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19 posts from February 2011

February 28, 2011

Henne's meeting with Daboll, Dorrell apparently violates CBA contact rules

The NFL has warned "several teams" that players are not to meet with coaches and receive playbooks during this time in the offseason, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported over the weekend. The league has sent the Dolphins no such warning.

But perhaps it should.

That's because Chad Henne, Miami's presumed starting quarterback, told The Miami Herald today he's been meeting with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for the last month in preparation for player-organized workouts that would replace any offseason workouts or minicamps lost to a possible lockout or other circumstance related to the uncertain and unresolved collective bargaining contract.

Henne, apparently comfortable with the new playbook, would presumably run the offensive portion of the workouts. To be equiped for that task, Henne had to learn portions of the playbook, or at least significant portions of it. And to do that, he likely had to study the darn thing.

Regardless, even meeting with Daboll to discuss strategy and plays is apparently out of bounds, according to the Plain Dealer. And that definitely happened.

"I took some vacation time, maybe a week or two here or there, but once we signed Coach Brian Daboll, I tried to get into there as quick as I could to learn the offense," Henne told the Herald's David J. Neal. "I've been meeting with him for the last month now. I feel pretty comfortable with what he's teaching and what the offense is going to be about just in case -- who knows what's going to happen this Thursday? -- that I can pass it on to the guys and help the guys out."

Henne is quoted extensively in the story talking about the new offense and how it is quarterback friendly and a mix of the New England and New York Jets offense. The story does not make the conclusion that Henne violated any rules. It does not even consider the topic.

But I do.

According to the Plain Dealer, coaches and GMs at the NFL Scouting Combine were told by league officials that existing rules forbid meetings with coaches and the dispensing of playbooks until the official start of offseason conditioning programs on March 15. The league is saying the offseason rules were a concession to the wishes of the players union, which did not want coaches pressuring players to meet with coaches until the off-season programs kicked off, the Plain Dealer reported.

The Plain Dealer report specifically addressed meetings relative to strategy. Players and coaches are allowed to meet to discuss other matters, such as contract issues and to simply handle introductions and other business until March 3, it has been reported. 

An NFL spokesman could not immediately be reached on this matter. A message left with a Dolphins spokesman has not yet been returned.

Update: A Dolphins spokesman declined comment and added he would not even confirm that Henne had indeed met with Daboll -- although the spokesman was present today when Henne said he met with Daboll. I find that amusing for some reason.

Update 2: Whatever advantage the Dolphins gained (if any) is done because the league year ends March 3rd anyway and everyone knows and understands there is to be no contact between players and their teams after March 3rd.

Update 3: Veteran St. Louis scribe and radio host Howard Balzer passed along the portion of the NFL's clarification of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that shows the contact between Henne and Daboll to be out of bounds.

The current collective bargaining agreement, which doesn’t expire until midnight March 3, has strict rules regarding what players can do before the beginning of offseason programs. The NFL has made this clear to clubs by way of written clarification. That clarification reads:

 "Prior to the start of off-season programs, players are permitted to use the Club’s facilities on a voluntary basis subject to the following rules: (i) such players may not receive per diem payments or workout bonuses of any kind and may not be paid or reimbursed expenses for travel, board or lodging during this period; (ii) such players are not permitted to participate in organized workouts, practices or meetings of any kind; (iii) the Club’s strength and conditioning coaches may not direct such players’ individual workouts, but may supervise use of the weight room to prevent injury, correct misuse of equipment, etc.; and (iv) such players may not be directed or supervised by position coaches during this period."

Obviously, the quarterback meeting with the offensive coordinator is a meeting of some kind when the CBA clearly states meetings of any kind are out of bounds.

Balzer also tells me via e-mail that in St. Louis, quarterback Sam Bradford has not met with his new offensive coordinator for this reason.

Update 4: Henne didn't just meet with Brian Daboll. Quarterback coach Karl Dorrell was in the room also at Dolphins training camp. That is similarly a violation of the CBA. And this is not just speculation. This is straight from Henne's mouth.

Watch the video:

Back to work: Notes and nuggets

Back to work so let's get to it ...

Much has happened since I was last allowed to work by The Herald so let's do some catching up with (hopefully) a couple of nuggets you might be interested in.

Let's begin with unfinished business about Jeremy Shockey. I shared with my twitter followers last week that there would be practically no chance of the erstwhile New Orleans TE landing in Miami if Bill Parcells were still running the show because of Shockey's age and history with injuries would have eliminated him. But with Jeff Ireland running things and there being a greater sense of desperation urgency to win now, Shockey would be in play.

How much in play he is has yet to be really determined because while lots of folks got all excited about him passing a physical with the Dolphins last week, he did it while coach Tony Sparano and Ireland were out of town. So Shockey didn't get the eyes-on approach from the two most important football guys in the organization. In other words, Shockey has zero commitment from the Dolphins.

Yet.

There will be a meeting -- probably in the next day or two -- between Shockey and the coach and general manager. At that point, the Dolphins may decide to go forward (or not) with Shockey. Obviously agent Drew Rosenhaus, a local guy, will push to get his client on the local team. And Shockey, a local hero because of what he did at the University of Miami, will welcome the idea of playing for the team in the town where he lives.

But ...

The Dolphins must weigh Shockey's value as definite upgrade as a receiving tight end versus what kind of money he wants, how that fits within his injury history, and one other thing.

The other thing is chemistry.

Let's face it, Shockey is not a wilting violet. He's a veteran. He's got opinions about things. He has a way of thinking that was formed long ago. Can that way of thinking fit in a Dolphins locker room where the quarterback situation is unstable, where the leadership in the huddle is unsettled, where Brandon Marshall is already a player the Dolphins feel they have to "manage," according to a source.

That other thing will also be weighed. So it is not as easy as answering the question whether Shockey is an upgrade. That answer seems obviously yes. The answer to the other question might not so obvious.

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The Indy scouting combine closes shop Tuesday so let me share some nuggets I've garnered from afar:

I spoke to a scout on Friday afternoon and he told me that despite the obvious glut of QBs in this draft, much of the gold that seems shiny now will tarnish as it languishes on NFL rosters in years to come. Simply, the scout said, teams are generally good at identifying quarterbacks at the top of the draft and working their way back toward the later rounds.

And, generally, those picked in the first round succeed to some degree on an NFL level between 55-60 percent of the time.

Everything after that?

The chances of success drop off the table.

I'm told QBs picked in rounds 2-3 succeed about 20 percent of the time. Everything after that drops into the single digits of success depending on the year. Yes, for every Tom Brady picked 199th overall, there are approximately 91 other guys that never start a game in the NFL.

Think about that if you're advocating that the Dolphins should not pick a QB until the third round or beyond. The chances of such a strategy working is historically low.

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Former Dolphins, Cleveland and Cowboys QB Bernie Kosar was on my radio show, Armando and the Amigo, this morning for his regular segment and he brought this nugget from the Combine:

Kosar is doing work in some capacity for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. He is sitting in on interviews. He is talking to various players. He is also working his NFL relationships to gather information from and about other teams.

Well, according to Kosar, "most teams were fine," with the explanation Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett gave for the persistent yet unsubstantiated rumors of drug use that seem to be dogging him.

Mallett was panned by some media for not answering questions about drugs during his press conference on Saturday. He neither admitted nor denied any connection to drugs of any sort. But it did come up in his team interviews, Kosar said, and he did address the issue in that venue.

In the venue that counts most -- the field -- Mallett was apparently studly. This from the pool report by the Pro Football Writers of America:

"On deep seam routes in the middle of the field, Mallett was flawless, arching the ball with perfect touch and hitting receivers in stride. On out routes to the sideline, Mallett delivered his best fastball and was perfectly accurate. The ball exploded into receivers’ hands.

"His slant route throws were perfect although some of the throws are so hard and fast they will challenge the hands of receivers. He was particularly impressive on his post corners on the right, going four-for-four. If there was a weakness, it was his 17-yard turn-ins to his left. His first pass was high. His second one was a little off, but by the third throw he was perfect.

"Mallett has excellent deep touch on his throws. His challenge is making sure he can be accurate on his intermediate throws."

My personal opinion? I don't know Ryan Mallett from Adam. But I know he played in a pro-style system. I know he has a pro arm and probably the best arm in this draft. Mobile? No. Not at all. It's a red flag he refused to run the 40-yard dash. He cannot run to save his life. But there's a difference between mobility and footwork. I hear he's got fewer footwork issues to resolve compared to the Spread quarterbacks that dominate this draft. Do not underestimate that, by the way.

He has to tighten up his accuracy. It is, in my opinion, the real reason he's not considered a Top 10-12 pick. But neither is his accuracy Brady Quinn bad.

When Cam Newton reveals in an interview with the NFL Network that he "underestimated the timing aspect of playing quarterback," as it related to getting a quick drop, finding the receiver and hooking up with the player, that brings to light exactly how much hard work has to be done with these spread quarterbacks to get them up to NFL speed.

As Mike Mayock was overheard on air as the Network was going to commercial following Newton's throwing session Sunday, "backup," is the word that comes to mind in the short term when looking at Newton perform. If you think he'll be a starter from Day 1, well, that is truly baptism by fire stuff right there.

Mallett would also be baptism by fire. But at least he's taken a center snap in the SEC out of the pro set. At least he's dropped five steps and seven steps under pressure. He's well ahead of the other guys in that regard.

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This didn't get much attention out there because it is ultimately about a backup player so I figured I'd serve it up. The Dolphins obviously have several plans of attack for addressing the quarterback spot.

None of them really include Chad Pennington in the best-case scenario.

One also does not include Tyler Thigpen -- in that if Miami drafts a rookie and adds a veteran who can challenge to start, then Thigpen is outty.

But if the Dolphins fail to find a QB in the draft or in free agency, then a spot opens up for Thigpen. Under this scenario, Chad Henne, Thigpen and the new guy QB would make up Miami's three quarterbacks. The new guy would be either a rookie or that veteran that will challenge Henne to start.

If the Dolphins find any combination of two new guys in whom they are investing money or a considerable (relatively high) draft pick ... Thigpen's chances of being on the team for the 2011 season-opener become about zero.



February 20, 2011

What they do, not say: Pass-rush edition

First the news: ILB Rashad Jeanty signed a contract today with the Philadelphia Eagles. He went with the Eagles even though the Dolphins and the Jets also offered him similar one-year deals.

The reason the South Florida native went north?

A source tells me he was simply more comfortable with the situation in Philadelphia over that with the Dolphins and Jets. He felt he had a better chance to start there than in Miami or New York.

On another front:

If you are a Dolphins In Depth reader with any standing or memory, you know I've told you to be wary of what the club and its personnel say but always accept what those folks do as gospel.

We remember this lesson from the Gibril Wilson lovefest of last offseason that led to his departure. We learned it when Cam Cameron loved on Daunte Culpepper publicly while I told you the kid was on the outs -- and months later he was cut. We learned this when Dave Wannstedt went on and on about how valuable Dan Marino was and how he could write his own ticket in the waning years of his career and, meanwhile, the Dolphins had him come to their offices to void his contract and usher him out.

It is not always about what they say. It is about what they do.

Well, the Dolphins last year where seemingly thrilled with Cameron Wake exploding onto the NFL scene with 14 sacks. They repeated time and again how pleased they were with rookie Koa Misi's development as a pass-rusher even though he showed good-not-great ability and good-not-great results with 4.5 sacks.

(For the record, I think Misi will be fine as a pass-rusher. He's more an effort guy, a high-motor guy. He's not the most gifted guy on the field, but he'll get his stats because he never quits and works hard. And he'll probably be a bit better when he learns the game and techniques better.)

So the Dolphins seemed quite pleased with their pass-rush and obviously the 39 team sacks for the season was good enough to tie them for 10th in the NFL.

But ...

While the Dolphins seemed satisfied in what they said about their pass-rush, their deeds yelled otherwise.

Even as many folks were hoping GM Jeff Ireland would improve the offense during the season any way he could -- perhaps putting in a waiver claim on Randy Moss -- he instead went with a waiver claim on outside linebacker Shawne Merriman when San Diego cut him loose.

Obviously, Ireland and the Dolphins saw a need to improve the pass rush at the time even as Wake was going nuts on offensive tackles.

Recently, The Miami Herald reported, the club interviewed former linebacker Bryan Cox for a defensive line coaching position. Although the club has yet to finalize anything on that front, a club source says part of the intrigue with Cox would be getting him to 1.) help defenders upgrade their pass-rush skills 2.) bring a more aggressive and perhaps even emotional approach to the front seven.

So, again, pass-rushing is on the club's mind.

What does that mean?

Obviously, the team is not afraid of improving an area of the team that is already fairly stout. It's a good idea because, after all, the New York Giants long ago wrote the recipe for defeating Tom Brady and the Patriots and that was hurry him, rush him, sack him, and hit him time after time.

This also suggests we should not lose sight of available pass-rushers in the coming draft and eventual free agency. I won't go into names here. It's too early for that. Or you can do it in the comments section. But, I tell you, do not sleep on additions to the pass-rush this offseason even as everyone is focused on offense.

Sure, the Dolphins haven't said they want to add a pass-rusher. But remember, it's about what they do, not necessarily what they say.

[NOTE: This will be the last blog update until Feb. 28. The Miami Herald, you see, imposes mandatory furloughs on its employees to reduce salary costs. It does so twice a year, lately. I am on mandatory furlough this week so I will not be working for The Herald thus not allowed to update this blog.

That doesn't mean I'm off this week. I will still be on my morning radio show, Armando and the Amigo, every morning 6-10 from Monday to Friday on 640-Sports in South Florida and streaming live on the web. If anything Dolphins related happens, you can bet I'll be discussing it on the air and taking calls about it, too. So you can tune in or call, if you wish.

I will also be live on my twitter account which is under my name. Please follow me to get my tweets. Later this week I will be sharing information on the NFL scouting combine. I'll hope to be back here with you on Feb. 28.]

February 17, 2011

Ireland's choice: Right thing vs. popular thing

You know the scenario. The Dolphins need to become a more dynamic team. They need big plays on offense. They need possession-changing plays on defense and somebody needs to set an alarm under the special teams and coax a kick return or punt return TD out of them sometime this century.

The Dolphins need to thus draft someone that comes with his own personal Batman show soundtrack: Pow. Bam. Kaboom.

We all know this. The Dolphins have admitted this ...

And then they draft a center?

Or any offensive lineman?

Or a safety?

Really?

That is the dilemma Miami general manager Jeff Ireland might (I do stress this is hypothetical) face on draft day in April. We want somebody that will wow us. Owner Stephen Ross wants someone that will bring glitz and glamour and put butts in the seats.

And the best player on the board might be someone that does neither but could still be the best available player on the Miami board. Or the best option in Ireland's opinion. Or Just the right thing to do.

How would Ireland navigate that?

The answer cannot be known until it happens. But be certain it can happen. Simply, there is a possibility the 14 teams picking ahead of the Dolphins pluck the most dynamic offensive players off the board -- guys such as Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert or A.J. Green and Julio Jones or even whatever homerun hitting running back you think is worthy.

And suppose someone such as Florida center Mike Pouncey is the highest rated player on Miami's board at the time. Or maybe OT Nate Solder is Miami's highest rated player left on the board. Or maybe a safety such as Rahim Moore or Roberts Sands is the guy.

Would Ireland have the courage to pick an offensive lineman after the team has spent so many past resources on positions that don't score TDs? Would he be OK with adding to the defense when it's the offense that begs help?

Would he go away from doing the popular thing that will get him applause from folks at the Dolphins draft party at the expense going with the highest-rated guy on his board that perhaps plays a position that excites no one and could get him roasted publicly?

It is a tough call. It is why Ireland makes the proverbial big bucks.

I would tell you the Dolphins had a GM that made that difficult and unpopular call before. Remember in April of 2007, the Dolphins had a good feeling that Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn would be available at No. 9. And the Wednesday before the draft, GM Randy Mueller had dinner with owner Wayne Huizenga and told him he would not be picking Quinn because, well, he didn't think Quinn was that good.

Huizenga didn't necessarily agree but let Mueller make his own bed. Mueller made that bed instead by picking Ted Ginn Jr. No, that choice didn't work although hindsight tells us Mueller made the right call not picking Quinn, either. The point is Mueller did the unpopular thing because everyone (including me) wanted Quinn.

Had Mueller picked a good player instead, he might still be employed. Of course, had Huizenga picked a better head coach than Cam Cameron, Mueller might still be employed. Neither happened. But the point is Mueller took the harder public relations road.

I cannot tell you which way Ireland would go. I haven't asked him about this topic. But my thinking is he might also do the more difficult thing, the more unpopular thing, if he thinks it's the right thing. It would make people upset, for sure. It might even make Ross upset, for sure.

But I get the feeling Jeff Ireland is stubborn enough to stick to his guns and go down blazing if he must.

If the player Ireland picks is the right guy -- and shows it right away -- Ireland can survive the storm of making an unpopular pick. Obviously, you make a less popular selection and compound the problem by choosing a bust, you've doubled your pain and you're out of a job anyway.

But you go with the unpopular pick and it ultimately turns out to be the right selection, your reputation is improved long-term.

So what do you think? Would Ireland let his rep suffer a bit at the hands of fans and second-guessers in the short-term? Or would he bow to the pressure and pluck the next QB or WR or RB on his board to satisfy the masses and his owner?

Hmmmm.

We might see. 

Kindly follow me on twitter.

February 16, 2011

The latest on the Paul Soliai contract situation

Last week I promised to get a comment from agent David Canter on Paul Soliai's contract situation and pending free agency bid. I failed.

Until today.

Today, you see, Canter did his weekly guest spot on my radio show, Armando and the Amigo and that is typically when I can corner the busy guy. Well, today he came on the show and the picture of the Soliai negotiations he painted was not necessarily grim, but certainly steeped in the possibility this isn't going to necessarily end how the Dolphins planned.

"Let me tell you this and take it however way you want," Canter said, "If the Dolphins don't pay Paul Soliai, there will be plenty of other teams lining up to sign him as a free agent, I know that ..."

Alrightie then.

That sentiment came within the context of productive, professional talks with the Dolphins, according to Canter, who was quite complimentary of Miami general manager Jeff Ireland. In fact, Canter said he spoke with Ireland earlier this week and the two plan to talk again in Indianapolis during the NFL combine late next week.

Canter did not discuss numbers or specifics of the negotiation with me. I know, however, through a Soliai family source that Miami has made the nose tackle several contract offers. The latest, interestingly, about 10 days ago was a one-year offer.

That obviously was declined as the sides don't have a deal today.

As to numbers involved in this matter, it is pretty clear the Soliai family is looking for a big payday. The numbers floated to me were $6 million per year average with (obviously) a large guaranteed bonus factoring into the math. I have no idea if that number is a starting point or the point where Soliai wants to be at.

I would not be too concerned this deal is currently not done. Frankly, the 30 percent rule limits how a deal can be written unless it includes a huge signing bonus. And the Dolphins have told Canter they aren't eager to do a deal without really knowing what the league's cap rules will be going forward.

That obviously is a reference to the uncertain labor situation between owners and players that is hovering like a fog around all 32 NFL teams now.

One thing is certain: Once the rules are agreed to and free agency begins, Soliai will be on the market to the Dolphins and everyone else. And either the Dolphins will pay or, if you agree with Canter, someone else will.

Please follow me on twitter.

February 15, 2011

Roger Goodell writes op-ed about labor peace

The NFL is at a crossroads, folks, with players wanting to pull in one direction and owners trying to go the other. The NFL is threatening to uproot the labor peace that has marked the game since 1987.

And as we get closer to that March 4 moment when a path is chosen and an enormous problem ensues for fans because they might lose the game they love, watch and ultimately pay for, you are about to see the start of a public relations storm from both sides.

The first bolt in that storm comes from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who has written an op-ed piece that will appear in newspapers (yeah, we still matter) across the country.

I would estimate it will take the NFLPA about two hours to craft a response. It is on the clock.

Meanwhile, Goodell's piece:

By Roger Goodell

One of the best NFL seasons in history is now over. We salute NFL players for their extraordinary talent and we deeply appreciate the tremendous support of the fans.

The hard work to secure the next NFL season must now accelerate in earnest. We are just weeks from the expiration of our collective bargaining agreement. There has been enough rhetoric, litigation and other efforts beyond the negotiating table. It is time for serious negotiations.

The current agreement expires on March 4, and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reaching agreement by then. If we as a league — the teams and players’ union — fail to fulfill our shared responsibility to the fans and game, everyone will be worse off — players, teams and fans — starting in March.

This is an opportunity to create a better future for the NFL, to improve the game for our fans, and to expand the economic benefits for the players and teams.

Staying with the status quo is not an option. The world has changed for everyone, including the NFL and our fans. We must get better in everything we do.

The union has repeatedly said that it hasn’t asked for anything more and literally wants to continue playing under the existing agreement. That clearly indicates the deal has moved too far in favor of one side. Even the union’s president knows this — as he said on national radio on January 27: “I think what really happened is in 2006 we got such a great deal. I mean, the players got a good deal and the owners felt they got it handed to them.”

We need an agreement that both sides can live with and obtain what they need, not simply what they want.

Today’s collective bargain agreement does not work as it should from the standpoint of the teams. If needed adjustments are made, the NFL will be better for everyone. The first step is making sure a new collective bargaining agreement is more balanced and supports innovation and growth.

The NFL clubs want to move forward, improve the system, and secure the future of the game for the benefit of players, fans and teams.

The status quo means no rookie wage scale and the continuation of outrageous sums paid to many unproven rookies. In 2009, for example, NFL clubs contracted $1.2 billion to 256 drafted rookies with $585 million guaranteed before they had stepped on an NFL field. Instead, we will shift significant parts of that money to proven veterans and retired players.

The status quo means 16 regular-season and four preseason games — even though fans have rejected and dismissed four preseason games at every opportunity. We need to deliver more value to our fans by giving them more of what they want at responsible prices. This can be achieved if we work together and focus on more ways to make the game safer and reduce unnecessary contact during the season and in the off-season.

The status quo means failing to recognize the many costs of financing, building, maintaining and operating stadiums. We need new stadiums in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Oakland and San Diego; and the ability for more league investment in new technology to improve service to fans in stadiums and at home.

The status quo means players continuing to keep 60 percent of available revenue, in good years or bad, no matter how the national economy or the economics of the league have changed. From 2001 to 2009, player compensation doubled and the teams committed a total of $34 billion to player costs. The NFL is healthy in many respects, but we do not have a healthy business model that can sustain growth.

Companies with far more revenue than the NFL have gone bankrupt because they mismanaged their costs and failed to address their problems before they became a crisis. The NFL has a track record over many decades of making good decisions that have led to unprecedented popularity. Negotiating a fair agreement will result in billions in pay and benefits to current players, improved benefits for retired players, and a sustainable business model for our teams.

The current deal does not secure the best possible future for the game, players, clubs and fans. The next few weeks must be used to negotiate with intensity and purpose so we can reach a fair agreement by March 4. If both sides compromise and give a little, everyone will get a lot, especially the fans.

February 14, 2011

If Henne is like Brees, Fins should be like Chargers

Many of you that believe in Chad Henne have often drawn a favorable comparison between him and Drew Brees.

Brees, you often point out, was not a good quarterback his first three years in the NFL. The turth of the matter is if you look at Brees the first three years of his career and you look at Henne his first three years, and the similarities are obvious.

Brees didn't play much his rookie season. Brees didn't play much his rookie season. Both started as second-year players and suffered the typical struggles young quarterbacks often encounter. And then both seemed to regress their second seasons as the starter.

When you compare their two years starting, Brees had 28 TD passes and 31 interceptions. Henne has had 27 TD passes and 33 interceptions. And Henne's completion percentage is higher and he's thrown for more yards.

So, some of you have argued, it is entirely possible Henne follows the same path Brees followed.

And I hope you are correct.

But ...

You cannot write a warranty for that idea. So I suggest we carry the comparison further.

If you want to compare the quarterbacks as possible twins, I suggest the Dolphins follow the road the Chargers followed.

After those first three years with Brees, the Chargers had no idea he could be their QB. But they knew they had to guard themselves against the idea Brees wouldn't ever be much good. So in April of 2004, with Brees on the roster, the Chargers did what the Dolphins should do in this coming draft.

They drafted a quarterback.

The Chargers took Phillip Rivers with their first overall pick. It was brilliant. Rivers was not able to beat out Brees as the starter in 2004. The fact is Brees finally started coming into his own. But the insurance policy was nonetheless in place. (Actually, the Chargers picked Eli Manning and then traded him for a chance to land Rivers, but you get the drift. They got Phillip Rivers.)

It was a great piece of personnel work by A.J. Smith.

He didn't need Rivers right away because Brees finally started producing. But no one looked at him crossways and questioned why he protected the franchise's best interest by adding a highly touted rookie QB.

Brees went on to play well in 2004 and 2005 but he injured his shoulder at the end of 2005. Smith, as uncertain about the injury just as the Dolphins were, opted to give Brees a carefully crafted contract offer that protected the team against that injury being serious. Brees declined it and went on the market and eventually signed with New Orleans.

And the Chargers handed the reins of their offense to a QB who had been sitting and learning for two years. Rivers was an instant hit and has been among the NFL's best QBs ever since.

What's the moral of the story?

Yes, maybe the Dolphins need to have patience with Henne because he could blossom into a latter-day Brees. But, absolutely, they also need to have the wisdom to guard against that not happening.

Just like the San Diego Chargers did.

Dolphins send a Valentine's Day greeting but ...

...Do you care?

Is it going to make you renew your tickets?

The Dolphins are these days being thoughtful with their most valuable fans, their season-ticket holders. Today the club sent this heart-shaped football in the form of a Valentine's Day card to its season-ticket holders. And the message is simple:

"We'd love to have you back"

So the club gets an A for thinking of you. It gets an A for timing. It gets an A for effort. It also gets an A for marketing.

But does it work?

Does it make you adjust your thinking on how the Dolphins are doing otherwise?

Obviously, there isn't a whole lot the club could be doing publicly to make you feel better about things. There's nothing by way of player or coaching staff acquisition anyone could be doing to impress you. The staff is set after the hiring process was completed before the Super Bowl. The player acquisition period has not begun -- although I did see a headline asking how the club is doing with its free agency approach when free agency hasn't started yet and re-signing a player such as Paul Soliai is impossible based on the 30 percent rule.

But I digress.

The question is do little gestures like the Valentine's card work? Do they take the edge off the razor you want to take to someone's head over in Davie?

Remember that it is a new offseason and the Dolphins are as undefeated today as the Green Bay Packers. Obviously, you also remember that wasn't the case last season and certainly not when the team played at home. 

But are you still angry about that? Are you so angry that, as the person who passed along the card to me said, he wants me to go off on the team in my column and on my daily radio show every chance I get.

I haven't been doing that, by the way. But I'm wanting to gauge the temperature in here on a love-filled Valentine's Day. 

February 13, 2011

Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks

What can most of us agree on?

It's about the quaterback. In the NFL it is always about the quarterback. Quarterbacks, quarterback, quarterbacks.

Teams have won titles without great ones -- if you believe digging back over a decade when rules were different is fair. But if you're talking about the game lately, you cannot win it all without a fine QB.

That's the reason my Sunday column is all about quarterbacks. I tell you some stuff about Miami's history of chasing quarterbacks that might surprise you. I tell you stuff of the coming chase for a quarterback that is affected by the job status of coach Tony Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland. And I tell you how chasing vets like Marc Bulger or Kevin Kolb might be harder than you think.

One thing I failed to mention was a rising name among NFL people that should not be overlooked by the Dolphins: Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn.

It's widely believed the Packers will listen to trade offers for Flynn this offseason because they understand Flynn may eventually depart via free agency and they would get nothing for him in return. so getting something now might be more palatable than getting nothing later.

Some NFL teams believe Flynn might be ready begin his career as an NFL starter. He'd have learning to do. He'd have to ripen a bit. But his performance in Week 15 against New England made some folks pay attention. Flynn started for Aaron Rodgers and completed 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards, with three TDs and one INT in the game.

So against a team that has had a QB advantage over the Dolphins for a decade, Flynn completed 64.1 percent of his passes and had a 100.2 rating. Yes, the Packers lost 31-27 to New England, but if you watched the game you understand Flynn did his part.

And that is at least worth considering if you're the Dolphins.

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February 10, 2011

Franchise, transition tags out today but not for Dolphins

NFL teams can begin applying franchise and transition tags to their most valued projected unrestricted free agents starting today (Feb. 10) and that is notable to the Dolphins and you only because of my post yesterday about Paul Soliai.

Following that post, several of you e-mailed me suggesting the Dolphins use either the franchise or transition tag on Soliai to keep him locked to the Dolphins in 2011.

Um, not likely.

First, it must be said that franchise and transition numbers have not been officially released by the NFL. Secondly, the NFL players' union has vowed to take the NFL to court over the placing of the tags without a new collective bargaining agreement being in place. Finally, the idea doesn't make much financial sense.

The franchise tag, you must remember, is valued at the average of the top five salaries for players at that position. The transition tag is valued at the average of the top 10 salaries for players at that position.

For a NT/DT which is where Soliai falls, the projections for either tag are staggering. According to the good work of Brian McIntyre at Mac's Football Blog, the projected franchise tag tender in 2011 will be a whopping $12.3 million. The projected transition tag tender will be a whopper junior $9.4 million.

There is no way on earth the Dolphins will guarantee Paul Soliai that amount for one year.

There is no way, by the way, the Dolphins will guarantee any of their unrestricted free agents that kind of money. Thus you can be relatively certain the Miami Dolphins will not use either their franchise or transition tags in 2011 unless the rules or projections change somehow.

Why, you might wonder, would it cost so much to tag a defensive tackle that much in 2011 when the franchise tag number in 2010 was $7 million and the tranisition number was $6.35 million?

Blame Albert Haynesworth, who skewed the averages when his 2010 salary was $24 million.

Simply, the Dolphins aren't in make-Paul-Soliai-instantly-rich mode this offseason. They want to re-sign him. They've made him a couple of offers. None were exceedingly impressive to Soliai. None are said to have been worth even half of what a projected 2011 franchise or transition numbers might be worth.

So why would the team use either tag on him?

Oh, by the way, there is at least one nose tackle in this league worthy of a franchise tag -- Haloti Ngata of the Baltimore Ravens. He'll very possibly get tagged and will not be on the market when/if it opens following a resolution of the labor dispute.

What does that mean?

Good news for Soliai because that's one less NT teams will have the opportunity to sign, thus increasing his value. This kind of reminds me of the year the Dolphins had to pay Vernon Carey.

They didn't love the player. But there were really no other choices in free agency and the team wanted to address other issues in the draft. So they paid Carey. And he's been inconsistent since.

I get the feeling that is where we may end up with Soliai.

February 08, 2011

Dolphins own free agent priority? Paul Soliai

Much of the unrestricted free agent focus surrounding the Dolphins' own players has centered around the offensive backfield in general and running backs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in particular.

I would tell you that is probably not the place the Dolphins should be placing their priority.

I would tell you the priority should be on defense. Right in the middle of all the action. At nose tackle.

Paul Soliai.

Soliai, drafted in 2007, is expected to hit free agency once the players' union and the NFL get their act together and agree on a collective bargaining agreement. He will not re-sign with Miami before a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, according to a league source, because he wants to maximize his earning potential and the 30 percent rule makes it hard to do that until after his current contract expires and he becomes a free agent.

So the Dolphins have "zero," chance of re-signing Soliai before he hits free agency, the source close to the player said Tuesday.

What does that mean?

It means the biggest body on the Miami defensive line, the player who started 14 games at nose tackle for Miami last year, will hit free agency assuming the league does not establish a lull period during which current teams have exclusive rights to negotiate with their own players.

I am told if Soliai hits the open market, it will be a free-for-all. He wants to remain with the Dolphins. But he wants to get paid. And there will be interest because there always is for a 355 pound defensive lineman that has proven he can play.

In talks between the Dolphins and agent David Canter, I am told by my source, the Dolphins are being cautious. Canter could not be reached for comment, but I'll keep trying. He is, after all, a weekly contributor on my radio show Armando and the Amigo.

I can understand why no deal has been reached yet. Soliai played better than he has at any time in his career in 2010 so he wants to be rewarded. The Dolphins are almost certainly guarding themselves against Soliai being a one-year wonder because he's been a reserve his previous three seasons.

Thus we have a gap that needs to be bridged.

Soliai was very good last year, tying Kendall Langford for the lead in solo tackles among defensive linemen with 33. He also led all defensive linemen with eight tackles for losses with eight. Bottom line, when the Dolphins lost defensive end Jared Odrick after the regular-season opener and needed to move Randy Starks from nose tackle back to defensive end, Soliai's play made that possible.

I imagine the Dolphins could retry the Starks at nose tackle experiment, but the bottom line is Soliai was more productive than any starting nose tackle the Dolphins have had under their current administration. So they should do everything possible to keep from losing that kind of talent.

There is also an inherent risk for the Dolphins in being overly cautious with Soliai. Unless they get that lull period, they could risk losing him to another team. And the New York Jets could be in the market for a starting nose tackle.

Just saying.

The tale of the drafts that piled bad atop terrible

There was a depressing statistic Dolphins people once used in order to explain the troubled state of the franchise.

During the makeover years of 2005-2007, folks that took the Dolphins' reins were confident they would give direction to a lost franchise. But they noted it would take time because they looked at what they had to work with and were horrified the shelves were bare. They looked back at the drafts from 2000 to the dates when they took over and lamented the failure of those drafts.

People like Nick Saban and Randy Mueller noted the lack of talent on hand because of bad drafting from 2000-2004. 

The statistic they cited was that between 2000 and 2004 the Dolphins had managed to select only six players that were still on the roster, with only two of those players, Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael, becoming starters at that time.

So five years of drafting produced only two starters. Eventually a third starter would be added when Yeremiah Bell broke into the starting lineup, but the statistics were still sobering. Five drafts. Three starters.

Those folks running things from 2005-2007 blamed the struggles they were having, in part, on the drafts of 2000-2004. It was a fair criticism because for Saban and later Cam Cameron, the number of players that should have been coming into their primes as third, fourth, and fifth-year players were practically non-existant on the Dolphins.

That kept the Dolphins from competing with teams which had drafted well and did have a core of young veteran contributors.

Well, the problem with all of that is that neither Saban nor Mueller and Cameron were able to avoid the issues that plagued their predecessors. Saban and Mueller suffered from previous bad drafts. But then they also drafted poorly, leaving a new legacy of draft stinkage to the new administration

Neither Saban nor Mueller/Cameron could do excellent work although they had the second overall selection and high picks in rounds thereafter in 2005. They didn't do good work although they had three picks in the first two round in 2007.

And so today's Dolphins, a team that should be ripe with talent from the 2005, 2006, and 2007 drafts, are bereft of that core of young starters and contributors. Why?

Because the 2005, 2006, and 2007 drafts pretty much picked up where the 2000-2004 drafts left off. Consider:

The 2005 draft: Saban's first draft included Ronnie Brown, Matt Roth, Channing Crowder, Travis Daniels, Anthony Alabi and Kevin Vickerson. The Dolphins didn't have a sixth-round pick that year because that went to San Diego in exchange for David Boston. Well, only Brown, Crowder and Roth became starters and all of them showed flaws early and often. Brown couldn't stay healthy and although he's been able to do that recently, he is by no means a star -- something you expect from the draft's second overall pick. Brown is solid. And he's a free agent. There is absolutely no certainty his Dolphins career isn't over. Crowder? Ordinary. He gets his share of tackles, but as an inside linebacker always around the action, he rarely finds interceptions, or forces fumbles, or recovers fumbles or makes game-defining tackles. He's just ... there. Roth? He earned a starting job with the Dolphins in 2008 after languishing his first three seasons. And it seemed to be working, but then something crazy happened in 2009 and the Dolphins simply cut him. I'm sorry, but I don't blame Roth on that one. He lied to coach Tony Sparano about a groin injury. That was weird. Guess what? Other players have said and done worse and are still on the team. The strange thing is the Dolphins got zero for Roth, who was cut and immediately scooped up by Cleveland where he became a starter the past season-and-a-half.

So sum total of players still on the team: Crowder, with Brown a looming free agent. Sum total of starters: Two. Sum total of stars: 0.

The 2006 draft: Jason Allen was picked 16th overall, followed by Derek Hagan in the third round, Joe Toledo in the fourth, Manny Wright (via the supplemental draft) in the fifth, Fred Evans in the seventh, Rodrique Wright in the seventh and Devin Aromashodu in the seventh. The second round pick went to Minnesota for Daunte Culpepper, but that's another story. Allen was a bust from the beginning and the constant change of coaching staffs hurt him because everyone moved him from safety to corner and back again at least twice. It happened seven times in total. The most successful of those moves came in 2010 when Allen won a starting job at the dawn of the season. Sorry, that was not a statement of how great Allen was playing. It was a statement of how little choice the Dolphins had. Allen survived for half the season, then was benched, then was cut. He goes down as a first round bust. Hagan? He's still in the league but he never made it work in Miami, where he dropped passes, missed assignments and wasn't dynamic at all. Wright was a joke who cried his first practice. What a waste of talent. Toledo was looking good his first training camp then he broke a foot. Then he started recovering and broke it again getting out of the cold tub. Gone. Fred Evans showed tons of potential but he thought he had arrived when he hadn't. He started going out. He got drunk one night on South Beach. He got into a cab and threw up. He got arrested. Cam Cameron cut him two days later. Wright bounced from practice squad to active roster but never really factored. Aromashodu was cut in training camp.

So sum total of players still on the team: Zero. Sum total of starting players: Zero. Sum total of stars: Zero. 

The 2007 draft: This was Mueller's one and only chance to run the draft. Looking back three years later, it was not good. Ted Ginn Jr was the ninth overall pick, John Beck went in the second round as did Samson Satele. Lorenzo Booker came in the third round, Paul Soliai came in the fourth, Reagan Mauia came in the sixth, Drew Mormino in the sxith, Kelvin Smith in the seventh along with Brandon Fields and Abraham Wright. Where to begin? Ginn was a reach. He is fast but hates contact and has no passion for football, which is problem because football is a contact sport that requires passion. Ginn was constantly seeking the sideline and often shrunk in big moments. He was a good return man, but those usually get drafted in the fourth or fifth rounds or come as undrafted free agents. It speaks volumes that Miami could only get a fifth rounder for Ginn when he was traded last offseason. Beck was like Ginn in the respect that the game seemed bigger than him. He played nervous. He looked overmatched. He was put in a position to fail by the Dolphins coaching staff and he did exactly that. Satele started right away and remained there for two seasons. He continues to start in Oakland. There was talent to work with there, but he wasn't big enough for the current administration. He was not a bad pick. Soliai and Fields are the lone remaining vestiges of that draft still on the roster and Soliai is expected to become a free agent.

So sum total of players still on the team: Two. Sum total of starters: Two. Sum total of stars: 0.

The bottom line?

Amazingly, Nick Saban's second draft was the worst of the bunch.

The 2005-2007 drafts have given today's Dolphins four players on the roster, all of which are starters but none of which are stars. Think about that.

These are guys that are in their fourth through sixth years of experience. These are guys ages 26 to 29. These are the drafts that should be forming the established, experienced, cornerstones of the franchise. These three drafts were supposed to be the ones that laid a new foundation after Dave Wannstedt. Instead they offered nothing in the way of stars and little in the numbers of starters.

Combine that with the 2000-2004 drafts that were a dry bones experience, you start to see why the Dolphins still have so much work to do. You start to see why a quick solution has not been possible.

This franchise went from 2000-2007 drafting in a manner that got people fired or replaced for whatever reason. And their drafts are a testament why that happened.

February 07, 2011

The things we learned from this Super Bowl winner

ARLINGTON -- So what did we learn from the Super Bowl winner?

As I wrote in my column from Arlington, the Green Bay Packers are a deep team, a team that showed a lot of preserverance, a team that went the long route on the road the entire length of the playoffs and played the NFL's most successful franchise and still won it all.

What else did we learn?

You can win the Super Bowl with virtually no running game. The Packers found their starting running back off the deepest part of the depth chart to playoff starter James Starks. Green Bay called 11 rushing plays while throwing 39 times.

A team can be flawed in small ways in other areas. Those can be patched. But you cannot patch QB.

You cannot win the Super Bowl without a great QB, fellas. Simple as that.

Aaron Rodgers was the MVP this game. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards with 3 TDs and no interceptions. The man who once bore the burden of replacing legend Brett Favre is now writing his own legacy.

"I’ve never felt like there’s been a monkey on my back," Rodgers said. "The organization stood behind me, believed in me. That’s what I did on the podium; I thanked Ted (Thompson) and Mark (Murphy) and Mike (McCarthy) really for believing in me and giving me an opportunity. I told Ted back in 2005 he wouldn’t be sorry with this pick. I told him in ’08 that I was going to repay their trust and get us this opportunity."

Let's be serious here, folks. To win the brass ring -- or the Lombardi Trophy -- a team really does need a franchise QB. The last franchise to win the biggest game of all without a franchise QB?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, who had such a stifling defense, having solid QB play was good enough. Some of you will also bring up Trent Dilfer. Really? Let's see that was a decade ago and the game has changed since then. Stop living in the past.

Also, the 2001 Ravens were perhaps the greatest NFL defense of all time. All time! So I guess, perhaps, maybe, if you put the greatest defense of all time together, you can win a title. Once. But compete for one year after year after year?

You need a great QB.

Since the Ravens won, the Mannings, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees have won the Super Bowl. Now we add Rodgers.

You need a great QB.

You need a great QB.

You need a great QB.

Are you getting the message I'm sending and why?

February 06, 2011

Super Bowl live blog here from Dal, er, Arlington

ARLINGTON -- Jerry Jones must be livid.

According to the NFL, there are a limited number of sections in temporary seating areas inside the stadium that have not been completed and will not be completed. I guess the late-breaking fact that the Super Bowl would be played in this stadium took the folks taking care of such things by surprise.

"We are working to resolve the matter and expect that by game time, most of the fans affected will have been accommodated in their seats or relocated to similiar or better seats," and NFL statement reads. "Those fans that are affected by this will be directed to the Party Plaza area while the matter is resolved."

Well, that's not going to happen. The newest statement from the NFL is that 850 fans were relocated to similar or better seats while 400 fans could not be relocated inside the stadium.

The NFL has promised a refund of triple the cost of the face value of the $900 tickets. Notice that its the "face value." Most fans here have paid sometimes three or four times the face value of the tickets to begin with. So I'm sure they're not too thrilled about this little issue.

I must say, this stadium remains a marvel. But it's not in San Diego or Miami or New Orleans. So it is not optimal for a Super Bowl, in my opinion.

Bottom line is Miami never had an issue with fans who had tickets to the game not being able to get in. That is unimaginable.

On the field, former Dolphin Erik Walden (ankle) is inactive today. Frank Zombo starts for Walden.

There's a live Super Bowl blog here in the comments section this evening. Join me there.

Sunday offerings: Shula's thoughts, crazy fact about Tomlin

DALLAS -- Super Bowl Sunday and this one feels different because it will not only signal the end of the NFL season (never a good thing) but could signal the final NFL game for a long, long time unless the players and owners find a way to forge labor peace.

Some things, however, do not change.

One thing that hasn't changed for some time is how former Dolphins, or players the Dolphins should have drafted or signed or kept come to this game wearing another team's uniform. Today's game is a reminder of a coach that might have led the Dolphins starting in 2007 if the powers that be would have made a different decision on him.

Yes, Mike Tomlin might have been the Dolphins coach if the folks who interviewed him for the Miami job in January 2007 would have seen what the Steelers eventually saw only days later.

Instead, you'll flip when I tell you what the folks interviewing Tomlin for Miami saw instead. It borders on racist, actually.

If you follow me on twitter you know I spent some time with coach Don Shula this week. He's the best, and not just because his number of victories say he is.

Shula is a lot of things to the Dolphins these days. No, he doesn't make decisions or have any say over the roster as he used to. But he is still the compass that tells us if things are right or wrong with the franchise.

And, like many of you, Shula found the 2010 season to be a disappointment for the Dolphins. My Sunday column basically gives Shula the floor. And he shares his thoughts on Chad Henne, on the manner Stephen Ross handled the flirtation with Jim Harbaugh, how that affected Tony Sparano, and what the organization can do from this point forward to overcome its hardships.

Shula also shares one time when his relationship with then-Dolphins owner Joe Robbie was much more tense than Sparano's ever got to be with Ross following the Harbaugh debacle.

I'll be doing a live Super Bowl blog from Cowboys Stadium this evening. It is the only live blog from this venue on this site. So accept no imitators. See you then.

 

February 04, 2011

Two troubling possibilities associated to the franchise tag

The NFL and it's players are disagreeing over practically everything these days and the latest such point of contention is the franchise tag so many teams use on their most valuable players to keep them locked to their rosters during free agency.

The NFL sent all 32 teams a letter recently informing them the franchise tag can be employed beginning Feb. 10. The NFL Players Association is countering with a letter to agents telling them the union would go to court to challenge any franchise tag being used prior to the signing of a new labor agreement -- an agreement that is not close to happening.

How does this affect the Dolphins?

Well, it seems unlikely the Dolphins would tag any of their pending veteran free agents. That's bad news for fans because it means Miami probably doesn't have a veteran player so valuable he would merit an enormous franchise tag type guaranteed salary by the  Dolphins in exchange to keep him.

It is likely, however, other teams would tag their quality players. And that is bad news for the Dolphins.

Remember I've been telling you for months the Dolphins would be very interested in New England Patriots Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins if he hits free agency? Chances are good he would not hit free agency because the Patriots would likely use the franchise tag on him.

The same would happen with other quality players around the league. Come to think of it, even if the NFLPA goes to court and gets a favorable ruling and teams aren't allowed to use the tag now, eventually some form of the tag is expected to be part of the new collective bargaining agreement. So we have to cool our jets about  Mankins, folks, considering the Pats might still use that tag regardless of whether its on Feb. 10 or later.

On the other hand, I've got an unsettled feeling about the Jets.

There are reports the Raiders are going to use their franchise tag on Richard Seymour. That's because they cannot use it on outstanding and soon-to-be free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. You remember Aomugha, right?

Last year there were rumors he might be traded to the, wait for it, New York Jets.

He wasn't. But now he's able to go to any team he wants and has a want for him.

The Jets initially are acting coy about the possibility. They have their own players to re-sign first. But guys, I think I've seen that team operate from afar in such a manner that they do the audacious things to try to get better -- at least they have the past three years.

Yes, Antonio Cromartie is one of those players the Jets would like to re-sign to continue competing for AFC titles. But if they can sign Asomugha and team him with Darrelle Revis instead, that would be an enormous upgrade. So that is a possibility that cannot be dismissed.

The Eagles, possibly the 49ers, and other teams might also be players for Asomugha. But he has already expressed an interest in playing alongside Revis. That is troubling to me.

Very troubling.

February 02, 2011

Miami's top personnel needs

A smile came to my face Tuesday when I was driving around town and one of our so-called Dolphins experts on the radio started barking out the Dolphins needs for the coming draft.

Wide receiver, tight end, interior lineman, kick returner, quarterback and running back.

I don't know if the "expert" was doing these needs in the order his mind has concocted them. I do know that's not the order the Dolphins have their needs currently pegged, based on conversations, texts, and emails I've had or exchanged with several team and NFL sources.

(Disclaimer: No one that tells you he knows the exact order of Miami's needs is telling the truth, unless that person's name is Jeff Ireland or Tony Sparano, and even then you might have to consider they might be working a smoke screen.)

(Disclaimer II: Neither one of those guys is telling folks the order of their needs, something that is really mundane but they guard as a draft secret.)

But I can tell you neither wide receiver nor tight end is at the top of Miami's needs list. And I can tell you neither runnning back nor quarterback is at the back end of Miami's needs list.

I think the more accurate order of Miami needs is running back, quarterback, interior lineman, speedy returner (If he's a WR or a RB all the better) and then a WR and TE.

Here is my thinking:

Have you looked at the Dolphins coming RB situation? Ronnie Brown is scheduled to be a free agent. Ricky Williams is scheduled to be a free agent. Patrick Cobbs is scheduled to be a free agent. Lex Hilliard is unsigned, although the Dolphins should retain his contract rights based on the fact he's been in the league only three seasons.

So none of Miami's running backs is signed for 2011.

The last time the Dolphins faced this kind of situation at a position was 2009 when they had Will Allen as the only experienced cornerback tied to a contract. They drafted Vontae Davis in the first round that year. And then they drafted Sean Smith in the second round.

Need solved.

This year? Running back, people.

Think running backs.

Yes, perhaps either Brown or Williams could return for 2011. But that is only an option. That is not the plan written in concrete. The Dolphins might find a RB in the draft and then go into free agency and love the idea of someone available there. No one can predict.

But we can predict the Dolphins will be eyebrows deep in the running back market this offseason.

Quarterback?

Well, Chad Henne is on campus. But Chad Pennington is a free agent and may or may not continue playing, depending on how his shoulder rehab goes. Either way, I do not think Pennington comes back to the Dolphins. Been there. Done that.

Love Pennington but if you re-sign a QB whose throwing shoulder has been surgically repaired three or four times and the last time you needed him, his shoulder dislocated without any contact, you are a candidate to buy land in the Everglades.

You go to that player in an emergency in the middle of a season if no one else is available. But to sign him as a backup? I think the Dolphins will try other avenues first. And second. And third.

Tyler Thigpen is an option. He's a free agent. He was the backup after Pennington got hurt. He's an option.

But the Dolphins need to add one and perhaps two more solid, more promising quarterback options if they can. They need a young guy they can groom, someone out of the draft probably. They need a vet that can challenge Henne for the starting job because, frankly, Henne needs the competition and isn't necessarily a sure-thing to win any competition anyway.

So quarterbacks. Big need.

Receiver?

Seems like a bit of a luxury. Yes, if a stud falls to the Dolphins, absolutely a speedy guy would be wonderful. Titus Young of Boise State comes to mind in the second round (assuming Miami acquires a pick in that round). But as the top priority?

Last year, in talking to a highly placed club decision-maker, I asked about Vincent Jackson. I was told the Dolphins were headed in another direction. And they went in another direction. They didn't think spending that much on another WR was the way to go.

I don't agree with that because you can never have too many playmakers. But that wasn't the internal thinking at the time.

That coupled with the fact Miami has promising young WRs on campus in Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore, I think the team will view that position as something of a luxury and not the No. 1 priority. The situation may change between now and the draft in that, well, we cannot predict what will happen in the coming months.

Who knows? Maybe Brandon Marshall gets traded once trades are possible again. Yeah, I said it.

But right now, wide receiver isn't the top priority and probably not in the top two.

Interior lineman? Ab-so-lute-ly.

If and when free agency comes around, think Logan Mankins. That same conversation with the club official helped me break the story that Miami had contacted the Patriots about Mankins when he was in a contract dispute with New England.

Mankins is still unsigned.

Yes, it would be expensive. The Dolphins have proven they have no issue with spending money on the offensive line in the past. It makes sense in that Brian Daboll is now Miami's offensive coordinator and he saw Mankins early in his career when both were in New England. And adding Mankins would diminish New England so that's a plus.

So think of him as a free agent priority if he's available. 

Otherwise, the Dolphins could add an interior lineman in the draft.

The Dolphins will try to find a speedy return man. It's been three seasons under the Parcells-Ireland-Sparano administration and finding that dynamic return man has been a failure. The Dolphins have been able to put no significant speed that scares the opposition back returning punts or kicks. They've tried. But they've failed.

So look at that as a priority. But again, the top priority? No.

Tight end has been a priority for the Dolphins for some time. Yes, Anthony Fasano got a new contract but the Dolphins understand an upgrade is in order. Last year they liked Tony Moeaki in the draft. Loved him. He went to Kansas City and is showing himself to be a promising player. Those are the breaks.

The Dolphins may try to identify a tight end in the draft. But will they do it high? I do not know for sure. But is that the priority going into the first day? I have a hard time believe that's the ticket to solving Miami's offensive problems given the level of talent already at that position on campus relative to the lower leve of talent available at other positions on campus.

Bottom line: Think running backs and quarterback. 

February 01, 2011

Mike Dee counters why stadium upgrades make sense

The last post gave reasons, unsophisticated though they may have been, why adding a roof to Sun Life Stadium and performing other significant upgrades bothers me if the bill is paid by someone other than Dolphins and stadium owner Stephen Ross.

Well, the post bothered the Dolphins.

I got a call from media relations senior vice president Harvey Greene telling me A. I am stupid. B. I am wrong on the topic. C. That club Chief Executive Officer Mike Dee wanted an opportunity to speak with me so he could explain why I'm stupid and wrong.

Seriously, the idea that Dee wanted an opportunity to explain the club's view on the matter is the real reason the Dolphins were calling. So I spoke with Dee for 35 minutes and he gave the club's viewpoint on the Sun Life Stadium upgrades issue.

What follows, in the spirit of fairness, is a Dolphins' take:

The club is working feverishly to gain the ability to tap local tourist bed tax dollars tied to hotel stays in an effort to upgrade Sun Life and other facilities in South Florida.

To correct the record, I said in the previous post that the New Orleans Superdome, built in 1975, has been awarded a Super Bowl coming up. It should be added that Louisiana is pouring between $300-$400 million in upgrades into that stadium. Also, the amount of money the Dolphins need for their upgrades here is $200 million, not the previously stated $250 million.

That money would go toward upgrading the stadium's orginal 1987 lighting that has to be improved for the benefit of modern television technology. The money would go toward upgrading what Dee terms as an "inadequate" video system infrastructure. The money would bring a number of seats 18 feet closer to the field and add 3,500 seats, thereby increasing the number of seats between the goal lines and probably making the place louder -- seemingly creating a football game experience superior to the one fans gets now.

The money also would go, most notably, toward buidling a canopy-type roof over the stadium that would guard fans against the elements while still allowing the playing surface to remain out in the elements.

"Doing all those things would bring us just above the Mendoza line, or in the zip code of where we need to be as a facility capable of attracting Super Bowl and BCS title games," Dee said.

The upgrades would also add approximately 30 years of shelf life to Sun Life Stadium, Dee said.

Understand that Sun Life is the only dual purpose facility that regularly competes for Super Bowls. Understand that the BCS contract expires in 2013. The upgrades, Dee says, would bring the facility more closely in line with its Super Bowl competitors and increase South Florida's chances of staying in the mix for BCS title games.

"The landscape is changing and it has us concerned," Dee said. "Facilities have come online that are newer and perhaps more attractive to the NFL. Dallas is going to be competing for Super Bowls over the longterm. It won't be a one-off award to Dallas. They’re already gearing up bids for 2015, 2016. They're also interested in attracting the BCS.

"New stadium competition today is far greater than it was in the 80s. We take the possibility that we could be out of the Super Bowl rotation as real. Even if we wanted to get a Super Bowl every eight to 10 years, taking the view we’re just like Tampa and we can make due with the way things are or doing minor upgrades, there's a good chance we might not get those games. We don't want to take that approach without debating the potential consequences with the community."

The approach the Dolphins want to see South Florida take is that the league's biggest game comes to town perhaps every four to five years.

And, Dee makes the point, that will not happen unless Sun Life is upgraded. 

The construction of the original Joe Robbie Stadium was done through private funds in the 1980s. Three years ago, then owner H. Wayne Huizenga invested $250 million in upgrades, primarily to the club level and concourses, but did not attend to the greater needs outlined above. 

So I asked what I think is the most pertinent question: Why doesn't Ross pay for the upgrades to his stadium?

"It's well documented what we paid for the franchise," Dee said. "I don’t want to go into details now but we are willing to share once the process goes forward. Basically we're dealing with constraints the NFL places on ownership as to the amount of debt you can take on."

Dee made the point the current stadium debt is $235 million. The debt on the franchise sale is significant. Ross, it seems, is working under a budget partially placed on him by the league. And paying $200 million for upgrades would be over his budget.

Dee said that doesn't mean Ross isn't willing to make this a public-private venture. Although he declined to say how much Ross would be willing to contribute, he said that figure has been shared with investors and they are apparently comfortable with the figures.

They are eight-figure numbers.

"It's a significant investment," Dee said.

The Dolphins have state legislators working with them. Bills have already been referenced to committees that would raise local bed taxes levels from the current six percent cap. If the legislation fails, the issue is dead for the time being. Obviously it would not be brought back up until the 2012 legislative session at the earliest.

If the legislation passes in Tallahassee, the Dolphins move on to the next step: Getting local politicians to approve.

"We're trying to bring the conversation to the table locally," Dee said. "We would do it in as transparent a way as possible. Even those that oppose us say we’re doing it with all our cards face up on the table."

Dee said there would be town hall meetings, open houses, and public hearings on the issue. "It would be a process to make the public aware of what's at stake," he said.

There would not, however, be a ballot measure put to the voters for an up or down vote. The measure would be decided by the politicians the voters elected.

The Dolphins are fighting this legislative fight and, results notwithstanding, vow to continue bidding on Super Bowls that bring a financial benefit to South Florida. South Florida has already submitted its interest to bid on the 2015 game.

"We’re not going to stop going after Super Bowls," Dee said. "We’re going to go after them as much as the community wants us to go after them."

But that comes with a warning. If future bids don't include a stadium that has undergone significant upgrades -- upgrades the Dolphins want financed through a public-private partnership -- the chances of succeeding in getting future games decline.

That's why making the public portion of this venture a reality is important, Dee said. That's why failure would be problematic.

"It would be disappointing if we're not successful," Dee said. "We're prepared to live with that. But unlike others, we're not saying we're going anywhere. We’re going to be here. We've been here 45-plus years. We're going to continue being part of this community even if the upgrades don't happen. That doesn't make South Florida not a great place. It would just make it a place that doesn’t host big events as regularly as we've come to expect."

And Sun Life needs a partial roof why?

In North Texas, an arctic cold front is chilling folks to the bone and has airports in the region on minute-to-minute status with flight delays and runway closings. Schools and businesses in the area are closed. Transit isn't running at 100 percent.

North Texas hosts Super Bowl 45 on Sunday.

In Indianapolis, the feels-like temp is 13-degrees F with a 100 percent chance of precipitation today and tonight and snow expected tomorrow.

Indianapolis hosts Super Bowl 46 next February.

In the metro New York area, it's 35 degrees F with ice pellets dropping from the sky, depending on where you're located. There is also a light, freezing rain in the air and there's a 40 percent chance of snow this weekend.

New York hosts Super Bowl 48 in 2014.

Can someone remind me why the Dolphins and the NFL want to put a partial roof over Sun Life Stadium again?

Last year when the Super Bowl last visited South Florida, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell carried water for the Dolphins, saying he believes Sun Life Stadium needs a partial roof and some significant lighting upgrades so it and South Florida can ensure itself a continued presence in the Super Bowl rotation.

After it rained during the February 2007 Super Bowl at the facility, Goodell fielded complaints from sponsors and other NFL bigwigs upset they got wet on Super Sunday in South Florida. Nevermind that the temps locally were in the 70s.

Well, that worked for a me for a minute.

And then the NFL waived its weather requirements and awarded the game to New York, with its ugly, non-descript, open-air, $1.6 billion stadium in the swamplands of the Meadowlands. And the NFL encouraged Tampa Bay -- in the same state as Miami and with an open air stadium -- to continue bidding for future Super Bowls with no mention of that area needing a roof on its stadium.

And suddenly that rain complaint rang empty.

Then the NFL awarded a Super Bowl to Indianapolis. And the idea that sponsors have to be somewhere warm and fun and sunny got tossed because Indy is none of those this time of year.

Then the NFL awarded a Super Bowl to New Orleans for 2013. And the idea the NFL requires you to have a new stadium to vie for and win a Super Bowl bid got tossed because the Lousiana Superdome opened in 1975, a decade before Joe Robbie Stadium.

So all of the NFL's arguments for Sun Life Stadium and South Florida not being adequate Super Bowl venues are thus ... to put delicately ... crap.

The truth is the NFL was interested in lighting upgrades at Sun Life and those are legit with today's new HD and LED TVs requiring more specialized lighting. But that upgrade would cost perhaps a few million dollars -- nowhere near the quarter-billion or so the Dolphins are seeking to do all of the upgrades for their stadium.

The truth is it is the Dolphins that want the partial roof.Sun-Life-rendering

And the truth is they do no wish to pay for it.

The club has hired lobbyists, gone before local county commissions, and had numerous meetings and ear-tugging sessions with state legislators, just so the upgrades that primarily include the partial roof can be paid for by, well, someone else.

This, by the way, is a significant break from the history of the facility. Joe Robbie built the place on his own dime. Wayne Huizenga signed off on approximately $250 million worth of renovations and upgrades as late as 2008.

Now Stephen Ross, Miami's new owner, wants public funding (tax dollars) going to the next upgrade. Oh, he makes the case the dollars would be siphoned from hotel bed tax sources, meaning tourists would basically pay the freight. He also makes the case those tax dollars cannot be used on, say, police or books or fire fighters or teachers. And, of course, he makes the case that adding a roof to the stadium could, possibly, perhaps, maybe, bring another Super Bowl and the economic boon that comes with it to South Florida in the next decade.

But Ross does not mention in his argument other factoids.

The fact is other local facilities were in line for those bed tax dollars before Sun Life Stadium. Ross doesn't mention that local hotels are in competition with places abroad like Mexico or the Bahamas or Puerto Rico and thus could lose business if word gets out South Florida is a much more expensive place to stay and vacation. (Quickie aside, last year the Dolphins partnered with the Bahamas, encouraging Dolfans to travel there, even while South Florida beaches and hotels could have used more business.)

But I digress.

Ross doesn't mention that South Florida might get a Super Bowl in the next decade anyway. And he doesn't volunteer to cover the difference if the economy that remains in recession mode now gets worse and there's a shortfall of bed tax dollars to cover the cost of his stadium upgrades. Such a shortfall might then be the responsibility of tax funds that do go to police and other services.

All this while Ross is calling for a no-huddle attack during early season home games so the Dolphins can use the hot weather advantage they enjoy early each season -- an advantage the addition of a partial roof might dilute.

Having said all this, I have to think about where I stand on this partial roof idea. I have to consider the meaning of this idea and the manner it is being presented. I have to regard how much trust I have in the politicians and lobbyists that would be behind it. I have to consider where I believe the economy is likely to head and what effect losing one Super Bowl might or might not have on my town. I have to regard that billionair Stephen Ross wants tourists to pay for upgrades to his stadium.

Considering ....

Still considering ....

And then I have to tell you, if Ross wants to drop a partial roof on his staduim, he is more than welcome to do so. It's his stadium, after all.

But buy the argument about it being an NFL requirement for having nice weather at the Super Bowl? No. Buy the idea that it will bring more Super Bowls to town? No. Buy the idea of paying for it with public monies? Oh, hell no!