What is Rex Ryan doing? It should be obvious by now: The Bills have no intention of shying away from controversial figures in their efforts to build a winner.
Pop quiz: When Rex Ryan told WGR-AM radio, “He recognizes that he has made some mistakes. He wants to prove that he is not that person now,” was he talking about ...
A) Former Jets linebacker IK Enemkpali, whom the Bills claimed on waivers Wednesday a day after Enemkpali was released for breaking Geno Smith's jaw with a locker room punch?
B) Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who is suspended for the first six games after an assault-and-battery arrest (the charge was later dropped)?
C) Richie Incognito, one of the former Miami Dolphins accused of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin left the team and Incognito found himself out of work for upwards of a year?
D) Percy Harvin, the talented but standoffish wide receiver who struggled to fit into three different NFL locker rooms before arriving in Buffalo?
You are correct if you answered C) Incognito. Ryan made that comment in February as part of an effort to walk back an earlier remark that the Bills “are going to build a bully.” Obviously, that rhetoric turned cringe-worthy upon Incognito's arrival.
What has become obvious, though, is that Ryan and Buffalo GM Doug Whaley have no intention of shying away from controversial figures in their efforts to build a playoff team. The Bills' claim of Enemkpali was at once surprising and not all that unexpected, a contradiction promoted by the attitude Ryan desires within the walls of his locker room.
Conventional wisdom pointed toward Enemkpali slipping through waivers unclaimed Wednesday, given the circumstances surrounding his release and the looming threat of a suspension coming from the NFL. This was not Enemkpali's first off-field misstep, although he would be considered a first-time offender under the NFL's guidelines—in 2011, he was arrested and later charged with battery for striking an undercover police officer during a bar fight.
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The Jets (and Ryan, presiding over his final draft as coach) were willing to overlook that event last year when they drafted Enemkpali in the sixth round. Ryan and Whaley apparently now will offer Enemkpali a chance to put his run-in with Smith behind him, too.
There also is the possibility that we can chalk this up to Rex being Rex. Perhaps he saw a moment to poke the bear a bit, to needle his former team and new rival by claiming the player who just threw the Jets' locker room into temporary disarray. If any coach was willing to make a roster move merely on a lark, Ryan would be among the most likely candidates.
Enemkpali's game hints that there is more to this, at least from a football sense. The 6'1", 261-pound outside linebacker does seem to fit the Ryan mold. Clearly, Ryan liked what he saw before the draft.
“He’s strong and he’s got a good pass rush,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said of Enemkpali earlier this month, per Scout.com. "He’s still learning the new scheme as far as when to drop and when not to drop, and certain things like that. But we know he can rush the passer."
Had Enemkpali been released because he could not crack the Jets' roster, this pickup would be a blip on the radar, of course.
The combination of Smith's injury and Ryan's background with the Jets increases the intrigue. It also highlights the devil-may-care mentality Ryan and Whaley are taking with the organization's makeup. Ryan must believe he is the right guy to help rehabilitate players and coaches who screwed up their previous chances. If he can stick it to his former team a few times in the process, all the better.