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Chad Johnson, Miami Dolphins failed to get on the same page

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DAVIE, Fla. -- As the sun rose on the Miami Dolphins' first day without wide receiver Chad Johnson in the mix, the first very-early-morning sentiments on Monday -- beyond the standard spokesman cliché -- came from the mouth of a team captain. Appropriate enough, it seemed.

Until he started talking.

"You don't just give up on people, especially when you know their character and you know what they're all about," linebacker Karlos Dansby said during an appearance on WMEN-AM radio. "Let's stand behind him. I hate the fact that, you know, he didn't get that third strike."

Third strike? Let's see here ...

While I have a tremendous respect for Dansby as a person and a player (and while I believe the team would indeed stand behind him had he been arrested for the exact same incident as Johnson on Saturday night), he's missing the far bigger point: Johnson knew where he stood. He knew his career hung in the balance.

The Dolphins are not abandoning a hopeless, troubled player in a time of need. They are cutting one of the NFL's most marketable, popular names. They are cutting a 34-year-old man who conducted an expletive-laced news conference that embarrassed his boss. They are cutting a player who dropped one pass on third down in a scrimmage and another on third down in a preseason game (the only ball thrown to him).

It is true -- and should be taken into consideration -- that Johnson had a harmless history away from the field before he was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge on Saturday. We also have not heard his side of the story (even if the Dolphins have). And the legal process has yet to determine whether the alleged head butt that resulted in a laceration on his wife's forehead was, indeed, an accident.

But we do know Dolphins coach Joe Philbin sat down Johnson when he first signed with the team to explain that he'd be under a zero-tolerance policy regarding his behavior. Thanks to "Hard Knocks," we also know Philbin had a conversation with Johnson in the wake of his expletive-laced press conference just last week to warn him about representing the organization in an appropriate fashion.

Do you know how Johnson responded to that conversation? He posted a Twitter profile picture of him flashing two middle fingers -- both of them censored -- with the words "No F---s Given." Except he didn't use the dashes.

When Johnson first signed with Miami, I reached out to a Dolphins source with a very candid question. "What makes Ocho a player the Dolphins would want to sign, given his age, size, recent production and drama? It doesn't mesh with past philosophies."

The source explained that several people, including general manager Jeff Ireland, believed Johnson could still play, but they "weren't sure" and wanted to find out. Johnson had a non-guaranteed contract that would have cost the team less than $1 million if he'd stuck, so it was a no-risk situation. It only became a risk when Johnson began to embarrass the Dolphins.

In other words: The team was never fully committed to Johnson. The Dolphins always knew his presence could potentially inhibit the progress of younger receivers. They took a shot on a player who didn't grasp the New England Patriots' system, a player who they thought could provide a much-needed weapon for their quarterbacks.

If the Dolphins were willing to dismiss receiver Brandon Marshall -- a much more productive weapon -- for a couple of third-round picks after investing $24 million in guaranteed money for two seasons of play, they surely weren't about to be patient with Johnson.

So where did Johnson really go wrong? How could he have altered his fate? Obviously, Saturday's arrest helped fuel the ultimate decision. But Johnson had made a poor impression with the Dolphins before that.

At a recent news conference, Johnson said he felt like he was "able to breathe again" after a season under the strict eye of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, during which he "learned to shut the (expletive) up for a year.

"I never thought I could do it, but I did it."

Johnson failed to recognize this very important factor: Just because the Dolphins told him they didn't mind him acting like his charismatic self, that didn't mean he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted. He had escaped the tight-lipped Patriots, but it's not like the 31 other NFL teams do things completely differently.

The Dolphins didn't release Johnson on Sunday because they suspected him in the wrong for Saturday's incident -- they didn't need to go that far. And no, they didn't need to wait for a judge or a jury or a prosecutor to decide his fate.

"It's more about the fit," Philbin said. "In my gut, I didn't think the fit was going to be beneficial to either party -- whether in the short term or the long term. That's what it was all about. It wasn't about one specific thing. It wasn't going to work."

You can break this situation down however you'd like, but ultimately, Johnson failed to understand the mindset of his bosses and the fleeting nature of his opportunity. The Dolphins didn't prematurely give up on Johnson. How could they have done so?

They never even really bought in.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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