Now that he's served a 30-day sentence, reduced to seven days, for showing disrespect in a Broward County, Fla. courtroom, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson would very much like to become current NFL receiver Chad Johnson. And so, the man who hasn't caught on with an NFL team since the Miami Dolphins cut him in the 2012 preseason, took to the airwaves to plead his case for one more shot at the NFL.
"I think everyone deserves a second chance," Johnson told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts on Tuesday morning. "Many would say I might not deserve it. I would like to finish my career the right way. I don't want the last thing to be remembered -- 'Chad was cut from the Dolphins for an incident he had with his wife.' I would love to grace the football field one more time and to help some team. I'm not injured; there is nothing wrong with me. I've learned my lesson, especially after those past seven days.
"Situations like this usually break people," Johnson concluded. "I wouldn't allow anything to break me, so I try to continue to be my same positive self. And I think with me being Chad, it kind of made the judge feel I wasn't being serious about the situation. But trust me, I understood exactly what I did and lost two of the things I loved the most at that time.
Those two things would be his ex-wife, Evelyn Lozada, who divorced him after a domestic violence incident, and the game of football, which has seemed to divorce him just as definitively. Johnson last caught a pass in an NFL game for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, and while his arrest may have led to his decline with the Dolphins, Johnson's decline in a football sense most likely had a lot more to do with it. In that Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, Tom Coughlin's team was able to cheat its safeties up with impunity, despite the fact that this defense was facing Tom Brady, for two primary reasons: Tight end Rob Gronkowski was injured (though he played), and Johnson never acclimated to the offense Brady runs. The Patriots' offense has arguably the most complex system of option routes in the game, and Johnson -- who made his bones with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2001 through 2010 with a far less complex book -- couldn't keep up. It's safe to say that although it hasn't been that long since Johnson disappeared from the league in a relevant sense, the game has passed him by even more since then.
More than ever, today's NFL defenses are constructed with multiple fronts, extra pass defenders, and zone/man hybrid schemes which require precision from every quarterback/receiver combination. As Brady intimated in 2012, after Johnson was not welcomed back to his organization, that instant and unspoken trust between a quarterback and his targets is not an option -- it is a requirement.
"I have to trust in Deion [Branch] and Wes [Welker] and all those guys out there to be in the right spot so I can play fast and anticipate what they're doing," Brady said in June, 2012, right about the same time that Johnson was released and headed to Miami. "If everyone is not on the same page, it doesn't work. A lot of what these practices are about is everybody getting on the same page. You have a lot of new guys from other teams, rookies. The faster we can get up to speed and get better as a unit, the better we're going to be."
The Patriots were one of many teams that added a heavy diet of no-huddle, speed counts to their playbooks in order to counter those more complex defenses and prevent them from being as multiple on a regular basis. The play calls may be shorter and quicker in such instances, but the route combinations are generally just as complex, which puts even more pressure on receivers to get with the system. Johnson has been a freeform guy, on and off the field, for a very long time, and he no longer possesses the athleticism to get away with that. Not that the new NFL would let him.
This has nothing to do with the jail term -- ex-Steelers and Giants receiver Plaxico Burress served two years (2009-2011) on weapons charges and came back to catch 45 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns for a New York Jets team very much in need of receiver help. Johnson had no such punitive restrictions on his person all the way through the 2012 season, yet no team took a chance on him. There's more to that than his reputation.
Chad Johnson is at a clear crossroads in his life. He can use the new insight he professes to have to better himself as a person, or he can perpetuate a fantasy in which a return to the NFL will right all the wrongs. From a pure numbers perspective, he's better off going with the former over the latter. The NFL is a cruel business, but life can be a lot meaner when it asks you to bring your playbook.
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