In his quest to “build a bully” in Buffalo, Rex Ryan turned to the league’s most notorious offender.
Richie Incognito, whose boorish locker room behavior helped derail the Dolphins’ 2013 season, was one of Ryan’s first signings when the bombastic coach took over the Bills last month.
But when meeting with reporters at the NFL Combine on Wednesday, Ryan insisted that the franchise had done its homework on the radioactive offensive lineman — and that he is “very comfortable” injecting Incognito into the Bills’ locker room.
“Safe to say, if we didn’t feel good about him as a citizen and what it would be like in the locker room being a good teammate, then he wouldn’t have been here,” said Ryan, who takes over the Bills after coaching the Jets for six entertaining seasons. “Hey, I get it, and I get all the questions about him. I understand where they’re coming from, and I recognize that there’s several people in our population that will not give this guy a second chance, that no matter what he does he’s going to be looked at a certain way.”
Ryan continued: “I think the majority of the people in our community in particular are going to take a wait-and-see approach. I think that’s all Richie wants. In my opinion, that’s what people deserve. We’ll see what he does from there, but I’m confident that good things will happen.”
Incognito hasn’t played since October 2013. He was suspended the last half of that season after evidence of abusive behavior toward then-teammate Jonathan Martin became public.
NFL investigator Ted Wells ultimately decided that Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry engaged in a pattern of abuse. Pouncey and Jerry were never punished, but Incognito — seen as the worst offender — spent a year and a half in football exile. He couldn’t find a job in 2014.
But in Ryan’s first days with Buffalo, he decided to give Incognito another — and likely final — chance.
Ryan explained his thinking Wednesday.
“I think the first thing is, I’ve played against Richie Incognito, and I know he’s an outstanding player,” Ryan said. “If he wasn’t an outstanding player, would I have had the conversation with him? No. The truth of the matter is, no.”
Ryan continued: “But knowing what kind of player he is, we wanted to find out for ourselves where he’s at and have a conversation with him. Obviously, we felt good about him moving forward and doing things, you know, conducting himself in a way where he’s a good teammate, and I expect him to be that.”
Ryan called Incognito “an outstanding player” who showed up to his workout in “great shape.”
Ryan added: “I’m excited to have him on my team.”
Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum were a package deal in New York — Ryan the coach and Tannenbaum the general manager.
Now they’re rivals in the AFC East. Tannenbaum is in his third week as the Dolphins’ executive vice president of football operations.
Both ultimately failed with the Jets because they couldn’t figure out the quarterback position. In Miami, Tannenbaum believes he has his guy in Ryan Tannenhill; the Dolphins want to sign Tannehill to a long-term extension.
Ryan isn’t so lucky. The Bills have their own first-round pick — EJ Manuel — but are not nearly as convinced that he’s their long-term answer. As evidence, the organization recently had journeyman Josh McCown in for a visit.
“It’s rare that you don’t go to the playoffs with a great quarterback,” Ryan said. “Obviously, that’s priority, not just for our team but any team in this league. But it’s a lot easier said than done. It would be nice to get somebody like that. I’m not saying that we have that situation right now. I’m excited about EJ Manuel, though. He’s a young man that has some potential. We’ll see how that pans out.”