to practice last week, the Bengals apparently decided they hadn't seen enough of the new and improved Johnson this summer and cut the man projected to once be their bell-cow running back in 2008.

Anderson confirmed he turned down an offer to cut his salary and make up the rest with incentives, and said he won't be back for a 13th season. Anderson, 33, said he's not sure if he'll continue to play and will contemplate retirement.

"But I want football people to know I can still play at a high level," Anderson said. "It wasn't about money. It was about principle. After I had a conversation with upper management today, I was shocked to find out some of the things I was supposedly saying or doing. I want everyone to know I can still play. I credit management. They did up the offer."

Lewis said there's a chance the vets could return at a lower salary, but that has been termed unlikely. If they did at all, the soonest would probably be after Opening Day because vested veterans are guaranteed their salaries if they're on a first weekend roster.

A league source said O'Neal also turned down an offer to renegotiate his $3 million salary. He had lost his third corner job to David Jones after missing all of the voluntary camps.

Also cut were linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Jim Maxwell as the Bengals kept just six backers and went heavy with nine D-linemen and 10 DBs. They went with just four corners and one is free-agent rookie Simeon Castille. They went with six safeties with a nod to special teams, cutting only John Busing and keeping sixth-rounder Corey Lynch, CFL refugee Kyries Hebert, and two-time special teams tackling leader Herana-Daze Jones.

Jordan Palmer, Carson's younger brother, became the third QB when Jeff Rowe got cut and made some history. According to the Elias Sports Bureau the only other brother quarterback tandem to play on the same team in the Super Bowl era is Ty and Koy Detmer for the 1997 Eagles. And Koy was on injured reserve while both Palmers are active.

Fullback Jeremi Johnson made the club after having weight problems and on the offensive line, backup center Dan Santucci was one of nine guys even though he's out for a couple more weeks with a high ankle sprain.

The expected six wide receivers made it with rookies Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, as well as veterans Glenn Holt and Antonio Chatman backing up Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

"It's a tough day in Cincinnati. Those are three guys that helped us turn the corner," said Houshmandzadeh of Anderson, Johnson and O'Neal, a trio that is now in free agency. "I think they'll go someplace and play well and they'll have that extra motivation."

The working number was about $8 million in '08 money saved under the salary cap, which could benefit guys like Houshmandzadeh and kicker Shayne Graham, two other one-time Pro Bowlers whose contracts are up after this season.

Anderson already received a $2 million bonus back in January that he was to make on top of his $3 million salary for this year. He said the offer was to make it up in incentives if he played.

"But it was too exhausting," said Anderson of his efforts to convince people in the club he was healthy to play.

"We want to keep this positive," said Schaffer, who negotiated a five-year, $26 million 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 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.

Lewis' theme after last year's injury-riddled season is to have more sure answers when it came to health.



"We haven't seen the day-to-day-to-day that you need," Lewis said of Anderson. "I know it's contrary to popular belief. But it's important that we start our season healthy, and I've made that very clear to you guys from the start, so we have an opportunity to put as close to as many guys out there that we know are going to be healthy as we can. And that can practice day-to-day."

It may not be a John McCain-sized gamble, but it's a gamble just the same for the Bengals when it comes to the running game. 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.

"We haven't seen Rudi play (in preseason). I've seen Rudi practice very few times, and cut it loose very few times," Lewis said. "He got off to a great start. I thought he had an outstanding offseason. I thought he had a great spring and was doing everything, but unfortunately he seemed to suffer from the hamstring, and being unable to go out and play and cut it loose. So, as I told you guys, I still see better than I hear. And that was important to us."

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.

On Saturday, Lewis anointed Perry.



"This is what he's asked for and wanted," Lewis said. "He's worked extremely hard to return from his injury to have this (opportunity), and he's made good on it. Now it's time, so he has everything to play for. It ought to be exciting to him.

"Right now he'll be our starting back. We have felt very comfortable keeping him in there on third down, so I think he'll log more playing time than anyone we've had back there for a while."

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 Johnson move.



The Bengals consider Anderson 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 looks to have rebounded 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 to 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, Houshmandzadeh and Carson Palmer also sat. But Anderson said he mised the game because orthotics he had ordered were too tight and caused his toe to swell up.

He said he went home to Atlanta on Friday to get the new shoes and was "shocked" to get the phone call looking for him to redo the deal.

"I missed the game because of the orthotics and that's all," Anderson said. "Not because of anything lingering."

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