Miami lifted Richie Incognito’s indefinite suspension on Tuesday. The veteran left guard will be an unrestricted free agent on March 11, and the Dolphins don’t want him back.
Incognito has a stench of controversy stuck to him since allegations of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin were levied near midseason.
Opinions about his conduct are varied and polarizing, but his portrayal as all-around bad guy has lessened as information has been released.
The real question for teams in need of a left guard: Is Incognito is worth the risk? The Raiders could ponder that fact after receiving lackluster left guard play in 2013.
Pro Football Focus considered Lucas Nix the league’s lowest-ranked guard during a season where he made nine starts on the left and another on the right. Left tackle Khalif Barnes – a soon-to-be unrestricted free agent -- struggled as a run blocker after moving to guard the last five games.
Incognito ranked among the top 25 cumulative scores last season despite playing in just nine games. He was a Pro Bowler in 2012, his last full season.
It’s clear that he would offer an upgrade at the position and a level of toughness to the offensive. There’s little question about that. But, is there too much baggage that comes with it?
Reports indicated Wednesday that NFL-appointed independent investigator Ted Wells will issue a report about Incognito’s relationship with Martin, which brought bullying and locker-room culture into the limelight this season.
The contents of that report could influence how teams perceive both Martin and Incognito.
If more damning evidence isn’t found, the Raiders could be a good fit for Incognito. He worked under offensive coordinator Greg Olson in St. Louis during the 2006-07 seasons. He knows the scheme and thoroughly respects the assistant coach.
Olson stood up for Incognito when he was truly radioactive, following his indefinite suspension on Nov. 3. Prior to that, a voice mail and several text messages were released where Incognito spoke to Martin aggressively and used inappropriate, racially-charged language.
“In my recollection and experience with Richie – I’ve talked to Richie this week – he brings an element of toughness,” Olson said on Nov. 7. “That’s what he is. I do believe some of the things were taken out of context. I hope that’s the case. Obviously we all hope that’s the case. His personality is very high strung. He was a tough player. The other things outside of that, I just think it’s really sad, and you hope that what’s being said isn’t true.”
USA Today released a transcript of text message exchanges between Martin and Incognito, where the exchanges were placed in greater context and seem less abusive. Wells’ report should offer further clarity in regards to Incognito’s role in Martin leaving the Dolphins in season.
Incognito has other pockmarks in his past, including aggressive behavior in college that caused him to transfer from Nebraska to Oregon. His tenure with St. Louis also ended in 2009 because of overly aggressive play and behavior.
Olson reached out to Incognito then and again in early November to offer counsel and advice. Olson could prove a positive influence on Incognito and extract talent while eliminating extra-curricular issues.
However, the Raiders have tried to enlist squeaky-clean free agents. Will Incognito’s past carry too much weight? Or, will it drop his asking price enough to make him a true value free agent? What’s too much to pay for this player? Is it worth offering a longer-term deal to ensure he picks the Raiders?
Don’t forget that Raiders guard Tony Bergstrom will return after missing last season with a severely broken foot. Will general manager Reggie McKenzie’s first draft pick – a third-rounder from 2012 – be expected to take over, or does the team have faith Barnes can improve with extended experience at left guard?
Whew. Those were a lot of questions, mostly because this is a complex decision for Raiders brass. It is clear the Incognito would be an upgrade at left guard and, if tackle Jared Veldheer returns and center Stefen Wisniewski maintains form, the left side off the offensive line could be a real strength