Ochocinco motivated to play for Dolphins, but questions remain

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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. "After reading what you wrote on the Chris Spielman book, I downloaded it and am reading it on my commute home from work. Good advice. It's got me blubbering like a baby."-- From Terry Thornberg, of Chicago

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. "One of the things that caught my eye was Rich Miano's reasoning around joining the player lawsuits against the NFL. Mr. Miano is 49, played 11 seasons in the NFL and, according to the article, is in good health. However, if he starts experiencing health or neurological issues down the road he wants the NFL to cover him?

According to Mr. Miano's logic, anyone who played any football at any point in their lives should be able to sue the organization that oversaw their play and be insured on correlation alone. This would end not just football, but all youth sports in America. Should a college player that tears an ACL while playing a college game at any level be covered by the school's insurance policy 30, 40 or 50 years later if the player needs a knee replacement? I agree that we need more education about the potential risks of playing sports, but I think Mr. Miano's way of educating others could have far-reaching negative implications if the players prevail.''-- From Joe Yandell, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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. "I couldn't even finish your latest Monday Morning Quarterback article before writing. The conversation you wrote about between you and the commissioner really prompted me to write. It seems the NFL is looking for a way to better transition its players into regular life. I would suggest the NFL look to the U.S. military as an example of how to transition players out of the league.

I'm a Navy vet and I was sent to a week-long school to prepare me for my transition from the Navy to civilian life. Some of the services available to service members as they leave include mental health care through the military for 90 days past their service date and then from the V.A.

We received training in resume-writing, job-hunting, house-hunting and in our veteran's benefits. I was required to have a resume by the end of the class. I had been given information about unemployment, medical and dental expenses, health insurance (something I had zero knowledge about as a service member), budgeting a household and where to go for counseling (I have PTSD from the war). I now work as a civilian for the U.S. Army. I thought you might find that interesting. Thank you for what you do.''-- From Tim Shannon, of Laurel, Md.

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. "You've firmly lent your voice to the side that an 18-game schedule is not in line with Goodell's emphasis on player safety. Did you bring this issue up with Goodell when you were talking about player safety?''-- From Dave, of Maryland

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. "There's so much talk about head trauma and concussions and the like around football. And I know that no helmet is going to ultimately delete concussions from the football equation. But, why on earth does the NFL allow MANY of its players (and high profile ones at that) to wear old model helmets?''-- From Mike, of New York City

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. "I think placing all of the blame on Ochocinco's release on the percentage of the balls caught thrown his way misses the mark. First, you can't fairly compare him to Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; if you do then you have to ask some hard questions about Deion Branch as well. They usually run much shorter routes.

It is fair to compare him to Branch and the reality is that if Ochocinco had caught three more passes (out of only 32) his percentage would have been equal to Branch's. Having seen Chad's last season in Cincinnati (and the trade by the Bengals was another great move for them last year), I think the reason for his release is a lot simpler: he is old and slower and can no longer get separation from his defenders.''-- From C. Oppenheimer, of Ashland, Ky.

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. "Love the column! I always look forward to it, but I could not disagree with you more on the potential for replacement referees. As I read your opinion and hear others via Sirius/XM radio, other media outlets, etc., it seems the general opinion is that the current NFL refs are irreplaceable. I say hogwash! First and foremost, ALL referees are imperfect and will continue to make mistakes, regardless of what level they are officiating. Instant replay is an obvious help but the current crop will still botch the occasional call even after replay.

How many times and for how long now have we been clamoring for full-time refs? Not that that will decrease errors, but I have no problem seeing what some of the new guys can do. I have suffered through many a game with blown calls deciding the outcome. The money is there as you already stated. I don't mean to paint all the guys with the same brush, because they all will make mistakes, but I have no problem seeing some new blood in there. Refereeing is not easy, but it is not comparable to replacement players. I don't expect you to agree with much of this, but the current state of officiating is ATROCIOUS. Any improvement will be much appreciated. Thanks for letting me vent.''-- From Dave, of Logansport, Ind.

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. "Can we please stop pretending that Roger Goodell actually cares about player safety? He wants positive press while he turns the league into Arena Football with more players on the field. His changes have nothing to do with player safety and everything to do with offense. A properly fitted double sided mouth guard reduces the risk of concussion by 90%, but in a league where Goodell can fine you for wearing the wrong color socks, he doesn't make them wear one. The helmet most players wear constantly does the worst in concussion tests. Yet it is still allowed. Put a few modifications on it and concussions are basically a thing of the past. But helmet choice is given to the players. Because the truly safe helmets look silly, so nobody wears them. Goodell. Does. Not. Care. About. Player. Safety.''-- From Alex, of Syracuse

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.