The Raiders are flirting with acquiring a shiner on their good eye.
The team’s latest calculated risk comes from the decision to sign offensive lineman Richie Incognito, giving him at least his second second chance. Or maybe it’s his third second chance. Or maybe it’s his second third chance.
Incognito’s behavior has resulted in not one but two full seasons away from football, one coming in 2014 following the Jonathan Martin incident in Miami and one coming in 2018 after he threatened to shoot up a funeral home — and had the weaponry in his vehicle to do it.
Incognito’s litany of bad behavior goes back at least 15 years. He had anger-management issues and assault charges and suspensions while at Nebraska before leaving school in September 2004. He transferred to Oregon, but he lasted there only one week.
As a result, multiple teams had Incognito off the board in 2005, but the Rams took him in round three. After three uneventful seasons, Incognito absorbed $35,000 in fines after a 2008 game against Washington for repeated verbal abuse of an official, a face mask foul, and a chop block.
The next year, Incognito drew a pair of 15-yard penalties during a game against the Titans. Benched by Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, the two argued on the sidelines. Two days later, the Rams cut Incognito.
Claimed on waivers by the Bills, he finished the 2009 season in Buffalo and signed with the Dolphins in 2010. Incognito had a couple of clean years (relatively speaking), before an ugly incident at the team’s annual charity golf event, during which he repeatedly harassed a female volunteer, at one point placing a golf club on her genital. He later paid roughly $30,000 to settle her civil lawsuit, and the Dolphins fined him $55,000.
All hell broke loose the next year, with the Martin incident and the Ted Wells investigation that followed. Beyond the harassment and hazing of Martin, Wells found that Incognito and others repeatedly directed racial slurs and taunts to an Asian-American trainer.
The Bills and Rex Ryan gave Incognito another second chance in 2015, after more than a year out of the game. Incognito once again re-established himself, but once again it didn’t last. Following a 2017 playoff game against the Jaguars, Jacksonville defensive end Yannick Ngakoue accused Incognito of using racial slurs on the field. Incognito later retired, unretired, fired his agents on Twitter, demanded to be released, and was released by the Bills.
Last May, he allegedly threw a tennis ball and a dumbbell at another person while at a gym in Florida, resulting in his placement on an involuntary psychiatric hold. In August 2018, Incognito launched into a profane tirade on Twitter after Vikings coach Mike Zimmer denied interest in signing Incognito.
Later that month, Incognito was arrested for threatening to shoot employees at a funeral home, while making arrangements following the death of his father. Police found two Glocks, three rifles, and a silencer in Incognito’s car.
Employees of the funeral home said that Incognito punched caskets and threw things. He later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
Against this extensive background of incidents and allegations, why would the Raiders want a guy who’ll turn 36 in July, and who arguably isn’t so obviously talent to justify giving him a job?
Remember, Incognito’s latest second chance comes at the expense of someone else. Here, it was Chaz Green, who was cut to make room for Incognito. If Incognito makes it to the 53-man roster, someone else who would have had a job (and who doesn’t have the same sordid background as Incognito) won’t.
“You can’t have all boy scouts,” G.M. Mike Mayock said Tuesday in defending the move. But that’s a copout. Incognito, on the range of renegade players, resides at the polar opposite of “Boy Scout.” He has proven time and again to have a short fuse, issues with impulse control, and an inability to treat others with proper dignity and respect.
As former NFL linebacker Julian Peterson said of Incognito in 2008, “You know, like the FBI’s 20 Most Wanted? Yeah, he’d be on that list.”
And yet the Raiders still embraced Incognito. Yes, it’s a low-cost, one-strike, prove-it deal. But what if that next one strike happens? Is it enough to simply cut him at that point, or should the Raiders fairly be scrutinized and criticized for giving him the opportunity to have that next strike while representing Big Shield?
Giving safe harbor to dangerous personalities shouldn’t be a matter of a risk-reward analysis, with a team rolling the dice on a nothing-to-lose bet. It should be a matter of what’s right, and what isn’t. Given Incognito’s long and established history of misconduct, this just doesn’t seem right.
But it’s right for the Raiders, possibly because the Raiders realize the value of having an offensive lineman with a mean streak and a burning desire to play football in the building. Coach Jon Gruden can point to Incognito as having the kind of toughness that he wants the rest of the offensive (and defensive) linemen to display, and the Raiders can ultimately decide when it’s time to cut the roster from 90 to 53 that Incognito isn’t good enough (and, as Chris Simms pointed out on PFT Live today) doesn’t fit the scheme well enough to keep him on the team.
Regardless of whatever motivation the Raiders may have had, teams should exercise greater discretion when embracing players with checkered pasts. And the league should give them a reason to do so, by imposing meaningful sanctions on any team that gives a second chance to someone who later proves he didn’t deserve it.