"Am I coming back? Of course I am," Johnson said while standing in front of his Davie, Fla., home. He had been acting as the editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine's second annual Revenge of the Jocks issue. He made the comments on May 23.
"I told my coaches I'm going to California to act, but the truth is I may come back to the Bengals as early as June," Johnson said.
"I may be crazy but I'm not stupid."
After catching 93 passes for a team record 1,440 yards in 2007, Johnson, frustrated after the team's 7-9 season, began posturing for a trade. But in April the Bengals turned down an offer of two high draft picks from Washington and head coach Marvin Lewis suggested Johnson should make good on his promise and sit out the season.
Johnson is scheduled to make $3 million in 2008 under a contract extension he signed two years ago that stretches until 2011.
"If we want to be like Indy and New England, we have to pay and bring in some difference-makers on defense," Johnson said. "Our offense is fine. But if they're fussing about paying a guy like me, a guy among the best in the league, you know damn well the Bengals aren't gonna supply the defense with what it needs. So I just said, 'If we aren't gonna do what we need to make us win -- can I please leave?' It's simple. I just told 'em: 'If y'all won't change, then I have to.'"
Johnson held out hope of a pre-draft trade or a deal with a team like Philadelphia, Dallas or Miami. When nothing materialized by mid-May, Johnson began to consider a different approach, according to his coach and mentor, Charles Collins, who was in Florida to oversee the All-Pro receiver's offseason workout regime.
"Look how well I've done while talking every week and calling people out and making things so hard on me with all this attention," Johnson said. "I've been thinking a lot lately about what I could do if I just played and didn't talk. Things would be a whole lot easier on me. And think of the numbers I could put up. Then what would people say about me?"
Johnson, who has not attended any of the Bengals' offseason workouts, could be back in Cincinnati as early as June 12 for the start of the team's next minicamp.
"It's the reinvention of Ocho Cinco," he says. "I'm dead serious. People need to take me as I am because I just don't give a [expletive] anymore. That's how I'd sum up my attitude for the next season."
"You'd hope that a guy like Chad and a guy like T.J. would be here helping guys out and trying to make the team better in that way," Palmer said then. "But they've got to handle their own business themselves, too."
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine