As the dust settles from the bombshells included in Ted Wells' report into the Miami Dolphins' locker room, the futures of the two players at the center of the controversy have been cast into uncertainty.
One thing appears certain: Both guard Richie Incognito and tackle Jonathan Martin have played their last games in Miami.
Both players have indicated a desire to continue their playing careers and as crass as it may seem in light of the despicable findings, life in the NFL will go on. Teams have probably already begun discussing the players, debating the pros and cons of potentially signing them.
With that in mind, let's take a step back from the maelstrom and look at both players from the perspective of those teams.
Coldly and with an eye towards what they could offer in 2014.
The Aging Antagonist
We might as well just get this out of the way.
Richie Incognito is not a nice person.
This is not news. It wasn't news before the Jonathan Martin saga became public knowledge. In fact, it wasn't news before Incognito even set foot in Miami.
This is a player who fought with teammates at Nebraska, head-butted his way out of St. Louis and is an annual staple on lists of the NFL's dirtiest players.
In spite of all that, three NFL teams have already rolled the dice on Incognito, because he's also a pretty good offensive guard.
|Richie Incognito PFF Grades and Rankings|
|2008||6.9 (33)||9.8 (25)||2.9 (28)||5||2||10|
|2009||5.4 (45)||6.8 (26)||2.4 (38)||3||1||4|
|2010||11.4 (17)||6,2 (17)||2.5 (25)||4||5||9|
|2011||3.3 (35)||5.3 (11)||2.7 (30)||3||5||9|
|2012||7.8 (24)||2.6 (25)||6.0 (17)||4||5||6|
|2013||6.8 (24)||1.2 (26)||3.4 (23)||2||8||9|
|No. in parentheses denotes ranking among guards|
The 6'3", 319-pound 30-year-old was named to his first Pro Bowl after his last full season in 2012. Incognito has three times finished among the top 25 offensive guards in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Make no mistake. Incognito is very much a road-grader. There isn't a lot of finesse or athleticism once the ball is snapped. It's all about power, technique and just plain mean.
This play from a 2013 preseason game against the Houston Texans is really a perfect microcosm for Richie Incognito.
Incognito gets into his stance fairly quickly, stays squared up with Antonio Smith and maintains leverage, keeping Smith well away from the action.
Then he and Smith jawed, and Smith ripped Incognito's helmet off and tried to brain him with it. You see, as Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com reported, the two have a history dating back to a 2012 pile up where Incognito stood on Smith's ankle for a "ridiculous" amount of time.
That's Richie Incognito in a nutshell (so to speak). He's a grade-A headcase and not a great guard. It isn't a stretch, however, to call him a very good one, a pure-power pile-pusher.
He's good enough that ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Friday's "NFL Live" that more than one playoff team this year was waiting for the Dolphins to release Incognito so they could potentially add him for the postseason.
The Struggling Youngster
If Richie Incognito has been pretty good in the NFL, Jonathan Martin has been pretty awful.
|Jonathan Martin PFF Grades and Rankings|
|2012||-22.0 (76)||-6.0 (75)||-17.5 (75)||6||4||47|
|2013||-6.9 (60)||-5.5 (49)||-3.0 (58)||7||7||15|
|No. in parentheses denotes ranking among tackles|
It wasn't supposed to be that way. Martin entered the 2012 NFL draft as one of the top prospects at his position and a potential first-round pick after a standout career protecting Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford.
Martin's draft preview at NFL.com called him an "extremely tough" player and "NFL-ready tackle" with "prototypical skills for the position." Analyst Mike Mayock thought Miami got a steal when they took Martin with the 10th pick of the second round.
First-round talent right here, tremendous arm length. I call him a little bit of a finesse player. Doesn't mean he's not tough, but he's so good with his feet and understands angles. I believe the Dolphins just got themselves a starter on either the right or left side.
However, it's been a nightmare in South Florida since Day 1.
Mayock's "finesse" comment turned out to be prophetic, as Martin was overpowered at the snap with regularity as a rookie.
That wasn't his only problem though. As this short "lowlight" reel shows, just about everything that could go wrong with Martin has.
He's been slow to get into his stance and blown back off the line. Beaten to the edge because his footwork and technique have deteriorated.
He's just been beaten.
Of course, in retrospect one has to wonder what effect the dysfunctional locker room in Miami had on Martin's performance. The Wells report reveals a soft-spoken, troubled young man who entered an atmosphere in Miami very unlike that at Stanford.
Were Martin's struggles caused by his depression, or was his depression caused by his struggles? More importantly, can Martin recapture past form and is he emotionally equipped to weather the ups and downs of life in the trenches in the NFL?
The Future Favors the Young
We probably won't have to wait long to find out.
The odds that Martin returns to Miami are slim. Too many burned bridges, especially with offensive line coach Jim Turner (who figures prominently in the Wells report) still in Miami (at least temporarily).
Should Martin ask for his release, it's unlikely that the Dolphins would offer much in the way of resistance, especially with the potential for civil litigation hanging over the team.
At that point a 24-year-old, 6'5" 312-pound offensive tackle who was a top-five prospect all of two years ago would hit the open market. There's going to be interest.
In fact, the Wells report may have offered an inkling as to a potential landing spot.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, who coached Martin at Stanford, was interviewed by investigator Ted Wells:
Jim Harbaugh, Martin’s former head coach at Stanford and the current head coach of the, told us that he had never doubted Martin’s tenacity, work ethic and dedication to the game, and that he had never seen Martin exhibit problems with social adjustment. Coach Harbaugh told us he believed that Martin likely could continue to have a successful career in the NFL.
In San Francisco, Martin would be reunited with his college coach. The Niners are a model franchise, with a no-nonsense locker room. The team also has established starters at tackle in Joe Staley and Anthony Davis. Martin could slide in as a "swing" reserve, hit the weight room and learn from some of the best in the business.
If Martin can land in a positive atmosphere such as San Fran or Indy (with former teammates Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener and former offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton), get the help he needs and re-discover his passion for the game, then there's no reason to think he can't at least be a decent NFL starter.
The talent he displayed at Stanford didn't just evaporate.
The future is much darker for Incognito. Yes, he's gotten second (and third and fourth) chances in the past after missteps, but this time feels different.
Not only is the offense much greater, but the Wells report came only days after Michael Sam's announcement.
Richie Incognito is, in the eyes of many, the poster child for everything that has to change about attitudes and behavior in the NFL. He's public enemy No. 1, and the villain in the league's dominant storyline right now.
Never mind that commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to have his say. That will come.
Still, the biggest stumbling block to Incognito continuing to play remains Incognito himself, who still accepts exactly zero responsibility for anything that happened.
Right now, Incognito is just too radioactive, too hard a signing to sell to fans, the media or even his new teammates.
However, with time outrage will fade and tempers will cool. At some point during training camp, or maybe even the regular season, a contending team will suffer an injury along the interior of the offensive line.
If he's still on the street when that happens, you can bet your lunch money that team is going to think long and hard about giving Richie Incognito a call.
Because after all, everyone deserves a fifth chance, right?
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