It's all falling apart for Chad Johnson. On Saturday, an arrest on domestic violence charges after allegedly headbutting his wife. On Sunday, he was cut from the Dolphins, possibly the last NFL team that was going to give him a chance. But undrafted rookie or 11-year veteran, the end always comes the same way: a call into the coach's office, a brief talk, a nameplate pulled down, the contents of a locker boxed up and shipped out.
It wasn't just the arrest, as Joe Philbin alluded to in so many weasel words. ("It's where we are as a program, and where you are, and where we're headed. I just don't see the mesh right now." It's like dumping someone in public, choosing your words carefully to avoid making a scene. It's not you, it's me.) Johnson has struggled to learn the offense, dropped passes in practice, and, above all, is 34 years old. Once a superstar, there are now plenty of players who are younger, hungrier, better, and don't come with off-the-field headaches. If the Dolphins are in a rebuild, the only veterans who have a place need to be leaders and character guys. Johnson's not cut out to be either.
The talk itself was unbearably awkward, and wonderful TV. (You can picture HBO execs high-fiving when they got NFL and Dolphins permission to film the meeting. One concession to solemnity: a mounted, unobtrusive camera in Philbin's office, rather than sending in a cameraman.) Philbin nervously drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair; Johnson all but pleading for his job; the strategically placed box of tissues on the table between them. Johnson didn't need the tissues, though he came close—viewers are forgiven if it got a little dusty in their own homes.
This might be the end of the road for Johnson. His options were limited before Miami came to the rescue, and his baggage has only increased. It's sad, and he'll be missed—Johnson was crazy, but never in a malicious way, like Terrell Owens—but if this is it, it's fitting. A player who always sought the spotlight, and usually found it, receives his walking papers in front of the camera, his professional execution preserved for all time.