Saying Tuesday on Twitter that the “opportunity to kick in the XFL has presented itself,” Johnson declared he was “excited as hell” and “sure all will go well.”
The artist formerly known as “Chad Ochocinco” added that while parlaying some consistent kicking in the XFL into a shot at the NFL would be “far-fetched,” simply getting a chance to make an NFL roster at an “entirely different position” would be “so riveting.”
ESPN confirmed via a person close to the situation that Johnson was indeed getting a tryout. The XFL, meanwhile, confirmed Tuesday that it was also giving a kicking tryout to PFT Commenter of Barstool Sports, with the co-host of the “Pardon My Take” podcast getting a chance to make the roster of the D.C. Defenders on Wednesday.
While the XFL, which begins its inaugural season next month, could certainly use the publicity those two will generate, Johnson may actually have what it takes (no, ahem, comment on PFT Commenter).
The six-time Pro Bowler signed last year with Boca Raton FC of the United Premier Soccer League — his jersey number, of course, is 85 — and in December he posted video of himself nailing what appeared to be a 60-yard field goal.
In 2009, while in his 2008-2012 “Ochocinco” period, Johnson nailed an extra point for the Bengals during a preseason game against the Patriots. With Cincinnati’s regular place-kicker, Shayne Graham, out with a groin injury, Johnson also handled a kickoff during the game, booting the ball to the opposing 10-yard line.
“Soccer’s my first love. Kicking’s easy … like riding a bike,” he crowed after his extra point was the difference in a 7-6 Bengals win. “I can kick them from 50, 60 yards, left or right hash mark. … I kicked all through high school.”
If Johnson has at least a plausible chance to make it as a place-kicker, the invitation to PFT Commenter appears to be the kind of gimmick XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck told The Post last year he was trying to avoid with this version of the league. “I think there’s a really fine line between innovating and being gimmicky, and we’re trying to stay on the proper side of that,” Luck said then.
The original XFL, a venture co-owned by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, attempted to incorporate a pro-wrestling sensibility during the one season it managed in 2001. The new XFL is also backed by McMahon but is trying to succeed by giving football fans what they have said they want.
New rules unveiled last week by the league include double-forward passes, three-point conversions and NHL-style overtime shootouts. Of particular interest to Johnson and other place kicking aspirants is a much different setup on kickoffs, in which the kicking team and the coverage unit line up on the 35- and 30-yard lines, respectively, on the far side of the field.
That is meant to limit high-speed collisions and thus increase player safety, while other XFL rules seek to promote more returns and, the league hopes, more excitement. The kickoffs must land between the end zone and the 20-yard line; kicks that fall short of the 20 or go out of bounds will result in touchbacks all the way to the kicking team’s 45.
If the ball is kicked into the end zone and downed it comes out to the returning team’s 35, but if it is kicked in bounds and then either bounces out of the end zone or is downed in the end zone, it comes out to the returning team’s 15.
Likely to Johnson’s dismay, another XFL innovation will be the elimination of extra-point kicks altogether. Instead, teams will have the option of running plays for one, two or three points from, respectively, the two-, five- or 10-yard lines.
If all that sounds a bit confusing for attendees when the XFL begins play, it may not be any more so than the potential sight of a player trotting on the field to kick off while being announced as “Chad Johnson.” Of course, that’s assuming he doesn’t celebrate his new football career by changing his name again.