How does Chad Johnson fit into the Alouettes’ lineup, and will he make it out of camp?
Thursday provided confirmation that the talks between the Montreal Alouettes and Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson were more than just a promotional stunt, as Johnson officially signed a contract with the team. While Johnson has been known for self-promotion lately and hasn't played a regular-season NFL game since 2011, he's been training hard with Hall of Famer Cris Carter and has impressed during the Alouettes' Florida minicamp this week, and his stated desire to get back into high-level football suggests he's taking this relatively seriously. Montreal GM Jim Popp and his staff must agree, too, as it's tough to see the Alouettes giving Johnson a contract otherwise. However, there are still questions about where Johnson could fit with the Alouettes and if he'll manage to make it out of training camp.
Yes, Johnson was once one of the NFL's top receivers, recording 10,873 receiving yards over 12 seasons (he actually played in 11 and was cut by Miami before his 12th following charges of domestic battery). He's 36, though, and he hasn't played football at a significant level since 2012. While he showed the Alouettes enough in Florida to convince them he's worthy of a further look, that certainly isn't going to guarantee him a roster spot, especially considering that the team already has a deep receiving corps with S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson, Duron Carter, Brandon London and others. Johnson doesn't have any experience in the Canadian game, either, which carries several noticeable differences for receivers, including expanded motion, an increased focus on successful short passes (given the three downs) and drastically different defensive coverages. It's also going to be interesting to see if Johnson's able to stay motivated and focused and keep battling for a spot, or if he'll bring a sense of entitlement and complacency given his status as a former NFL star. The Alouettes certainly don't desperately need him, so where he goes from here is largely up to him.
With that said, though, Johnson could be a significant addition for Montreal if he falls into line and adapts to his role. He's highly unlikely to be one of the team's top receivers given his age and his inexperience in Canadian football, but he might be able to earn a starting spot as a fourth option, or perhaps contribute off the bench. It's notable that while all the receivers mentioned above are returning, 36-year-old veteran Arland Bruce III is not; the team released him this offseason in the wake of his homophobic Instagram comments, meaning the 851 receiving yards he recorded last year could be up for redistribution, and Johnson might be the perfect guy to take his place.
While Johnson doesn't have CFL experience, he has caught a lot of passes professionally, and that can certainly be useful too. It might be particularly beneficial in the Alouettes' case, as they're likely starting a promising but relatively-unproven quarterback (former Heisman winner Troy Smith) this season following Anthony Calvillo's retirement. An experienced receiving corps could help Smith out, and Johnson might be a valuable part of that even though he hasn't played the 12-man game. If he can prove to be a reliable possession receiver on short routes, he could be a great outlet for Smith.
There are still plenty of hurdles to clear before anyone should start buying "HuitCinq" jerseys, though. In addition to the domestic battery charges (which he pled no contest to), Johnson has spent time in jail for violating his probation, and that could make it difficult for him to get a Canadian work visa. Moreover, some Alouettes' fans may not be thrilled the team's bringing in a guy with a history of domestic violence; that kept the B.C. Lions from being too interested in Johnson. If there are substantial protests raised, the team may decide he's not worth the hassle; that seems largely to be why they cut Bruce two weeks after his comments following a massive backlash. If Johnson does make it to training camp, too, we'll have to see how eagerly he embraces the amount of learning he'll have to do to fit in with the Montreal offence, and how willing he is to work to earn a fourth- or fifth-receiver slot on a CFL team. Even if he does give it his maximum effort, there's a substantial chance he could be outplayed by one of the countless younger prospects the Alouettes will certainly be considering as well. NFL reputations don't always mean much in Canada, as the likes of Ahman Green have discovered. Still, Johnson will have a shot to make his mark in high-level football again. We'll see what he does with it.