Chad Johnson’s Sunday began in county lockup. It ended with him out of a job.
The Dolphins wasted little time in cutting ties with their embattled receiver, releasing him just hours after he walked out of the Broward County jail.
Johnson faces misdemeanor domestic abuse charges after allegedly head-butting his wife, reality TV star Evelyn Lozada, in front of their Davie home Saturday night. Cops were called, and Lozada, who suffered a three-inch cut on her forehead, plans to press charges, police say.
Johnson made bond about the same time the Dolphins were starting practice Sunday, and was obviously absent. Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said later in the afternoon he had not yet spoken to Johnson, but planned to do so immediately.
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The conversation did not go well for the receiver formerly known as Ochocinco. Johnson was already on thin ice with the organization after a crude, profanity sprinkled news conference two weeks ago, which earned a stern dressing down by his coach. The lecture was caught by NFL Films cameras and aired on the season premiere of HBO’s Hard Knocks last Tuesday.
Johnson, 34, was supposed to be the go-to receiver in Miami, his hometown and place where he had hoped to resurrect his career.
After 10 sterling seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals grew tired of his colorful antics, and traded him to New England. Johnson struggled with the Patriots last year, catching just 15 passes.
The Patriots cut him over the summer, and Miami took a chance on him with a no-risk, incentive-laden contract. By cutting him before the season, the Dolphins don’t owe him a dime.
With Johnson gone, here’s who the Dolphins plan to go with at wide receiver, at least in the short term:
Two guys who went undrafted, and a journeyman veteran coming off a second foot surgery in three years.
Davone Bess, Roberto Wallace and Legedu Naanee worked with the first team during Sunday’s training camp practice, the Dolphins’ first since their 20-7 preseason loss to Tampa Bay on Friday.
Combined, those three players caught 95 passes for 1,004 yards and four touchdowns last year. (By contrast, Johnson had 97 for 1,432 and nine scores all by himself in 2005).
“We’re waiting for some guys to maybe take a hold of that position and really solidify their spot on the ballclub,” Philbin said Sunday.
Those “guys” were supposed to be Johnson and Brian Hartline, but for starkly different reasons, neither participated in Sunday’s semi-padded session.
Johnson didn’t even get out of jail Sunday until after practice began, while Hartline has missed all of camp with a lingering calf injury.
That left a huge hole in the Dolphins’ receiving rotation, one that must be addressed before the season opens Sept. 9.
Bess, the fifth-year veteran out of Hawaii, was expected to start this year. But Naanee – whose recurring foot injuries scared off both the Chargers and the Panthers – has been a pleasant surprise.
Wallace, on the other hand, has emerged from near-oblivion. He was buried on the fourth line of the depth chart before playing well in Miami’s preseason opener. Wallace, a third-year veteran who didn’t catch a pass in 2011, pulled in four balls for a team-leading 71 yards against Tampa Bay.
“Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on [in terms of the depth chart],” said Wallace, a 6-foot-4 receiver who went undrafted out of San Diego State. “I just do what they tell me.”
Just last week, the coaches told him that he was no better than the ninth-best receiver on the team. He was behind not only Naanee, Johnson and Bess, but also guys like Julius Pruitt, Jeff Fuller and Clyde Gates – none of whom have sparkled during camp.
The book on Wallace is he’s talented, but has a tendency to disappear. Yet he was highly visible Sunday, pulling in a sensational one-handed touchdown catch over first-team defenders Sean Smith and Chris Clemons.
“Those games are a great opportunity for these kids to come in and show what they can do,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. “You draw some attention from our eyes when you go in and play and do the things he did. He is making the most out of it on game day.”
Pruitt, a second-year project out of Ouachita Baptist, also worked with the first team Sunday after his six catches against the Buccaneers led all Dolphins receivers. Like Wallace, Pruitt didn’t catch a regular season pass in 2011.
The Dolphins’ hope has been that Gates would develop into their deep threat, but his progress this summer has been hampered by a hamstring injury.
Rishard Matthews popped in the return game Friday, while B.J. Cunningham, a rookie out of Michigan State, is on the bubble, whether Johnson stays or not.
The Dolphins do have a few options left in free agency, should they go that route. Lee Evans, the former Buffalo Bills wideout, is available after getting cut by the Jaguars Sunday. Plaxico Burress is also an option, although he reportedly worked out for the Patriots over the weekend.
Of course, this is all conjecture until the team actually announces what it plans to do with Johnson. But Philbin admitted last week that Johnson’s spot on the team could be in danger simply over his salty language, a far cry from an alleged instance of domestic abuse.
“We’re all in this thing together,” Philbin said. “We’re all held to a high standard and fortunate to be a part of what I consider a great organization so I think that everything is intertwined.”