176 LINKEDIN 29 COMMENTMORE

It is fitting that Jonathan Martin has a job in the NFL, and Richie Incognito does not.

Martin has wound up in a better place, back home in San Francisco, reunited with Jim Harbaugh, his coach at Stanford who stood by Martin during his most trying days last fall.

And Incognito is where he needs to be: reportedly in a psychiatric care center, hopefully trying to learn how to become less of a bully and more of a human being. It's a transition that by the looks of last month's Wells report might take some time.

Most of us probably can agree that Incognito should never play another down in the NFL. His behavior toward another teammate was despicable, even by the rough-hewn standards of an NFL locker room. Racial slurs, sexual taunts: he did it all. He was suspended for eight games and is no longer on the Miami Dolphins roster.

BELL: Harbaugh hopes for win-win with Martin

Q: Get all the latest news from the NFL

Logic would tell us he's damaged goods. While he was good enough to start, he wasn't exactly the second coming of Jerry Kramer. Who needs the trouble?

So he's done, right?

Not so fast.

There are 32 teams in the NFL. Injuries happen, lots of injuries. If no one signs Incognito, isn't there the likelihood that a team needing an offensive guard at some point during the 2014 season will hold its nose and take the plunge?

USA Today Sports' Jarrett Bell surveyed six NFL teams last month to see if they might be interested in signing Incognito. Five said no way. One general manager was hesitant, but then said he wouldn't rule it out, football being a business and all.

"I sure wouldn't want to, but when it's the middle of the season and half of your O-line is on IR (injured reserve), he might look very attractive," said the GM, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic. "Never say never in personnel."

I'll bet Incognito comes back. A team in need of a veteran offensive guard will sign him sometime this coming season. When it does, it'll say he's a changed man, that he learned the error of his ways in rehab. Incognito will hold a news conference. His eyes will well up. He'll declare that he learned his lesson and that he's thankful for the opportunity.

PHOTOS: NFL players on the move

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

The NFL has a history of giving second chances to those whose behavior has ranged from bad to loathsome. Ray Lewis was in a fight in January 2000 in which two men were stabbed to death. (That immediately puts bullying into perspective, doesn't it?) He eventually pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, but the murders remain unsolved. The next season, Lewis not only played in the NFL, he was named MVP of the Super Bowl.

Then there's Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty to felony charges in a dog fighting ring in August 2007 and served 21 months in prison, then returned to the NFL and led the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs.

Lewis and Vick were much better players than Incognito ever was or will be. Still, precedent has been set. Bad guys do make sports comebacks, especially when a team desperately needs the services they can provide.

If and when a team brings Incognito back to the NFL, it will say that it has put him on warning: one menacing text and it's over. It won't make the huge mistake the Dolphins did and let him be a leader in the locker room.

It just might work. For everyone in the outside world who finds Incognito radioactive, there are some significant people who seemed to really like the guy, and vouched for him during the sordid bullying scandal. These people were his Miami teammates. And he had accomplices, offensive linemates John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, who also bullied Martin. Pouncey is still on the team.

So isn't it reasonable to expect that the NFL, whether it should or not, will find room for Incognito? He doesn't deserve a second chance. But I think he'll get one.

Follow Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.

176 LINKEDIN 29 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1iCeZYC