Ochocinco motivated to play for Dolphins, but questions remain
It might sound like a nice little hometown hero story -- Chad Ochocinco (nee Johnson), the Liberty City kid who grew up a Dolphins fan and never got to play for them in his prime, signing with the team on Monday. It is, with an asterisk.
Just look at the contract. It's a one-year, $925,000 deal, the minimum for veterans of the 34-year-old Ochocinco's experience. He can double that through incentives -- to just over $2 million -- but those incentives are steep. He'll have to catch at least 80 balls with the Dolphins to make much in extras, and there's no guarantee he'll make the team. There was some speculation that the deal would be even more cap-friendly to the Dolphins, because minimum-salary vets in some circumstances can count only $540,000 toward the salary cap. But because there are backside performance bonuses to the contract, the deal will count $925,000 against the cap -- if Ochocinco makes the team.
This is not quite a win-win situation for Ocho and the Dolphins, because we have no idea if he'll even make the team. If he reverts to the look-at-me personality and sometimes divisive player he was in Cincinnati, he won't make it out of training camp with the straight-laced Dolphins, led by coach Joe Philbin and GM Jeff Ireland. But I'm told Ochocinco is supremely motivated to prove a couple of things.
One, that he can be the difference-making receiver he often was in Cincinnati. Two, that he can learn an offense; the rap on him in New England, and the Dolphins know this, is that he struggled learning the offense and that contributed to him being a total non-factor in 2011 with the Patriots.
The Dolphins, even with major problems at receiver (Davone Bess, Brian Hartline and Legedu Naanee are their top three wideouts) still had to be convinced that, as I'm told, "Ocho had some juice left.'' And in a workout after being released by the Patriots, Ochocinco, on a hot south Florida field, ran about 20 routes and didn't appear winded. He's obviously in good shape. He showed some quickness the team wanted to see. He was humble.
So we'll see. Ochocinco's star was severely tarnished by his run in New England, where the Patriots wanted to say goodbye to him so much that they were willing to take major cap hits on his dead contract, both this year and next. There's no guarantee he'll make the team, and he knows he'll have to be two things to be on the opening-day roster: good, and on his best behavior.
"It is not an indictment of any of the players that we have; we like the players that we are working with at this point in time," Philbin said Monday about his new man. "You always evaluate your roster.''
And the roster is wide-receiver-needy. Ochocinco can turn this into a good story of redemption, but it's all on his shoulders.
Now onto your email:
HE LIKES THE SPIELMAN BOOK.
Thanks. Spielman's done a great service for those who are dealing with the long, slow decline of a loved one with a terminal disease. I have a feeling many people in his shoes will be thanking him for his wisdom over the next few years. And thanks to many of you for your kind words on the book reviews. I know it's a quirky thing for a column that is supposed to be about football, but I hope you can find something good on that list for the dads in your lives.
ON THE RICH MIANO STORY.
I wouldn't be surprised if you just latched onto a point the NFL attorneys will be using if this case goes to trial.
THE NFL SHOULD LOOK AT THE ARMED FORCES.
Tim, thank you. That's a great email. I know how much the NFL uses the military for information-sharing, and I believe they must know about the post-career planning that the armed forces do. But certainly this is good advice. Good luck in your second career.
ON THE 18-GAME SCHEDULE.
I did not. We've talked about that on a couple of occasions, and he knows my feeling and I know his. What I wanted to do in this interview was to focus on a couple of things in-depth. We talked about other topics that I didn't include -- the Saints, for instance -- and he didn't say much that would qualify as new ground being covered.
BRILLIANT MINDS THINK ALIKE.
Mike, that's a good thought, and I'm on it. I'll be looking into a story this summer on the issue, and I'll have some information after I return from vacation about it. Thanks for writing about something that I agree is a big concern.
I WASN'T FAIR ON OCHO'S RELEASE, HE SAYS.
Fair enough, but there's a reason Tom Brady threw him only 32 balls, and why Bill O'Brien rarely called Ochocinco's number. They didn't trust him. There was a spot for him to take some of the offense away from Branch, and he couldn't do it.
ON THE THOUGHT OF REPLACEMENT OFFICIALS.
Thanks, Dave. You're right -- I disagree. Asking new men to do NFL games for the first time in their lives, without proper training and the kind of film study the current crop does is asking for trouble. I think the mistakes the incumbents make will increase significantly, and perhaps result in the wrong team winning a few games.
ALEX THINKS GOODELL'S A PHONY.
Time will tell. That's not how I see it. Even if the only reason he cares about player safety is that he has to be seen as caring about it for the long-term future of the game (mothers won't let their babies grow up to be football players if they think the sport is too dangerous), sitting in a six-hour meeting with 48 mostly independent medical experts shows he's at the absolute, very least, attentive to the issue.