It's old news by now, but Monday night, the Miami Dolphins signed former New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco to a one year contract. Despite it being old news - and we did cover it here on the Phinsider as details emerged - I never actually weighed in with what I thought of the signing. Well, today I look to add that.
The Palm Beach Posts' Ben Volin introduced an article about the signing with two really good paragraphs about exactly why the Patriots game up on Ochocinco after a failed one year with the team:
"Chad Ochocinco wasn't released by the Patriots last week because he was a malcontent and didn't fit in with the team's culture. Ochocinco wasn't released because he's lost a step at 34 and is now longer the quick, explosive player he was as recently as 2009, when he made the Pro Bowl.
"Ochocinco didn't last with the Patriots for one simple reason, as we wrote in today's newspaper: He couldn't learn the playbook well enough to get on the field. Ochocinco never developed any trust with Tom Brady, and had just 15 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown last year - all career lows. He was a healthy scratch for the AFC Championship Game."
I'm glad Volin wrote that excerpt because it states exactly what I wanted to say, and did it so much better than what I would have accomplished. And, it's true. Ochocinco did not see his talent level drop so much that he suddenly could not catch, having gone from 67 receptions in 2010 with the Cincinnati Bengals to 15 in 2011 with the Patriots. He did not stop being able to run, going from 831 receiving yards in 2010 to just 276 in 2011. In fact, his per catch average jumped from 12.4 in 2010 to 18.4 - the highest average in his career.
But, obviously, something did not work in New England.
Many people have stated that Ochocinco simply is not smart enough to digest an NFL playbook, relying on his athleticim to get himself open, and letting Carson Palmer, his quarterback during his Cincinnati days, find him. When he entered an offense based strictly on precision route running, and perfect, habitual timing with quarterback Tom Brady, Ochocinco simply failed.
Maybe it is true that Ochocinco could not digest the playbook in New England, and he will only succeed in a system that allows him to improvise as much as it forces him to be in a certain position at a certain time. If that's true, then do not expect Ochocinco to find any success in Miami.
But, here's exactly why that fact excites me. If Ochocinco cannot understand the Dolphins' playbook, then you cut him. It's that simple.
As SI.com's Peter King pointed out in his Monday Morning Quarterback - Tuesday article this week, Ochocino's deal will count just $925,000 toward the salary cap, if he makes the team. In order for the six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to make anything higher - his total incentives could raise that number to $2 million - he needs to catch 80 passes this year.
What makes this deal even better for the Dolphins is Ochocinco himself. He wanted to come home to Miami. Ochocinco always played with a chip on his shoulder in Cincinnati, a chip that was lost while he tried to mold himself into the "Patriots way" of doing things; if Ochocinco is allowed to express himself, even just a little, he should be able to re-kindle that fire and return to the form that put him in every Pro Bowl from 2003 to 2009, save 2008. An Ochocinco, who wants to prove his playing days are not done will be an asset to this team.
One of the negative reactions to Ochocinco's signing has been the view that, with him on the team, the Dolphins will hamper the development of younger receivers. However, that is simply not a concern. The Dolphins are expected to take five or six wide receivers on the 53-man roster. Assuming likely starters Brian Hartline and Davone Bess each had a slot, that leaves at most four slots for the other ten receivers - B.J. Cunningham, Jeff Fuller, Clyde Gates, Chris Hogan, Rishard Matthews, Marlon Moore, Legedu Naanee, Ochocinco, Julius Pruitt, and Roberto Wallace.
Let's next assume that Fuller, and probably one of Cunningham and Matthews, will be placed on the practice squad (this assumption is that rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not the starting quarterback to begin the year - if he is starting, look for Fuller to make the 53-man roster). That brings us down to eight receivers looking for one of four slots. Gates is almost a sure thing, which leaves us with Hogan, Moore, Naanee, Ochocinco, Pruitt, and Wallace fighting for three positions.
However, before Ochocinco's addition, Naanee was most likely to make the roster. Now, one of those two will probably make the depth chart, with the other being released with the idea that two of the other, younger, receivers will gain the final two positions. So, if Naanee was likely to make the roster anyway, and Ochocinco's presence means it will either be Naanee or Ochocinco, where is the degradation of development for Hogan, Moore, Pruitt, or Wallace?
I really do not see the addition of Ochocinco having any bearing what-so-ever on the "development" or roster positions for any of the younger receivers on the roster. In fact, Ochcocino should be able to assist those younger players. For all his on the field antics and excessive celebrations, all reports are that Ochocinco is actually a high character guy in the locker room.
The thing I keep returning to, when I think about the signing of Ochocinco is the status of Hartline. The presumed top wide receiver on Miami's depth chart, Hartline has not been practicing during the Dolphins' recent OTAs. The word is that it is a calf injury sidelining Hartline, with the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly adding:
Folks...@Brianhartline has a VERY logical and acceptable excuse for being absent, and sidelined. It's also private. Some things are NONEYA.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 12, 2012
I just worry that this could be something that will linger for Hartline. If he is not able to make it into training camp healthy, maybe the Ochocinco signing makes even more sense. The team will not discuss Hartline's status, and maybe it is a logical, private matter - but something about it just makes me think this is not going to go away any time soon.
Volin ended his article about Ochocinco with a quote from former MVP quarterback Rich Gannon. "There's not a ton of these guys out there that have experience, that have been productive and can still get it done. To me, he's the guy I would've signed," Gannon said. "He was well behaved, and I think he probably learned a lot last year just learning how they go about their business up there - high degree of professionalism, attention to detail - and hopefully he learned from that."
With all the motivation to succeed this year, Ochocinco is going to come in and work hard with the Dolphins. If not, then he will get his time on Hard Knocks and then be released. Either way, the Dolphins are not risking a lot to try to get some reward out of a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver with something to prove.