The Buffalo Bills made headlines when they signed former Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito, inking a deal with the controversial player earlier in the week. Although the Bills acknowledged when the contract became official that they had met with Incognito prior to signing him, Incognito had yet to provide any details of the meeting.
In his first public comments since inking a deal to return to the Bills, Incognito explained to NFL Media's Jeff Darlington what he said to the team owners and coaches to convince them he should be a part of their organization despite his tarnished reputation and history of off-field issues. Many football fans, along with anti-bullying organizations, have criticized Buffalo for this signing, and Incognito's remarks were likely meant to further distance both the team and himself from his past transgressions.
He was reportedly straightforward during the face-to-face talks with Terry and Kim Pegula and Rex Ryan, noting that he knew this was likely his last opportunity to salvage his NFL career:
"I told them what I had learned from the whole situation," Incognito wrote in a text. "That I needed to respect those around me more and that I needed to realize I may find things funny that other (sic) find offensive. This whole learning process was about becoming self-aware. About becoming a better person/teammate/leader.
"We mutually expressed that this would be my last chance and we should look at it as a positive," he said. "Take the opportunity to bring attention to a sensitive subject while proving to people that I'm not a racist jerk. We talked about possible ways to turn this situation around and ways we can impact the community. We had a good talk for about an hour. They met separately. They then came back and said they would like me to be part of the organization."
These comments are in line with the statement released by the Pegula family after Incognito joined the team, indicating that the team and Incognito are both looking forward to making this into a positive situation:
"We are convinced that Richie is prepared to move forward and has and will continue to take the necessary steps to improve himself as a person and a teammate."
Darlington also reported that Incognito has been working out twice a day, and recently completed a six-week treatment program at McClean Institute in Boston.
The veteran offensive lineman has not played a snap in the NFL since being at the center of the bullying scandal with the Miami Dolphins a year and a half ago. He was suspended for the remainder of 2013 by the Dolphins, and then reinstated by the NFL last August, but he did not sign with any team this past season. The 2012 Pro Bowler has started 102 games in his career, and should provide a boost to a Bills offensive line that struggled both in pass blocking (39 sacks allowed) and the run game (3.6 yards per rush).
His one-year deal with the Bills is for $2.25 million, according to ESPN.
However, there is no question that he'll be heavily scrutinized throughout the season. He'll have to prove to his doubters that these recent remarks were the honest truth and that he wasn't just telling the Bills what they wanted to hear so that they would sign him.