"I know that I'm not a risk," he said. "I'm a highly
intelligent person and I take pride in a lot of things I do in
life. Just like any other human being, I'm going to make mistakes
and I've made mistakes. As far as the risk goes, I'm coming to
Dallas to be a productive defensive lineman and to solidify what
[team owner] Jerry Jones thinks of me."
Since December, Johnson has gone from star tackle on the NFL's
best defense to being unemployed and suspended. He's also spent two
months in jail because of weapons charges -- both new and old -- and
seen a friend get shot and killed.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Johnson for eight games
in June. He said then that he would consider cutting the penalty by
two games if Johnson stayed on his best behavior -- in other words,
proved he was living up to his post-incarceration promise of trying
to become the "Man of the Year." Weeks later, Johnson was pulled
over for speeding at 3:30 a.m. The Chicago Bears released him soon
Although no charges were filed from that incident, Johnson
remained unemployed until Jones gave him a two-year contract
"As far as it being a last chance, I'm so focused on making
this a great experience and being a Dallas Cowboy that I'm not
really too wrapped up in what chance it is," Johnson said in a
conference call from his home in Arizona.
If Goodell's initial punishment holds, Johnson couldn't play
until Nov. 11 against the New York Giants.
Jones said the team is already talking to the league office
about all the things they can and can't do for Johnson until then.
For instance, he can work out at team headquarters, but not with
his teammates. He also may be able to visit with the team's player
assistance staff, headed by Calvin Hill.
"The incentive is all there for him to do the right things,
make the right kinds of decisions," Jones said. "We're going to
be working with him. We will have a good read as to how prepared he
is to get on the field, basically where he is with his focus and
The Cowboys did so much research on Johnson as a person, player
and teammate that they didn't even discuss his past when they met
with him Tuesday.
Johnson appreciated that, too.
"Those guys really let me come in with open arms," he said.
"They just talked about me moving forward as a Cowboy and to me
that was pretty important."
Jones has rarely shied from controversial players, especially
good ones who can help put his team over the top. Dallas is 2-0 and
a legitimate contender in the NFC but already has injuries piling
up on defense -- including a Tank-sized hole at nose tackle. Starter
Jason Ferguson was lost for the year in the opener and his
replacement, Jay Ratliff, is a converted defensive end who might
not be able to hold up all season.
Besides, Johnson is only 25 and will be making a minimum salary.
That makes this a low-risk move with the chance for a high reward.
Coach Wade Phillips said he believes Johnson is sincere about
getting his career back on track.
"I talked to him and he said all the right things," Phillips
said. "There are two kinds of guys in those situations -- one who
wants to get back and wants to change their life and there are the
ones that don't care. He seemed to be the former. He seemed to want
to get back going and wanted to play football and knew how much he
Chicago coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday that a fresh start
might be all Johnson needs.
"I think you can be a good guy and make some bad mistakes. I
think that's what happened with Tank," Smith said. "I believe in
Tank. I still do. You get to a point sometimes, in certain places,
where you come to your last chance. That's what happened here."
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said Johnson's jovial
personality is missed in the locker room. Urlacher noted that the
number of people from within the organization who visited him in
jail this summer shows "we obviously cared about him quite a
Urlacher said the Cowboys are getting a good player, too.
"He's definitely going to be fresh," Urlacher said.
Terrell Owens knows all about that, having endured a long
behavior-related absence of his own before joining the Cowboys.
Like many of his teammates, T.O. was glad to hear about the
"We're going to welcome him just like guys welcomed me," Owens
Added quarterback Tony Romo: "To me, it's another talented guy
that's trying to help us win the Super Bowl. The one thing we all
shouldn't forget is sometimes it's good to help people out. Not
that we're helping Tank out, but sometimes it's good to give people
a second chance. I know it's worked out in a lot of other areas in
this game. I think you guys are pretty happy with the way T.O. has
CB Terence Newman did some work in practice. LB Greg Ellis didn't. ... CB Nate Jones, who was cut Tuesday to make room for Johnson, was re-signed after clearing waivers. He fills the spot opened when Johnson went on the suspended list. The Cowboys figured they'd be keeping Jones as the belongings in his
locker were never touched. ... QB Tony Romo grew up in Wisconsin and went to school at Eastern Illinois, yet he's never been to Soldier Field. "But I've driven by it before," Romo said. "It looks nice on the outside."