18. Season in Review: Miami Dolphins

When referring to whether or not the Dolphins could lure Nnamdi Asomugha to thephinsider contributor Matt I over at stampedeblue's sister blog thephinsider.com (great pun!!) wrote the following: "So you know he's going to want to go to a winner, a team that has a serious chance at competing for not just the playoffs but a championship. Could the Dolphins actually convince him [Asomugha] that Miami is that team?"

Forget football, in the entire article he didn't once highlight Miami's perpetual sun, beautiful beaches or phenomenal cuban food (not to mention the gorgeous women everywhere). That's just inexcusable really.

That would be like Coach K  trying to recruit players to Duke and not mentioning - I don't know - Cameron Indoor or Duke's winning tradition!!! Lousy salesmanship. "Hey guys, come to Durham, we've got a top notch medieval studies program." Not the same appeal.

I am only teasing. The article is actually a very good football oriented piece. Matt I is right. Miami does have a lot of convincing to do. The concern for the Dolphins though is not just convincing Asomugha they are a winning team, its convincing themselves (or an an ybody for that matter) that they can win.

The question that everybody is asking, including the Williams sisters and a cadre of South Beach celebs who are new minority owners, is who are the Miami Dolphins? Are they the team two years removed from an 11-5 playoff record? Or are they the middling 7-9 team of the past few seasons.

To answer that, you first have to solve the riddle of whether Miami is one or two players short of competing for an AFC East title or whether they are destined to be stuck in third while heavyweights New England and NJY slug it out.

Asomugha needs convincing and without a bona fide starter at quarterback, so does the rest of the NFL. 

Season in Review: A most bizarre season

After opening the season with 2 victories followed by 2 straight defeats, the Dolphins traded wins and losses for 11 straight weeks. They won their first and only home game in week 4, yet finished 6-2 on the road. 

Their season simply didn't make any sense. Did the bright Miami sun get in there eyes? Did the warm sea breezes make the football flutter coming out of Henne's hand. Did nobody show up to the games because they were all at the beach? It is almost unheard of for a team not named the Lions to win just 1 home game while being so strong on the road. If Miami could have beat rival New England in Foxboro the last week of the season, they could have been the only team to go 1-7 at home and 7-1 on the road. As Bill Simmons neatly dubbed it, what a 'stupid' record. (Unfortunately they were unable to enjoy the immense satisfaction of achieving such a dumb record or of beating the Pats).

As the Miami's season rolled along, it became very easy to peg the Dolphins as an average non-playoff caliber team. Week in and week out, the Dolphins handled weaker teams and lost to better opponents. If the Dolphins were a big time college football powerhouse playing a cupcake schedule, they would have been golden. The NFL is not so nice. To make the playoffs consistency and an ability to rise to the level of the opponent is an absolute necessity. 

Miami had a few nice wins including one over a very beat up Green Bay and another against Jets. The problem was, they consistently lost to higher caliber teams. Once it became clear that the playoffs were out of reach, Miami faded suffering embarrassing losses to Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo. While such defeats dropped the Dolphins below .500, it is fair to say they threw in the towel and are more talented than their record showed.

Offseason Momentum: Inconsistent

Maybe inconsistency is endemic in the organization as a whole because the front office exhibits it too. For one, the dolphins are on their 4th coach in 6 years. 

More recently, owner Stephen Ross flew out to San Francisco to visit with then Standford coach Jim Harbaugh in an attempt to draw him to south Florida. When the pursuit failed, Ross held similar conversations with former Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden, which both failed to make any headway. Suddenly, in an unusual reversal, Ross apologized to Sparano for what he himself called a 'bizarre week' (I'll say) and offered Sparano a two year contract extension.  

It only gets weirder. According to thephinsider.com, Bill Parcells, Miami's Big Tuna and now even larger scapegoat, packed his bag and left the team. Yet when Ross was going helter-skelter across country searching for a new coach, Parcells apparently convinced the owner to keep Spagnolo. Furthermore, some inside the organization still say Parcells has a minor role with the team.

Come on, figure yourselves out!

Yet for all the confusion in the front office, the organization, Parcells included, is even more befuddled by the quarterback situation. 

Before the start of the season, GM Jeff 'leprechauns live in' Ireland and the Big Tuna himself were complimentary about Chad Henne, giving him a vote of confidence as the starter (which quickly diminished after his wretched start). Nothing though, came close to the adulation of Henne by the owner and fellow University of Michigan Alum Stephen Ross who hinted that Chad Henne could be the best quarterback to ever wear teal and orange.

That Spphhhhll sound heard all over Miami was the sound of mojitos shooting out Miami fans' noses. HE SAID WHAT?!?!?

Speaking in front of a local crowd, Ross, who donated 100 million dollars to the University of Michigan and who evidently is slightly biased towards his alma matter, said "I'm sure that I’m hoping, as is everyone else, that he goes down as the greatest quarterback in Miami Dolphins history –- and you know what that will mean."

Translated 'Sorry Dan, but I only measure careers based on Super Bowl rings. You were overrated. I would have traded you for Trent Dilfer in a heartbeat.'

Uhh.... I mean yeah, its great to hope. I hope (and I bet Peyton does too) that Charlie Johnson is going to turn into the next Walter Jones or Orlando Pace. Hell, I would be thrilled to have false-start Tarik Glenn suit up, but its not. going. to. happen. 

Did Ross say that before Henne was benched week 10 against Tennessee after throwing 3 interceptions and no touchdowns in a loss to Baltimore? O he did? Well that's more forgivable... Wait no, - no its not. 

Unbelievable. 

Enough bashing on the owner. By all accounts he is a good guy who is passionate about football and wants to win. Did he make a silly comment? Perhaps, but we need more owners like him in the league (and less buffoons like Charlotte owner Jerry Richardson). 

Another area of grave concern is at running back. All 3 of the water mammal's main core of rb's including Ricky Williams, Ronnie Brown and Lousaka 'I am very' Polite are all either over or close to hitting the dreaded age of 30. To make it worse for Miami, all are free agents.

(Could you imagine how screwed American society would be if 30 were considered over-the-hill. The Middle East, with roughly 75 percent of its population under 30 would just now be hitting its stride...An ironic thought). 

The most interesting case of the three running backs is Ricky Williams. By running back standards he is an - Egyptian Pyramids like - ancient 33. However, because of his rather wacky retirement and his suspension by the league for marijuana abuse, Williams has only played 6 full 16-game seasons. On top of that, Williams hasn't been the featured back since 2003 which would suggest he has some tread left on his tires. His 4.2 ypc is further support. 

On the other hand, Ronnie Brown continues to be as unreliable as Ricky Williams once was. He has been hurt so much they should nickname him ER. In his 6 year career, Brown has managed to stay healthy for only two complete seasons and only hit the 1000 yard mark once. His yards, yards per carry and touchdowns are all the lowest of his career if you judge by a per game basis.

Yes he is younger but is he better?

The only momentum for the Dolphins heading into the offseason is their defense (I guess since it's half the team, I shouldn't belittle the unit with 'only').

The water mammals' defense is a relatively inconspicuous bunch with no real big time stars. Great thing about football, is that stars don't necessarily matter, especially on defense. The group is young, disciplined and hard hitting and will challenge Baltimore and Pittsburgh for recognition as the league's best. 

Players such as Karlos 'with a K' Dansby and Cameron Wake along with corners Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are going to make their names known next season.

The defense will shine brightly, but the offensive worries hang over Miami like big storm clouds and may block out any rays of hope. 

If the Dolphins are going to prove they have what it takes to win to free-agents like Asomugha, then it starts with offense.

Offseason Anxiety: Aforementioned offensive worries

Does the defense have holes? Of course. Do fans want a big name star like Asomugha? Obviously. This offseason offense has to be the focal point.

A few years back when the Dolphins were clicking with Pennington and Brown/Williams, defense was the concern. Now the needs have switched. Miami went out last year and traded for receiver Brandon Marshall thinking he would solve their passing woes. To some extent he did. Marshall had another typically productive year. But if Marshall's talents are too be fully utilized then the water mammals need to get him some help.

That starts with quarterback. The Dolphins are again sending out mixed signals with Jeff 'Leprechauns are from' Ireland giving Henne another vote of confidence, albeit a weak one, while rumors and speculation swirl that the water mammals are looking for a new leader of the pod at quarterback. In fairness to Ireland, its a hard decision. Henne could still turn out to be a good starting quarterback, but after last year's terrible numbers, its hard to be so sure. 15 touchdowns to 19 interceptions doesn't exactly inspire faith. 

Still, why the team keeps cooly backing Henne makes no sense. Maybe the Dolphins will select Jake Locker and then Henne will wake up to find out that they've traded Locker and that he's been given a massive extension. Who knows...

At running back, Williams, if he doesn't retire may make more sense to keep.

The dolphins also have to concern themselves with the possible departures of free agent guard Richie 'under cover and' Incognito and DT Paul Soliai. 

Draft Desires: Intertwined with free agency

This year the draft and free agency are completely intertwined. What the water mammals decide in free agency will directly influence the draft and vice versa. Because Miami forfeited their second round pick to Denver in the Brandon Marshall deal, the Dolphin's only have an 2 picks in the early rounds and therefore must hit home runs with both of them.

The focus, as has been stated, has to be on offense. Given Tony Sparano smash mouth, mafia based, run first philosophy, look for the Dolphins to select running back Mark Ingram out of Alabama. 

Ingram is the perfect fit for the water mammals. He is the tough bruising back that Sparano loves, yet still has the quickness and burst to excel at the next level.

Ingram is considered to be the best back in the draft, which doesn't actually say much with the dearth of quality running backs available. That's kind of like saying Ruth's Chris is the best restaurant when the only other choices are Applebees, the Olive Garden and Outback (For those of you who haven't tried Ruth's Chris - its delightful).

Either way, Ingram is an outstanding player who will punish defenses for a while. Plus, drafting such a quality running back brings the added benefit of taking pressure off of Henne. 

In the 3rd round, look for Miami to target Stephen Schilling, an OG out of Michigan. If you are going to invest heavily in Ingram you might as well help ensure he is successful. Schilling is a tough malling guard who will bolster the running game as well as keep Henne off the grass. We already know Ross' love affair with Michigan... I wouldn't be surprised if he already has a Schilling bobble head doll sitting on his desk. 

The two picks would highlight two realties. The first being that Henne is safe for at least another year and that Richie  'under cover and' Incognito is heading north (YES!), which if that does happen, Bill Polian, Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday better be on the first flight down to Miami to point him in the right direction.

If the Dolphins don't look at running back or guard, then they will probably look to fill the departure of Tyler Thigpen by drafting Henne's backup (or replacement) and consider DT if they can't resign DT Paul Soliai.

Free Agent Farewells: Please don't re-sign Richie Incognito.... Please! Please!

The pending free agency of Richie 'undercover and Incognito's' pending free agency makes me irresponsibly giddy as a Colts' fan.

Before we get to why, let's quickly examine a few other players. We've already talked about the list of running backs. One player who has slipped under the radar is DT Paul Soliai. For the majority of his career with the Dolphins, he was quite unremarkable. Then in his contract year, he stormed onto the scene providing the defense with a major boost. The Dolphins would do well to keep him, but as the title of this recent thephinsider post suggests, doing so could be too expensive. Nevertheless Soliai was a critical component to the water mammals' success. He would also look great in a Colts' uniform.

Ok Richie 'undercover and' Incognito:

Now in advocating his signing by the Colts, I am well aware of his troubled past. Sports Illustrated rated him the 7th dirtiest player in the league. The Colts, nor I, condone such immature and ruffian semantics. There is no place in the league for that and I know the Colts always shy away from players with red flags. But hear me out. Incognito is the perfect fit for the Colts.

To start, after his last bouts of anger in St. Louis, he was released by the Rams and may have learned his lesson as he had no such incidents this past year with the Dolphins. Secondly, and I am not excusing it, but maybe playing for a winning team will help. It cannot be good for dealing with anger management  to play for perpetual losers. Lastly, Peyton Manning and Jim Cadwell do not tolerate such crap and they will make sure that Incognito gets the message.

The Colts' desperately need Incognito. Listen to credentials: 

During his workouts out the 05 Combine, Incognito impressed scouts by being "the strongest and most explosive

player in attendance" During his second season with the Rams, he started at three different positions on

the offensive line and helped block for an offense which produced a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard rusher,

and two 1,000-yard receivers, meaning not only is he a physical guy who could create holes for Addai but he can

also keep Manning clean. More importantly, given the Colt's recent struggles and injuries, he is versatile.

Best of all however, is - oddly enough - his attitude. 

As Colts' fans, we have been screaming for toughness. Screaming for attitude! How many times have you as Colt's fans criticized Caldwell for lacking passion?!?!? We are a soft team, and a damn good one at that, but we need an edge and Incognito, for all his past faults, can provide it. 

Bigblueshoe wrote several good articles talking about how Dominic Rhodes provided a spark with his mean streak and toughness. That attitude times 1000 is what Incognito would bring! Its infectious and Incognito's signing would instantly solidify and shore up the guard position. 

Plus, look at the guy! He's like a big friendly bear. 

Bill, if you are reading this, please, please, please sign Incognito if the Dolphins don't smartly re-sign him first. Peyton Manning and Colts' fans would be grateful.

Threat to the Stampede: Lets worry about the Pats and Jets first.

The water mammals should be above .500. If not, its another disappointing season in south beach. The defense has a chance to be wickedly good but there are too many question marks everywhere else. Can the Dolphins overtake the Pats? No. Can they bump the Jets? Possible, but its also possible to find someone who doesn't like sun, beaches and gorgeous women... If the water mammals reach the super bowl, we will know Stephen Ross was a genius and Chad Henne was the best Dolphins' quarterback of all time (Sorry Dan). 

More likely the Dolphins will once again finish third. 9-7 in that division is certainly respectable but they will need to do a lot more this offseason to convince Asomugha and the rest of the league they can achieve more than that. 

It's always sad to leave Miami, but at least we get to stay in Florida. Stay tuned for tomorrow's review of the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

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