Long ago, when I moved over to NFL coverage after covering the University of Miami for much of its football and baseball heyday, I was still bought in to the idea of team loyalty -- athlete to team, team to athlete. I truly believed that athletes cared about playing for their team as part of a heartfelt tie to the colors, the city, the organization, the relationships, all that. And that teams felt a tie and kinship to their core players.
The idea was alive and well before free agency (I covered the Dolphins before the advent of free agency) but, I must admit, my beliefs began to change in Dan Marino's final days. The Dolphins, unwilling to carry the legend that had carried the franchise for so many years, cut Marino.
Marino did the noble thing and refused to cut ties with the Dolphins. He declined a couple of offers to go elsewhere and retired instead.
But the die was cast. I recognized that football is a business. Period. Loyalty is a viable bond only as long as the two parties are serving one another. And when that service no longer benefits one of the two parties, no history, nor heartstring, nor contract can keep the athlete and the team loyal one to another.
We have seen more than our share of examples of that through the years and, particularly, in recent weeks. Recently the Dolphins fired coach Tony Sparano despite the fact he had two more years left on his contract. Sparano was working for the Jets, a team he despised during his Miami tenure, within a couple of weeks of the regular season's end.
Last week we learned that Chad Pennington, who played for the Jets before he finished his career (apparently) with the Dolphins, has been tutoring Jets QB Mark Sanchez. Rich Cimini of ESPN.com reported Pennington, armed with a Dolphins playbook from the Sparano days, tutored Sanchez on what is expected to be his new system.
So the QB that left the Jets to come to Miami is now helping the Jets QB learn the Dolphins playbook likely to be used by the old Dolphins head coach who is now the Jets offensive coordinator. And if that doesn't cross loyalty lines, here's the kicker: That QB learning the old Dolphins system to use in New York might not be the Jets starter in 2012 if the Jets replace him with Peyton Manning, who is presumed to be departing Indianapolis after 14 great seasons because, well, because his time is apparently up.
Speaking of Manning, the day of decision for him comes this week, no later than Thursday. Despite my very well read Sunday column on why I don't like the idea of Manning to the Dolphins, it seems clear the Dolphins are going to be in line for him once he's released -- assuming the Colts do not pay the $28 million bonus due him that date.
The club's priority is not to trade a bounty of draft picks or combination of picks and players to the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft Robert Griffin III, according to several NFL sources, one of which works for the Dolphins.
Miami's talk with the Rams the past few weeks was preliminary and not by any means a signal that a trade is imminent. Simply, the Dolphins have apparently decided their priority is to get a free agent franchise QB -- albeit an aged, injured one -- than to gut their draft for a potential draft-day franchise quarterback who has yet to prove himself.
The only way the Dolphins are even players on the RG3 front going forward is if Manning goes elsewhere, such as Washington, Kansas City or, yes, the Jets.
Oh, and about that loyalty thing?
Manning is said to be ready for the eventual moment when he's no longer a Colt. He wants to stay in Indianapolis, I'm told by NFL people. He wants to finish his career with one team. But that team isn't going to be paying him $28 million on Thursday.
So the sides are more likely than not splitting -- loyalty to one another be darned.