What Does Chad Johnson's Release Mean for the Miami Dolphins Going Forward?

Scott AltmanCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2012

Aug. 4, 2012;  Miami, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson (85) during a scrimmage at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The Miami Dolphins released Chad Johnson because they don't need another headache.

They just traded one to the Chicago Bears, remember?

And if these disturbing details of Brandon Marshall's stint with the Dolphins are true, then you can't blame the 'Phins for washing their hands of Johnson without hesitation.

Joe Philbin didn't have a choice anyway. He would've looked awfully hypocritical for keeping Johnson around months after he traded Marshall in order to avoid this exact situation.

But whether or not you agree with the Dolphins' decision, it's time to move on.

Next man up.

Johnson's departure creates a void at wide receiver, and there's no doubt it downgrades the passing attack. Chad might've struggled with drops, but the Dolphins aren't going to find a wideout with a fraction of his talent on the free-agency market.

They can poke around free agents such as Lee Evans, Patrick Crayton, Mark Clayton and Anthony Gonzalez, but none will provide much of an upgrade over what's already on the roster.

And Plaxico Burress?

Not a chance.

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Even if he's still a viable NFL wideout at age 35, there's no way the Dolphins will sign another player with a checkered past.

No way.

Plus, there's a reason Burress is still a free agent. He had a workout with the Patriots, and the Cowboys and Steelers are reportedly "keeping tabs" on him. If any of these teams—who boast some of the league's best front offices—believed Burress still offered topflight talent, then one of them would've signed him by now. 

Rather than go fishing for castoffs, the Dolphins will stick with what they have, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Roberto Wallace and Julius Pruitt strutted their stuff in Miami's preseason debut on Friday night, reeling in a combined 10 receptions for 123 yards. Now, these unheralded sleepers have a golden opportunity to secure roster spots and a substantial role in the offensive game plan.

Both Clyde Gates and Marlon Moore offer home-run speed, but they've been on the outside looking in all offseason long. Although they're still planted firmly on the roster bubble, the Dolphins could use a vertical threat on the 53-man roster, and this additional spot opens the door for one of them to jump in.

The Dolphins could instead opt to keep a return specialist such as Rishard Matthews or Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen is an intriguing CFL import who missed Friday's game with a leg injury, but Matthews broke off a 45-yard kick return in his absence.

If Matthews continues showing flashes as a returner, then he can inherit Johnson's vacated roster spot over Gates, Moore and Thigpen.

But the main beneficiaries of Johnson's release are Legedu Naanee and Brian Hartline, two players with huge upside and something to prove. Naanee is quickly solidifying himself as a starter after five mediocre NFL seasons, and though Hartline has been sidelined by injuries all offseason, his intelligence, route discipline and speed make him a perfect fit for the West Coast offense.

In the long term, Johnson's release could be a blessing in disguise, but it's definitely not a blessing for Miami's immediate outlook.

Even with Johnson on board and David Garrard under center, the Dolphins projected as an eight- or nine-win team, at best.

Now, Johnson is a goner and Garrard is sidelined for two to four weeks following knee surgery—and he's allegedly struggling to master the playbook.

Before the weekend, these two established veterans figured to form Miami's offensive nucleus in 2012. Instead, the 'Phins may enter Week 1 with an untested core of players including Ryan Tannehill, Roberto Wallace and Charles Clay carrying the passing game.

Johnson's release is untimely, and it's hugely disappointing, but his departure serves as a reminder that the Dolphins are rebuilding, despite their refusal to use the "R" word. It also serves as a reminder of how thin this roster is and how far Miami has to go before it can compete with the NFL's finest.

But the most important takeaway from this ordeal is Joe Philbin's stance against off-the-field mishaps. He hardly wavered before cutting arguably the most talented wide receiver on his team, sending a stern message to his players and those who play for the 'Phins in the future.

 

There is no doubt some Dolphins players are upset Chad Johnson was cut. But those same players now know not to mess with Joe Philbin.

— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) August 13, 2012

 

Philbin is molding a no-nonsense, team-first culture in Miami, and it's a refreshing sight.

Rather than put up with a headache-inducing diva, Philbin and his coaching staff can concentrate their efforts on fostering their young talent. And who knows, maybe the next Chad Johnson is already on the roster.

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