NFL Quick Hits: Ochocinco’s Destination and MJD’s Endgame

Chad Ochocinco is reportedly in terrific shape, which is good. Players need to be in shape if they’re going to compete in the National Football League.

They also need to be productive, which Ochocinco wasn’t during his first and only year away from Cincinnati.

The Rams were wise to pass on Ochocinco, who signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins on Monday. Even at the veteran’s minimum Ochocinco isn’t worth a look for a team like the Rams that are not only trying to find more playmakers to stock their roster, but players that can also provide production as well. Ochocinco was neither productive nor a playmaker last season in New England, where he caught just 15 passes for a microscopic 276 yards and one touchdown.

Nobody has ever questioned Ochocinco’s talent or work ethic. Say what you want about his off-field antics (I personally think the guy is funny, but I wouldn’t argue with anyone who finds his act tiresome), but he’s always kept his body in shape and while he’s never been a burner, he always managed to get open in Cincinnati.

But apparently there’s a reason he managed to get open for the Bengals, who allowed him to freelance during his 10 seasons in Cincinnati. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 2006, led the AFC in receiving yards in 2003 and 2005, and made six Pro Bowls because the Bengals didn’t mind that he did his own thing. As long as he got open and made plays, they were fine with not confining him to an NFL playbook.

It was a different story in New England, however. Said Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard following Ochocinco’s release from the Pats: “The Patriots would literally tell him to run a route a certain way, and a minute later he would run it the other way. It happened all the time.”

The Patriots’ offense is based on timing and precision, and they took it slow with Ochocinco after they acquired him in a trade with the Bengals. But when it became clear that he couldn’t grasp the playbook, Bill Belichick just didn’t play him. They brought him back this offseason hoping that things had changed but they didn’t, so they had to release him. Keep in mind that Belichick has always been a huge fan of Ochocinco, so what does it tell you that he was willing to part ways with him after only one year?

Things don’t figure to get better for Ochocinco now that he’s in Miami, where he’ll have to learn the nuances of the West Coast offense under Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman. Outside of not having a trustworthy receiver on their roster, why would the Dolphins want someone like Ochocinco when there’s a strong possibility that they’ll start a rookie under center this season? Teams need to put young players in position to succeed. It makes no sense to sign Ochocinco when the plan is to start Ryan Tannehill. After all, if Tom Brady couldn’t work with Ochocinco, why would anyone believe that Tannehill could?

Granted, if the Dolphins allow Ochocinco to work off script, deviate from the playbook and freelance as he sees fit, maybe he’ll have a resurgence in Miami. But that doesn’t sound like a very good environment for Tannehill, or any quarterback for that matter.

And thus, Sam Bradford and the Rams are better off without the Ocho in their lives.

This Week’s NFL Quick Hits:

1. When the Jaguars signed Maurice Jones-Drew to a five-year, $30.95 million contract and gave him not only $17.5 million in guaranteed money but also a $9 million signing bonus, they assumed that he would be productive for the duration of his deal. After he led the NFL in rushing last season, it’s not like the Jaguars stood back and said, “Holy crap – we just paid him what we had lying around the building. We had no idea he’d actually be any good!” Thus, it’s a little irritating that MJD is already asking for more money and is holding out during minicamps. Yes, the Jaguars could cut him at a moment’s notice, including if he were to suffer a career-ending injury. But it’s not like the Jaguars gave him chump change and are now telling him he’s stuck with those figures. Both sides agreed to a fair deal, and it’s not surprising that MJD has lived up to his contract. What is surprising is that he’s not honoring it.

2. One team that figures to be improved defensively from last year to this season is the Arizona Cardinals. They looked lost during Ray Horton’s first year as defensive coordinator and, as five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson admitted, there were plenty of times where players didn’t even know where to line up. They also started a rookie at cornerback in Patrick Peterson, who showed flashes of greatness on special teams but suffered plenty of growing pains at cornerback. The Cardinal defenders will be more comfortable in Horton’s defense, and I can assure you that they won’t go eight games without intercepting a pass like they did last season. Without a reliable starting quarterback the playoffs seem like a reach, but this Arizona defense should show marked improvement.

3. Tom Coughlin and the Giants have only themselves to blame when it comes to losing Jake Ballard to the Patriots. The tight end tore his left ACL and meniscus in the Super Bowl and after waiving him on Monday, the Giants were hoping they could put him on injured reserve for 2012 after he had cleared waivers. The problem is that he didn’t clear waivers, as Belichick and the Patriots claimed him on Tuesday. Coughlin expressed his disappointment that the Patriots claimed him, and there’s some sentiment among NFL front offices that Belichick broke an unwritten rule by claiming Ballard. But the fact of the matter is that the Giants could have cut someone on their 90-man roster in order to keep the tight end in New York. Surely there’s someone on that roster that would have made more sense to cut than to take a “calculated risk” (to use Coughlin’s exact words) on losing Ballard. It just doesn’t make sense. The Patriots did nothing wrong.

4. It’s not entirely surprising that Ed Reed has decided to skip the Ravens’ minicamp this week. There have been plenty of times that Reed chooses to focus on his non-football activities during the offseason. That said, is it really worth it to him to lose $70,000 in fines just to avoid practicing in shorts and a T-shirt for three days? Good God, man. I’ll practice for him for $70,000 and subject myself to daily beatings from Ray Lewis.

5. Peyton Manning has reportedly shown diminishing velocity on his deep throws, not that it matters. John Elway wasn’t the same gunslinger he was earlier in his career when he won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. His job was to hand the ball off to Terrell Davis and throw only when the Broncos needed him to. Willis McGahee will never be confused for Terrell Davis, but the Broncos can certainly win the AFC West with a diminished Peyton Manning if their defense and running game is as good this year as it was in 2011. The key isn’t whether or not Manning still has zip on his deep throws. The biggest factor in whether he and the Broncos are going to make noise in 2012 is if the nerve damage in his back and shoulder doesn’t end his career following one hit.