Barely two months after signing a contract and just about 24 hours after being arrested for domestic violence, Chad Johnson’s stint with the Miami Dolphins as he tries to revitalize his flagging NFL career is over. One has to wonder if it will prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the mercurial 34 year old receiver, who was released by the New England Patriots earlier in the offseason after a dismal 2011 season that saw him catch a career worst 15 passes.
Johnson was once a prolific, talented receiver in the league but his off field issues and chilidish mentality began to overshadow his on field contributions. Johnson was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2001 draft out of Oregon State and made an impact for the team a year later, hauling in 69 passes for 1,166 yards and five scores. That 2002 season marked the first of six consecutive 1,000 yard seasons (he has seven 1,000 yard seasons in his career, the other coming in 2009.)
From 2003 to 2007, Johnson caught no fewer than 87 passes in a season, posted at least 1,274 receiving yards and at least seven touchdowns per season. Paired with T.J. Houshmandzadeh with Carson Palmer at quarterback, the Bengals had a prolific passing attack, regardless of the poor performance the team showed in the standings at season’s end. After a disappointing 2008 where Johnson caught just 53 passes for 540 yards, he rebounded a year later with 72 catches for 1,047 yards and nine scores. When Terrell Owens came to town in 2010, Johnson caught 67 balls for 831 yards and four scores, while Owens was catching touchdowns and leading the team in receptions and receiving yards.
Rather than pay Johnson in 2011, the Bengals moved him to New England for a pair of draft choices. The thought process was that Johnson would be able to take some of the coverage away from Wes Welker and become a valuable receiving threat for the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. That never came to fruition: Johnson had a key drop in New England’s 34-31 loss to the Buffalo Bills in week three, muffing a sure touchdown catch down the right sideline. The Patriots would eventually score on that drive but took far more time, which turned out to be decisive as the Bills ran the clock down before kicking the winning field goal as time expired.
Johnson played in 15 games for New England, but started only three, finishing with 15 catches for 276 yards and one touchdown. He caught just one pass in the playoffs, a 21 yard reception in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. After the season ended, it was a foregone conclusion that New England wouldn’t offer Johnson a new deal, instead opting to sign Brandon Lloyd as a free agent. Johnson was left unsigned with no team making a run at him before the Dolphins inked him to a one year deal in June.
Under new coach Joe Philbin and new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, the Dolphins had hopes that Johnson could add a dimension to their passing game that was necessary following the deal that sent Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears. He would easily be the most accomplished receiver on the roster and would allow Davone Bess to work out of the slot, which he has been proficient in over the past few seasons. It also would take pressure off Brian Hartline and other young receivers that haven’t made the adjustment to playing in the National Football League.
Instead, it turns out that Johnson will never get that opportunity to prove that he still can play at this level, at least not in the orange and teal. Johnson, who was known as Chad Ochocinco the past four years as a tribute to his jersey number of 85, changed his name legally back to Johnson following his July 4th wedding to Evelyn Lozada. Lozada is a member of VH1’s reality show “Basketball Wives” and was formerly engaged to Antoine Walker, who had a long career in the NBA. With the incident and subsequent release by the Dolphins, VH1 announced Monday that they were shelving a reality show that was to star the couple, called “Ev and Ocho” which was set to debut September 3.
Johnson was targeted once in Miami’s 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay in the team’s preseason opener Friday night. He let it slip through his fingers on third and 3 from the Tampa Bay 33 yard line in the first quarter of the game. He was not targeted the remainder of the contest and the non-catch was a solemn reminder of how difficult the 2011 season was for the receiver.
On Saturday night, Johnson was arrested and charged with simple domestic battery after allegedly head-butting Lozada during an argument outside their home in Davie, Florida. The argument reportedly began over a receipt for a box of condoms found in the trunk of one of their vehicles. The couple was seated in the back seat of the car when they began arguing about the receipt and their marriage. Johnson lost his temper and delivered the headbutt, opening up a three inch gash on Lozada’s forehead. He was released on $2,500 bond Sunday afternoon but did not practice with the team.
In a statement released Monday, Philbin stated that Johnson was not released solely because of the incident over the weekend, but because he simply did not fit with the dynamic that the Dolphins were going to have with Philbin as coach.
“With any type of these decisions, it was not an easy one,” Philbin said. “It was not reactive nor was it based on one single incident. Again, it was more a body of evidence from June 11th forward. When he came in on June 11th, we sat down and we talked and I was very clear as to the expectations of the program. It just didn’t work out,” he said. “It’s more about the fit; in my gut I didn’t think the fit was going to be beneficial to either party moving forward, whether in the short-term or the long-term. That’s really what it was all about. It wasn’t about one specific thing; it just wasn’t going to work.”
Philbin also stated that five days prior to the release, he told Johnson that his roster spot could be in jeopardy if the receiver did not tone down his attitude and behavior. Philbin was reportedly upset with the extensive use of profanity by Johnson during a media session earlier in the week. Johnson and Lozada were featured in the first episode of HBO’s training camp show “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Miami Dolphins.”
Whether you like or hate the decision made by the Dolphins in this situation, you have to respect the move that Philbin made. Rather than deal with the distraction and potential locker room issue that Johnson could have created following the incident and the firestorm of media controversy that was sure to follow, the team took swift action and cut him before it manifested itself any further. There are those on the team like linebacker Karlos Dansby who feel that Johnson got a raw deal and was made an example of instead of standing behind a player but they are more than likely in the minority.
Philbin is a first time head coach in the NFL and he’s intent on making it clear that the inmates will not be running the asylum. By making the decision to terminate Johnson’s contract, it should be crystal clear to the rest of the players on the Miami roster that off field incidents are not going to be taken lightly. Perhaps it will serve as a wakeup call, not only to the rest of the Dolphins but to Johnson himself.
The only question that remains is whether another team will take a risk and sign Johnson or if his career has come to a sudden and abrupt end. If it is over, Johnson has no one to blame but himself.