Richie Incognito can help the Bills on the field if he can keep his temper, drinking, and bullying under control off of it.
The Bills offensive guard play wasn’t very good last season. So from a football standpoint, signing the free agent guard makes a lot of sense. Incognito is a consistent, durable NFL guard in his prime at 31.
Incognito’s myriad issues go back to his college days. During his time at the University of Nebraska, after a slew of fights in practice and games, then coach Frank Solich (now at Ohio University), sent him to a clinic to deal with his anger management problem.
It didn’t seem to help. A party fight, and then a locker room tussle, got him suspended from the team, and he withdrew from Nebraska. He transferred to Oregon, but lasted just one week, before being sent packing, after failing to adhere to the guidelines set by then-coach Mike Bellotti.
In the 2007 draft, the St. Louis Rams took a flyer on the talented guard in the third round.
He was fairly well behaved his first two seasons, but then things took a bad turn in 2009, when he drew a pair of penalties in a loss to Tennessee for head-butting Titans players. He was benched after the second penalty, and got into a heated argument with then coach Steve Spagnuolo after being pulled. He also had two personal fouls in a game against Seattle.
The Rams reached wit’s end, and waived him in mid-December. The Buffalo Bills immediately claimed the troubled player. Incognito played fairly well for the Bills during his short time there, but wasn’t re-signed after the season, and inked a deal with the Miami Dolphins.
He played well and behaved in 2010 under a one-year contract (always the best kind of deal for a mercurial player), earning a three-year contract. In 2011, he stayed out of trouble, but then in 2012 and 2013, his issues reared their ugly head again.
First, in 2012, he was accused of harassment by a female worker, at a charity golf tournament in South Florida. A drunk Incognito was accused of rubbing her private parts with a golf club and dumping water in her face. The worker filed a police report. The matter was settled out of court.
And then in 2013, he made national headlines for bullying former Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin (now with the 49ers). This led to a suspension and eventual release from the club.
But we all know good players with issues, often get second, third, fourth chances. Because if you can help a coach win games, they are often willing to forgive and forget your indiscretions.
The Bills desperately need a starting left guard. They want to operate a run-based offense under new coach Rex Ryan to take pressure off their weak quarterback situation, and Incognito can help them run the football.
And Ryan has history of taking a Father Flanagan approach with his teams, adding the likes of the troubled trio of WR Santonio Holmes, TE Kellen Winslow Jr., and WR Percy Harvin during his time coaching the Jets.
Ryan thinks with his affable persona, and see no evil mindset, he can get through to guys others can’t, and loves the mantra, “we all make mistakes,” when pressed on signing problematic players.
But the signing of Incognito seems like a odd move for a new coach. When you are trying to establish a new culture with a team that you just took over, it’s somewhat bizarre for one of your first moves to be adding a problem child to your locker room.
But then again, Ryan said he wanted to “build a bully” at his opening presser in Buffalo (surely the league office was thrilled with that statement). So perhaps Incognito landed in just the right place.
Dan Leberfeld has covered the Jets and NFL for 20 years. You see his work at jetsconfidential.com, and hear his weekly radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio, every Saturday from 11-2 eastern.