On the same day the Dolphins will board their flight for Charlotte to meet up with the Carolina Panthers, former starting QB Chad Pennington will be on his way to Birmingham, Ala. to see his doctor.
Pennington said Tuesday he has completed the first phase of his rehabilitation from season-ending shoulder surgery -- his third such surgery -- and now must map out a recovery program for the next six weeks.
At this stage, Pennington said, he's not certain he'll play again. He might not make that decision until March. But regardless of what that decision is, the chances of him playing for the Dolphins again are quite slim.
The Dolphins, you see, are moving on. They have a starter in Chad Henne. They have committed time (this entire season) and resources (a second-round pick) on making backup Pat White a success. They also have Tyler Thigpen under contract.
So where does that leave room for Pennington?
It doesn't look, at this point, like it really does.
Obviously, it is way early to make a call on this, but if Pennington decides he wants to play again, he will almost certainly want a chance to compete for a starting job and be ready to settle in as the backup if he loses the competition.
Well, the Dolphins have a starter in Henne and definitely don't want a competition that might have the potential to split the locker room with one side backing the youngster and the other backing Pennington. So that's not an option.
I suppose if Pennington is willing, he can come in to compete with White for the backup job as long as everyone -- including the public -- is aware the fight is for No. 2. But it's hard to fathom Pennington, being the competitor he is, wanting to do that.
I know that isn't the Hollywood script that Pennington's career should follow at this stage. It's not what should happen to the good guy that Pennington is. And if you measure the appreciation and respect the Dolphins have for Pennington, one has to figure he would get another chance in Miami.
But professional football is a business, not an admiration society. So ...
The Dolphins cannot, and will not commit to anything.
“We all know the business, we understand that there’s a part of the business that sometimes gives you what you want or doesn’t give you what you want in some of those situations," coach Tony Sparano said. "I will say this, I would miss the guy a bunch, I really like Chad Pennington being here. He’s a tremendous leader, he’s great for our young players, great. But more importantly, this is a guy that every player on the team voted for for captain. Not one player did not vote for this guy.”
That's all very well and lovely. But all that hasn't kept Sparano himself from treating Pennington no differently than he treats other players that are out for the year. Pennington is welcome and encouraged to rehabilitate at Dolphins camp every morning. He is welcome and encouraged to continue leading through conversations with younger teammates -- I witnessed one such conversation between Pennington and Davone Bess on Monday.
But Pennington is not allowed to travel with the Dolphins on road games. And he is not welcome to be on the Land Shark Stadium sideline on game days. That's the rule for everyone else and it is the rule for Pennington.
“It is something I have really wrestled with a little bit, to be honest with you," Sparano said, "but I don’t think so right now. Consistency is important in that decision right now. There have been some other injured players that I have not let down there and it is just part of my philosophy that is not a good thing to do. Just part of my philosophy that it is not a good thing to do.”
Basically, Sparano doesn't want players in other players' ears. He wants active players to be listening to coaches. He does not want the message to be filtered or altered or somehow changed. It makes sense, really.
“Sometimes it can be a distraction," Sparano. "In [Pennington’s] case, he has great knowledge, but sometimes that is not the case. It depends on the player, it depends on the position, it depends on any of those things.
"But rather than have six set of rules, there is just one rule. The players understand it. I think for the most part they respect it. In a lot of situations it doesn’t pay to travel the guys that are injured. You leave them back here, you let them get a little bit extra treatment, get some of those things. There are a just a bunch of things that go into it and that is what I am used to.”
I think it's the right call. I think one does not make exceptions for one player over another. Sure, Pennington would probably be of great help to Chad Henne, imparting experience and so forth.
But Miami's rookie corners could similarly argue that Will Allen should be allowed on the sideline to impart his experience. And then the tight ends might want David Martin imparting his experience. And pretty soon the sideline has a lot of chiefs and not enough indians.
Sparano is doing the right thing. And Pennington isn't complaining about not being on the sideline now. Whether he'll ever be on a Dolphins sideline again, well, that's another matter.