In retrospect, this move was a bigger surprise than it should have been. At the time we figured Ed had been caught with a blunt the size of an arm in his locker or something of that nature. Then there was speculation about a possible trade move that required him to be cleared off the roster. And now we're in the middle of questioning Ed Johnson's performance.
But the simplest (and by Occam's razor, the best) answer is something a little more mundane: Big Ed was the victim of a bad call by management and wound up as the odd man out.
I'm not gonna fault Polian and Caldwell for cutting Ed. But I AM going to fault them for their most glaring mistake this season:
Adam Vinatieri should have been IRed.
It was pretty clear that an aging kicker coming off of major surgery might not be ready to go by the beginning of the season. However, Vinny and management clearly thought they could rush him back.
This was clearly a mistake in judgement.
The other kicker that WAS brought in, Shane Andrus, showed he could be serviceable. More importantly, he's only 29 and was NOT coming off major surgery. Instead, Andrus was cut, and Vinatieri aggravated an injury that was definitely affecting his kicks.
So how does this relate to Ed Johnson? Unfortunately, management was now a prisoner of its own blown call. Andrus was signed elsewhere, and the kicker market was now so thin that their was no clear replacement for Vinny. They were forced to bring in Matt Stover, who is even older than Vinatieri, to plug the gap, but they still could not afford to IR Vinny. So essentially, they needed a roster spot; more specifically, they needed someone who had been a healthy scratch to step into the gameday 45 so Vinny could sit.
You can see where this is going.
2nd round pick Fili Moala has been a healthy scratch all season. Caldwell clearly thinks that he's ready to step onto the field (and for the record, Moala has shown great enthusiasm for taking advantage of playing time, which I love in a player). He also frees up a spot on the "healthy scratch" list for Vinatieri to occupy. The only problem is that this move requires cutting a DT who has dressed for the past few games. And as much as we all like Big Ed, we've seen more out of Mookie, Muir, Foster, and Brock than we have out of Ed.
And that's how you get your third wheel.
Unlike others, I don't see this as a huge indictment of Big Ed. He wasn't playing up to his 2007 level, but the guy had been out of football for a year; it was frankly unrealistic of us to expect him to fit right back in where he left off. I ALSO don't see this as a big disaster for the defense; Larry Coyer has CLEARLY improved the defensive scheme and made the entire unit more effective. Johnson was unlucky because his production (eleven tackles in four games) is eminently replaceable, especially because there's a talented, highly-drafted rookie drooling for his spot on the field.
One last thing we all may not want to hear, and that is this move does not speak well of the health of Bob Sanders. He has been a scratch since day 1, and if management thought that he would be ready to dress on gameday, they could have released Aaron Fransisco, who frankly DEFINES "lack of production" and been fine for safety depth. This move says that they feel better about their DT depth than their safety depth, which is troubling to say the least.
This whole episode has left a bitter taste in our mouths; we were all rooting for Ed to make up for his many mistakes. His teammates clearly thought the world of him. But this time, rather than screwing it up for himself, Big Ed Johnson may have simply been a victim of circumstance. As they say, this game is a business, and if there's one thing that's always been true, it remains the NFL: Not For Long.
Post Script: Big Ed, we're sorry things worked out the way they did. But you should take this as an opportunity to pursue your other passions. In all seriousness, maybe you could move to California and open a dispensary, to help the sick and dying ease their pain. Living well is the best revenge. Best of luck big guy.