The Dolphins released WR Chad Johnson last night on the heels of his arrest on a domestic violence charge, ending that saga before it really began. Regardless of what the courts find, the player who used to be called Ochocinco became a distraction for his new team, and that was enough for new coach Joe Philbin.
Earlier in the offseason, I wrote a guide to understanding Ochocinco based on my time spent with him. In my closing comment, I said this: “Use your eyes and ignore the noise.” That is exactly what Philbin did in dismissing Johnson/Ochocinco.
He used his eyes and saw a player who can’t really contribute anymore. And he ignored the noise, in this case the player’s explanation for what happened in the car, and made a sound decision. The team, by the way, lost nothing in signing or cutting Johnson, since it didn’t have to pay him. And now, they are better off for it. Why?
Because they are a franchise suddenly doing everything right. I thought of ways to write this without sounding like a jerk, but then I gave up. So, I’ll just do it: I can’t believe the Dolphins are making so many smart decisions.
Signing a player like Johnson isn’t a bad move, as long as the team leaves itself some outs. As in, don’t guarantee money, don’t stunt the growth of younger players by giving him a ton of reps, etc. The Dolphins did that. And when it was time to cut bait, they did. All good moves.
But here is what I am left with: Philbin is now standing tall as a stronger leader following the Ochocinco Error.
As the Miami Herald reported, it was Philbin’s call to release Johnson, and ownership supported it. That, by the way, was not a given. Various team owners make moves or do things that coaches don’t totally agree with. There is nothing written that says an owner or GM has to listen to a coach’s recommendation. It helps, but it doesn’t always work that way.
In this situation, Philbin spoke and GM Jeff Ireland and owner Stephen Ross listened. That immediately gives Philbin power — in the locker room, in the building, in the city of Miami, and in life. When he speaks, players and those working for him will listen. They know he has the ear of ownership. They know that his voice matters.
Philbin told Johnson he needed to shape up, watch his language and act accordingly. When he didn’t, the receiver was gone. That was that. You think the locker room noticed? They may not all agree with the decision, but they took note.
“In making these decision we base our evaluations on a set of criteria that supports our organizational goals and includes a players performance both on and off the field,” Philbin told reporters today. “Essentially we take into account the overall body of evidence to determine whether an individual is the right fit for this organization and more specifically this football team. That’s how we made previous decisions and that’s how we plan to do so moving forward.”
He said “we.” Perhaps it was “we.” But he clearly took the lead. Those who know Philbin well say he’s a smart, calculated, reasonable person who commands respect. He now commands a little more. This empowered Philbin in a way only winning big can. And he may do that eventually.
The Dolphins have been moving in a better direction as of late, and this is just one example. Yes, they are on Hard Knocks, but that’s actually showcased that new focus (even while it’s added some fluff). They’ve been more media- and fan-friendly. They took a franchise QB in the first round, which makes sense if they believe Ryan Tannehill is the next Dan Marino and it sounds like they do.
And, in the Johnson case, they are eliminating distractions by setting free one of the game’s biggest distractions. The Dolphins are building, and they will probably be very bad this year. But they are walking in the right direction in turning this thing around. Philbin is now the undisputed leader in doing so.