January 07, 2015

2015 season already pointed in wrong direction

When Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hired Mike Tannenbaum to be a consultant last summer, I told several people within the organization the move could not possibly bode well for general manager Dennis Hickey. They called me a conspiracy theorist. They said I was seeing shadows where there were none.

Well, Ross promoted Tannenbaum to executive vice president for football operations on Tuesday, thus successfully making the Dolphins leadership structure the most convoluted and illogical in the NFL. Hickey has not been demoted. He's simply under an extra layer of new authority now, which is the Ross way of doing things, I guess.

Last year around this time Ross wanted to fire Jeff Ireland. But as he'd already told Jeff Ireland he was safe, his strategy was to simply push Ireland aside. Ireland walked instead. So Tuesday, Ross pushed another GM more or less aside.

And as I write in my column today, stuff like that makes Stephen Ross, who has never won anything in six years as an NFL owner, the worst owner of any sports franchise in South Florida.

And that is saying a lot because Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is abysmal.

But once you get past the initial lack of communal focus and clear vision for the Dolphins organization, we have to accept what the owner has wrought.

And that is a 2015 season in which I introduce you to Joe Philbin -- the future ex-Dolphins coach.

Look, under the structure Ross has put in place Philbin doesn't answer to Tannenbaum. And Tannenbaum doesn't answer to Philbin. But, this structure assumes, the two men will be #strongertogether or something like that.

They will both look into the horizon and see the waves breaking exactly the same way. And they will easily find agreement, somehow, when their vision is not exactly the same.

And prophet Salguero tells you that is hogwash.

This is a divorce a year from being served, folks.

Tannenbaum made it work with Rex Ryan and Philbin made it work with Jeff Ireland and Dennis Hickey (until he didn't). But I predict the chances of them making it work with each other are infinitesimal.

Disagree? Fine, let's do an exercise ...

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum traded for Braylon Edwards when he was with the Jets. Is Braylon Edwards a Joe Philbin type of guy?

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum traded for Santonio Holmes when he was with the Jets. Is Santonio Holmes a Joe Philbin type of guy?

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum traded for Tim Tebow and in the exchange with Denver got the circus atmosphere that followed the quarterback through no fault of his own. Is that a move Joe Philbin would make?

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum traded for Antonio Cromartie when he was with the Jets. Joe Philbin couldn't stand Vontae Davis. The coach freaked out because Davis went to the bathroom during practice. So would Cromartie be his type of guy?

Is adding Bart Scott the kind of free agent signing Joe Philbin would applaud? Philbin didn't seem to appreciate it when Karlos Dansby spoke his mind. Scott would make Dansby seem mute by comparison.

The point I'm making is that in the past few years Dolphins general managers, including Jeff Ireland, have made decisions on players in part to make sure they fit a mold Philbin and his coaches would feel comfortable with.

Tannenbaum had a coach in Ryan and less so in Eric Mangini, who rarely turned away any talent even if it was somewhat tainted by other circumstances -- like drug use, jail time, domestic violence, having a big mouth or having 12 kids with eight women in five states.

Yeah, the Tebow circus was the least of anyone's problems. But I digress. 

It seems Tannenbaum and Philbin have in the past approached the procurement of talent from different directions. And now they've been brought together in a shotgun wedding presided over by a club owner who clearly has no clue but thinks he's innovative.

Ross has been sold on sports science to the point he was fascinated that Tannenbaum travelled far and wide to learn how Premier League soccer players, for example, recover from matches quicker using peanuts. Okay, not peanuts. Using analytics and science and nutrition.

So the Dolphins will come at the New England Patriots with analytics and science and nutrition. And the Patriots will respond with Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. Super. 

Tannenbaum said his talks with Ross about taking this post started only two weeks ago. So about the time Philbin's Dolphins crawled to the finish line -- following a big endorsement of the coach by the owner -- Ross started talking to a coach agent about joining his club fulltime.

I wonder if Tannebaum will keep his agent contacts when he comes? I wonder if Philbin is excited about working with a guy who has the owner's ear and has a black book full of possible replacements?

(Peanut gallery: There is nothing to see here, Mando. The Dolphins tweaked their leadership structure and it now resembles other successful NFL teams, and everyone involved will get along well.) 

Ah, yes, the company line, which I learned long ago is ... what's the word? ... worthless. It comes from the same people who insisted I was wrong when I reported Mike Tannenbaum was one of the men in the owner's ear.

Also, the fact is there is no other successful NFL team that has a structure similar to Miami's new structure, where people are over other people but the underlyings can make decisions their bosses cannot veto.

I mean, seriously, Tannenbaum is GM Dennis Hickey's boss. But Hickey picks the 53-man roster and Tannenbaum cannot overrule him. And if Philbin and Tannenbaum disagree -- which is coming, I assure you, because they simply aren't the same type of fellows -- neither has the final say authority over the other.

And, by the way, where does Dan Marino fall in all of this? Wasn't he in on all the meetings last season? Wasn't he at all the practices? I felt like he was being groomed for more football authority. I'm certain he's thrilled about this.

He doesn't answer to Tannenbaum, either. But, of course, Tannenbaum doesn't answer to him.

Weeeee!

This year started only a week ago. And already it feels like the Dolphins 2015 season is pointed in the wrong direction. It already feels like if you want to be optimistic, beg for 2016 to come quickly.

January 06, 2015

Tannenbaum answers some questions, dodges others

The last post here asked a lot of questions about the hiring of Mike Tannenbaum as the Dolphins executive vice president of football operations. Some of those questions were put directly to Tannenbaum late Tuesday afternoon.

This is what he said:

(By the way, Tannenbaum says "again" a lot.)

(Opening statement) “Hello everybody. First of all, thanks for your patience today, I know there was a lot of news that came out at different times of the day, so thank you for your patience. I’m really excited, I want to thank Steve (Stephen) Ross publicly for giving me an incredible opportunity. I want to thank my wife for agreeing to do this. I want to thank my partners at Priority Sports who have given me an incredible experience over the last two years. Moving forward I’m really excited to work with Dennis Hickey and Joe Philbin, and help the team move forward and hopefully get to the playoffs in 2015. With that, I’d be happy to answer any questions.”

(On when he joined the Dolphins as a consultant, if he had his eye on a front office position and how was this position first brought up, did Miami Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross approach him) “The consultancy just started as that. Steve was interested in pursuing sports science, knowing that all of the jobs are done on a day-to-day basis doesn’t always allow to look into innovation, so he asked me to do it. I was building a business over the last couple of years and I really wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. I learned a lot, I learned a lot about myself, learned how to run a business and, after being in pro football, starting off as an unpaid intern while I was in law school, those two years were incredible for me to step away. The year that I spent as a consultant was really in conjunction with my role with Priority Sports and I had no other expectation except to keep building a world class business.”

(On how this current job was brought up with Owner Stephen Ross) “I talked to Steve all of the time, Matt Higgins, Tom Garfinkel, there are a lot of people that obviously I’ve gotten to know. The conversations were just really over the last couple of weeks. We didn’t get anything finalized until recently. It was a hard decision from a standpoint that my business is going really well. I built it with some really great people, but football is in my blood. I spent two years away from it and I missed it dearly. I missed the competition, I missed getting in the foxhole with a bunch of people that are committed to a cause. At the end of the day, I was very comfortable with that’s who I am. I decided to walk away from something I built from scratch because I know that’s what I wanted to do and I’m excited that they gave me the opportunity.”

(On what his vision is for getting the Dolphins out of the middle of the pack) “Again, let’s look at the team right now, I think Dennis Hickey and Joe Philbin have done a really good job. The cupboard is not bare by any stretch. You look at Dennis’ draft, Jarvis Landry and Ja’Wuan James, Branden Albert was a really good signing until obviously he got hurt. Going into the last two weeks of the season, the team was right in the middle of a playoff run. They have a really good young quarterback that got better this year with Bill Lazor. I saw Bill Lazor coaching at the games, his trajectory is one that has everybody excited. I don’t think we’re far away. I think it’s really critical that we have our self-evaluation of where the roster is, it starts with that. I think to have sustainable success, you really have to know your roster well. Then we have to attack our needs aggressively. That’s a combination of the draft, trades and free agency. We’ll put a good plan together, working together.”

(On if he will be in the Dolphins facility consistently and if he has the power to hire and fire coaches) – “Effective February 1st, I will be down there. My family will move down after the school year. Coach (Joe) Philbin will continue to report to Steve Ross, and everybody else will report to me. Based on my track record at the Jets and being a GM (General Manager) there, I’m a collaborative decision maker. I know we will always get the best results with everyone’s input. That’s how we will continue to do things. Again, I had the benefit of watching Joe and Dennis (Hickey) work the past year. They are good at what they do. They have character. They are organized. They care deeply and I’m excited to help them."

(Can you explain how the Miami Dolphins got better today?) – “It’s going to start with a good offseason program. When I got to the Jets in 1997, a team that had won one game (the previous year), and Coach (Bill) Parcells came in and he just talked about the value of offseason program. I believe in that and I’m really excited about the things we are going to do and we can add from an innovation standpoint. A lot of the progress we make will be every day. It’s going to be small steps, about getting stronger and faster in the offseason, but there are a lot of high-character guys on this roster that care about football deeply. When we assess or needs, again, we’re going to look at the offseason as a continuum and, when there is opportunities, be in free agency, trading up in the draft, trading back in the draft, whatever we think is in our best interests, we’ll move quickly to try to improve the team.”

(On if his February 1 start date is a result of his ability to be able to negotiate coaching contracts for his clients at Priority Sports)  – “That transition has already taken place, so I’m just taking the time to wrap up some loose ends, but Rick Smith of Priority Sports will be heading the coaching division. Again, that transition has already started."

(On if he is no longer involved with Priority Sports) – “No, I am, but, again, I’m not running the division anymore and I’m just really trying to wrap up some loose ends and get things together. I’ll be down in Florida by February 1st.”

(On if he’ll exclude himself from any negotiations of his clients with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills)  – “Again, I’m not going to be the person that’s leading those negotiations. That’s going to be Rick Smith.”

(On if General Manager Dennis Hickey will have final say on draft picks)  – “Yes, he will. But I also know that, when you look at any draft board, it’s a representative effort of a lot of people. Everybody’s going to have input, but ultimately who we pick and when we pick, the roster decision will rest with him. Again, I’ve seen him work. I know he’s a collaborative leader. That’s my belief. Any debates, usually you like to have those before draft day. When you make decisions on draft day, you try to make those as seamless as possible.”

(On how he assesses his draft selections he made during his time at the New York Jets)  – “When you look over the 16 years I was there and the seven years as GM (General Manager), I am proud of our record. Not every pick worked out. It usually doesn’t. I go back to what I said earlier that I wouldn’t trade the last two years for anything. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve really had a chance to reflect and spend time with college coaches, basketball coaches, player procurement, be it whatever sport. There are a lot of different things you can learn. I spent a lot of time with R.C. Buford of the (San Antonio) Spurs, for example, and how they do things or Steve Kerr or David Blatt. It’s been great and there are some ideas and things that I will be certainly talking to Dennis about how we can be better. I wouldn’t trade my experience with the Jets for anything. It was great, and I’m excited to bring some ideas to the forefront with Dennis.”

(On his impression of the talent on the Dolphins roster this past season and if he thought they were a team that underachieved)  – “I think there is good talent. I think there is a really good foundation. I don’t think this is a rebuild by any stretch. In a salary cap system, no one is going to be perfect at every position. When you have injuries, especially multiple injuries at one position, those are sometimes easier to overcome at certain positions than others. The assessment starts going forward with what we collectively think our needs are and then we will go forward from there.”

(On if he said General Manager Dennis Hickey had final say on the 53-man roster)  – “The roster decisions rests with Dennis, correct.”

(On what areas of the football operations he will have a final say in, specifically)  – “Again, Dennis and all of the other departments will be reporting to me and, again, I think this is a real opportunity. Look, I sat in the seat of Dennis and knowing what that GM (General Manager) job entails, one of the things that I hope and I know Steve (Ross) hopes, is Dennis will have more time to worry about scouting and all of that entails and running the scouting department. There are a ton of administrative things that come across your desk that I’ll handle, working with Dawn Aponte and then, again, trying to take the big picture, when we see opportunities in analytics or innovation, trying to tie all of those things together. There are a lot of departments that go on in running a football team.”

(On what Owner Stephen Ross is referring to when he said in the press release about how he was able to see his impact first hand through his commitment and passion for innovation and using every possible avenue to find competitive edges and what his biggest accomplishment was this season as a consultant for the Dolphins)  – “I appreciate that comment. I think more than anything, he probably just saw somebody that was passionate about football, that loves football. We did a lot of things, from working with Dennis (hickey), we’re not ready to announce, but we’re going to bring in a sports performance director. Again, there was a lot of research we could bring back from Europe. We started an analytics department and working with the people in the building. Look, we have a long way to go, but we started something in terms of trying to give ourselves a competitive advantage and Steve deserves the credit, he told all of us, no stone is unturned, if we can get a competitive advantage, he’s interested in it. So whatever small part I played in that, I’m proud of that.”

(On if he was involved in getting the analytics and nutrition departments started)  – “Yes, I was. That was in conjunction with Dennis (Hickey) and a whole bunch of other people. When you want to put these things together, there just are a lot of moving parts, from trying to find candidates and the structure and things like that. There were a lot of people that helped, but those were some of the areas that I did consult on.”

(On if he is confident that General Manager Dennis Hickey will remain with the team)  – “Yes, Dennis is the GM. He did a good job. I’m hoping that, with me coming on board, it’s going to give him more time to spend running the scouting department, watching tape and, again, being in his shoes, I know there are a lot of different things that you have to deal with and hopefully those things will make his day more efficient for him.”

(On what would make him a more successful executive this time around than his time as the New York Jets General Manager)  – “First of all, I’m not the GM. I am proud of the fact that we got to three championship games in New York and fell a little bit short three different times. I think the last two years, again, having to start a business from scratch, I learned so much about the value of being a great listener, being open minded, listening to ideas and opportunities. I think a lot of those things apply to leadership and being a good manager and empowering others and inspiring others. I had seven years as a GM in New York, which was great. I was very appreciative of that opportunity. But with that said guys, my entire career had been spent in pro football, starting with driving people to the airport as an unpaid intern while I was in law school. To take those two years away, I wouldn’t trade that for anything. To have the privilege of working with guys like Steve Kerr, Danny Manning and David Blatt and Dan Quinn, each one of those guys made me a better person, a better leader. I’m excited to be able to go back and work with people like Dawn (Aponte) and Joe (Philbin) and Dennis (Hickey) and Tom Garfinkel. There are a lot of good people in the building and I don’t think this team is far away. Whatever value I can bring, hopefully, collectively, we can get to the playoffs in 2015.”

(On if it would be detrimental for Joe Philbin to go into this season as a lame duck coach, and if so, would he like to extend him for at least a year) – “We are not going to talk about contracts now. I did not know Joe Philbin very well, despite the fact that we are two Massachusetts guys, heading into this year, but I really enjoyed getting to know Coach over this past year. His attention to detail, being prepared, I think he is a good coach and I am excited to work with him. Again, there is a good foundation, you look at the way they developed the quarterback, him and Bill Lazor this year. There’s a lot of exciting things when you look at the roster and it starts with the quarterback.”

(On where President and CEO Tom Garfinkel falls in all of this and if he is under his purview)  – “No, Tom is the President and CEO of the organization. So I just got to know Tom. He is really a very interesting guy when you look at his different experiences, from NASCAR to baseball, I was constantly picking his brain about, ‘Tell me about the baseball draft. Tell me how they were run and how they go about picking players.’ When you have the privilege of these jobs, it’s great when you can share these experiences, especially when it transcends other sports, so I am really excited to work with Tom as well.”

(On if President and CEO Tom Garfinkel answers to him of vice-versa or if nobody answers to either one)  – “I do report to Steve Ross and so does Tom. But again, I think the bigger picture is we are all here to work together to try to get to the playoffs this year."

(On if he counseled Steve Kerr to take the Golden State job rather than the Knicks job) – (laughing) “I am really happy that things worked out for Steve Kerr. I am sure that he is going to miss the basketball tutoring that I used to give him on a daily basis, but I think he will be OK without it (joking). He is a remarkable person, I mean he is, as good a coach as he is, he is a better human being and, boy, he is a good friend and that was a real privilege.”

Mike Tannenbaum hiring conjures questions

The Miami Dolphins are hiring Mike Tannenbaum, who is formerly the GM of the New York Jets and was until yesterday an agent for coaches, to become their Executive Vice President for Football Operations.

And that begs more questions than we have answers at the moment.

"Why?" one Dolphins player texted me seconds after the news leaked on social media. "I don't understand."

And that is a legitimate question.

Why?

Owner Stephen Ross just pulled the rug out from under general manager Dennis Hickey. Hickey will report to Tannenbaum after serving as an autonomous GM for only one year -- one free agency period and one draft, in which Hickey did well, by most accounts.

At the same time Ross also is keeping Tannenbaum from have authority over head coach Joe Philbin.

So a team that had bitter in-fighting between the coach and general manager in 2013 now kneecapped the new general manager by hiring someone who has authority over personnel but no authority over the coach who decides which players play.

Awesome!

And the new VP is a former agent who represents head coach candidates. (I am assuming Tannenbaum will resign those duties eventually but his ties are his ties to the guys he represents.)

Tannenbaum won't take over until Feb. 1. So is the Dolphins incoming VP going to negotiate on behalf of Dan Quinn with, say, the New York Jets or Buffalo Bills before he reports for work in Miami?

"What could possibly go wrong," an agent monitoring the news just texted me.

And what does Dan Marino think about this? I reported weeks ago Marino and Tannenbaum had the ear of the Miami owner. Well, it seems Tannenbaum has more of that ear than the former Dolphins quarterback who was around the team all of last year -- in practices, meetings, games.

This is a curious move, folks.

It creates more questions than it offers answers.

 

Possible DC candidates for all to see

Kevin Coyle is apparently still the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins this morning but we don't know if that is only a temporary stay before he's fired or if Coyle is in fact safe for 2015.

Why don't we know?

Only Joe Philbin knows and he has not been ringing my celly with the answer.

(True story: Philbin does not call any media member. He also doesn't return emails. He once explained to me that his job and family take up practically all his professional and personal time, so he doesn't have time to form a relationship with a member of the media outside his normal and customary press conferences. Hey, I can respect that approach, although I think it unwise. The coach is free to set priorities as he wishes. But, I would counter an ally in the independent media never hurt anyone and Philbin has none.)

Anyway, I digress.

If Coyle is indeed safe then I have completely wasted hours of work on the exercise we're about to embark. But my instinct tells me Coyle is not safe. So here goes:

Someone on my twitter mentions on Monday demanded that I "name names" of possible replacements for Coyle. Why would I do that, I thought, when the Dolphins defensive coordinator is not fired. Plus, I thought, this could take a lot of work.

And then I remembered I don't have a pending locker room access or Dolphins press conference to attend now, in part because the defense was bad at season's end and so there was no postseason work to do. So it's the Dolphins themselves that gave me all this time to do this work.

This exercise also could help us understand whether the Dolphins, specifically Philbin, might find suitable replacements should he decide to move on from Coyle.

So here is my list of people who may be on the market as possible defensive coordinator candidates this offseason. This is in no particular order of strongest candidate to weakest candidate:

Candidate         Current job         Experience

Eric Mangini      SF TE coach      Former N.E. DC, former Cleveland and NYJ head coach.

Ed Donatell       SF assistant      Former Atlanta, G.B. DC. 22 years NFL experience.

Jim Leavitt       SF assistant      Former S. Florida HC, former DC at Kansas State (No. 1 D in nation).

Mike Trgovac    GB assistant    Former Carolina DC (2003-2008), NFL Top 10 in pts. allowed 3 of 6 yrs.

Winston Moss    GB asst HC      Miamian, 16 seasons NFL assistant.

Steve Spanuolo Balt. asst.       Former DC NYG (2007-08), Saints DC (2012), Former HC Rams (2009-11).

Gary Gibbs       KC asst.          Former N.O. DC (2006-08), former Oklahoma DC.

Emmitt Thomas KC asst.         Former DC in Philadelphia, G.B., Minnesota.

*Jim Schwartz   Buff. DC         Former HC Lions (2009-13), former DC Tennessee (2001-08).

Gunther Cunningham  Sr. coach asst.   Former HC KC, former DC KC twice, former DC Lions, former DC Raiders.

Mike Smith    Unemployed   Former HC Atlanta (2008-14), former DC Jacksonville (2003-07), former Baltimore defensive assistant (1999-2002).

Mike Nolan   Status unknown   Former HC San Fran. (2005-08), DC NYG (1993-96), DC Wash. (1997-99), DC NYJ (2000), DC Baltimore (2002-04), DC Miami (2010-11), DC Atlanta (2012-14).

These are all candidates with experience as coordinators on teams who have recently enjoyed defensive success. Obviously, there are more candidates on teams with poor defenses. There are also good position coaches who I believe will eventually be solid coordinator candidates which are not represented here.

Among the latter group, Mike Vrabel, the linebacker coach in Houston is one. Patrick Graham, the linebacker coach in New England, is another. Graham is interesting in that he graduated from Yale and was a Yale merit scholar. Both have been influenced to one degree or another by New England coach Bill Belichick. 

*Schwartz is hoping to land a head coach job but that is uncertain at this time.

January 05, 2015

Cowboys 8-8 not in same universe as Dolphins 8-8

A reasoned perspective free of over-reaction is important in the management of an NFL team and perhaps that's the reason multiple people within the Miami Dolphins organization let me know Monday they appreciate me sharing this perspective on why owner Stephen Ross not making a head coaching change after the 2014 season was understandable.

Good.

But, a reasoned perspective free of inaction is also important and for that reason today I address the folks riding the pendulum that's swinging wildly in the opposite direction -- those saying no change at all is warranted. I heard from a Dolphins person in that circle Monday (love you, bro, but you know I don't agree) and he used the Dallas Cowboys as an example of why continuity is the right way for Ross and his Dolphins to go now.

The narrative I heard is that just as the Dallas Cowboys stayed the course after three consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the Dolphins are so far staying the course after consecutive 8-8 seasons in 2013 and 2014. And, the narrative continues, just as the Cowboys were rewarded for their patience and perseverance with a 12-4 season in 2014 and playoff win two days ago, the Dolphins could be on the road to much regular-season success and perhaps a playoff berth in 2015.

And that is exactly wrong.

Wrong.

Wrong.

Wrong.

The Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins are nothing alike beyond those multiple 8-8 records.

First, it must be said the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2011, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the New York Giants. That game was essentially an NFC East title game. And the Giants, having won the game, went on to win the Super Bowl.

Secondly, the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2012, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the Washington Redskins. That game once again was an NFC East title game. And the Redskins won the game to capture the division title and move on to the playoffs.

Thirdly, the Cowboys did indeed finish 8-8 in 2013, but they did so after losing a season-finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. That game again was an NFC East title game. And the Eagles won it by two points, capturing the division title and moving on to the playoffs.

The Cowboys obviously did not make the playoffs any of those seasons. And they were merely a .500 team. But they were good enough to go to the season-finale with a chance to win their division.

How is that even remotely similar to what the Dolphins have done the past two years?

What year did the Dolphins have a chance to win the AFC East on the last weekend of the season? Indeed, the Dolphins this past season were basically eliminated from the playoffs earlier than they were the year before. And they never got close enough to be in a win-and-you're-the-champion situation because the gulf between them and the New England Patriots is vast.

The Dallas 8-8 record put that franchise thisclose to three consecutive division championships. The Miami 8-8 records left the Dolphins in third place this season, further back in the pack than they were last season when they finished in a tie for second.

But that is merely appetizer. To the main course: The differences between the Cowboys and Dolphins are much more stark than their seemingly congruent .500 records.

After the 2011 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, owner Jerry Jones made changes. Yes, he kept head coach Jason Garrett, which is where all the focus is. But he demoted John Garrett from his job as passing game coordinator and hired former Oakland head coach Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator.

After the 2012 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, Jones made changes again. He kept Garrett again. But Jones fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and hired Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator. Jones also hired former Detroit head coach Rod Marinelli as the defensive line coach.

After the 2013 season in which Dallas finished 8-8, Jones made more changes. Once again he kept Garrett. But the owner demoted Kiffin and promoted Marinelli to defensive coordinator. He also took away Garrett's play-calling privileges and hired former Detroit head coach Scott Linehan to call the plays.

So while Jason Garrett posted a 24-24 record, he kept his head coach post. But owner Jerry Jones fired two defensive coordinators, changed the offensive coordinator twice, and took away Garrett's play-calling role.

And when all that dust settled prior to the start of this fine season for the Cowboys, Jones had demoted inexperienced assistants and hired three former NFL head coaches (Callahan, Marinelli and Linehan) and two former college head coaches (Kiffin and Derek Dooley) to Garrett's staff.

Continuity? Jones is more interested in the right continuity rather than staying the course for its own sake.

Jones saw value in keeping his head coach but also in constantly adding superior experience and a higher grade of assistant coach year after year after year.

This year the Dolphins are banking on continuity. Joe Philbin, whose career record is 23-25, gets another shot to raise the Dolphins from their 8-8 doldrums of the past two seasons.

But as we sit here, the Dolphins have not shown quite the same aggressiveness in improving the staff serving their young coach that the Cowboys did in improving their staff for their young coach. Yes, there were moves foisted upon Philbin last season and, predictably, those worked.

But there is at least one obvious move that should be made this year at defensive coordinator that has not yet come to pass.

What I'm saying is Jerry Jones, patient with his head coach and eager to maintain continuity for his franchise, would absolutely force that move because, well, he did exactly that the last three seasons. Garrett, as loyal to his assistants as anyone, accepted those moves and is now benefitting from them.

Your move coach Philbin. Your move Mr. Ross.

Lack of star coaches makes Ross decision understandable

The Miami Dolphins season ended over a week ago, the NFL playoffs are in full and dramatic swing and I still get emails and tweets to my twitter account asking for a reasonable, logical reason Dolphins owner Stephen Ross kept Joe Philbin as the team's head coach.

First of all, let it go, people. Joe Philbin is your coach. Stephen Ross paid $1.1 billion for the right to make that call and he made it. It is done.

Secondly, if that doesn't appease you, think of it this way ... Ross had a pretty good reason for keeping Philbin that had nothing to do with 8-8 or "Kodaking" (ask the community in the comments section), or perpetual mediocrity, or losing three of the final four games, or missing the playoffs, or getting "queasy" on an NFL sideline.

It had to do with firing someone and then possibly hiring someone new who might not be as good.

That's it.

Think what you will of Ross or Philbin but I am convinced the owner decided he would rather keep a solid coach over the idea of hiring someone he simply didn't know would be great or even good. Ross, I believe, chose to keep a coach with experience over one that might have to take the franchise back to a proverbial Square One and learn on the job as a first-time NFL head coach.

I am convinced that once Ross looked around the coaching landscape beyond Jim Harbaugh -- whom Ross publicly denies considering but I know was considered -- he saw no one he was certain was better than Joe Philbin.

And, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, I agree with that assessment.

All one has to do is study what the teams that currently have NFL vacancies are doing to fill their openings and it is enough to make you thankful the Dolphins are not travelling that path of uncertainty.

The San Francisco 49ers, by all accounts the jewel of teams currently without a coach, over the weekened interviewed Mike Shanahan, according to multiple reports. They're interested in current defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as an in-house candidate. They like Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is said to interest them. Rex Ryan was scheduled to interview over the weekend as well.

And, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, perhaps the hottest coordinator on the market, is scheduled to interview with them also.

Quick ... which one of those is guaranteed to win the NFC West next year?

Personally, I think Ryan might have been a fit in Miami had Ross decided to make that move. But he's not a slam dunk. He's missed the playoffs four consecutive seasons. He's a great defensive mind but has proven incapable of figuring out offense. He has some off-field interests that a few years ago became embarrassing to the Jets.

The point is Ross wasn't sold on Rex.

And I'm not sold on any of those other candidates.

The Jets got rid of Rex Ryan and their high-priced search committee consisting of former GMs Ron Wolf and Charley Casserly is reportedly very high on Doug Marrone.

Marrone has a 15-17 career record as an NFL coach. And he's the star of this offseason's coaching search for the Jets. Think about that.

The Buffalo Bills, left at the altar by Marrone last week, have interviewed Quinn, Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Quinn, I must remind you, is a former Dolphins defensive line coach.

Anyway, unless Gase is promising in his interviews to bring Peyton Manning, unless Bevell is loading up Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, and unless Quinn is bringing the Legion of Boom with him, I find all three guys kind of, well, uninspiring.

Obviously, I'm not in on the interviews. But none of these guys have the reputation that Mike Tomlin brought to his interviews back in 2007 when he was still a position coach.

All of these men will get head coaching jobs and immediately have to start learning their craft on the job. None are slam dunks.

The Raiders are considering Tony Sparano and the usual suspects named above.

The Falcons like Rex and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was fired as the Denver coach after two years.

The point is Jon Gruden isn't raising his hand and saying, "interview me."

John Harbaugh doesn't seem to be in a hurry to leave Baltimore.

Nick Saban isn't coming back to the Dolphins -- or the NFL at this point.

(If I were San Francisco or Atlanta, that's exactly who I'd try to lure).

There also are no Andy Reid or John Fox types on the market this year -- men who are proven winners at one NFL stop that have for whatever reason worn out their welcomes and are ready to start winning in new surroundings.

My expectation is that Ross looked at all this before he decided stick with Philbin. My hope is the owner was so sophisticated that he understood upgrading was not a certainty this offseason (outside of Harbaugh) and so he chose not to reshuffle a deck in a very high stakes game.

If that is true, I can respect that approach because, frankly, I don't see any shining sure-fire hires this coaching cycle, either.

So Joe Philbin.

Learn to accept it or find a new team. 

January 02, 2015

Five issues the Miami Dolphins must address

The offseason has begun for the Miami Dolphins. There's work to do, folks.

There is no time like the preseason to begin getting a plan in place for improving in 2015. I hope the Dolphins are eager and serious about such a plan.

I would lead the outline for my offseason improvement plan with these five points:

1. Get a new defensive coordinator. It has been five days since the Dolphins completed an epic defensive collapse to finish this season. They allowed 28, 41, 35 and 37 points in the final four games, thus losing three of those. The defense gave up last-minute or fourth-quarter leads in losses to Green Bay, Denver and Detroit. It doesn't end there. Two years after drafting him with the No. 3 overall pick, the Dolphins still don't have a solid plan for using Dion Jordan that everyone is confident about. The linebacker experiments from last year failed because Koa Misi proved incapable of staying in the lineup, Phillip Wheeler didn't settle in or improve as a weakside linebacker and, it turns out, backup Jelani Jenkins was good as a starter but the only reason anyone found out is because the decision to play him was taken out of the coaching staff's hands when Dannell Ellerbe went out for the season. This unit is rudderless. That must change.

2. Help Ryan Tannehill help the Dolphins. Tannehill proved in 2014 that he continues to improve at a more than satisfactory pace. And that good news might only be made better if someone puts a good offensive line in front of him. Tannehill has been sacked more than any NFL quarterback the past two years. The offensive line was a disaster in 2013 and only slightly better in 2014. But last season was important in that the Dolphins identified three benchmark offensive line pieces in Branden Albert at left tackle, Mike Pouncey back at center where he wants to be and plays better, and Ja'Wuan James at right tackle. So this offseason demands the Dolphins add two high-caliber guards. I'm not talking cheap rummage sale guards in free agency. I'm not talking desperation June signings that no one else wants. I'm not talking career backups or experiments that Miami inexplicably believes will go from lumps of coal to diamonds. I'm not talking sixth or seventh round picks from Astonia Tech that will never see the field next season. The Dolphins travelled that road last offseason and it failed. I'm talking investing dollars or important draft picks in worthy starters that will solve the problem once and for all. And solving the problem will make your quarterback better, which will make your offense better, which will make the entire team better.

3. Addressing the cornerback spot -- again. Jimmy Johnson used to say you can never have enough cornerbacks. Cornerbacks, cornerbacks, cornerbacks. And that was before the NFL turned into the passing league it is today. The Dolphins need at least one quality cornerback who can make the cutting of Cortland Finnegan this offseason a smart move. I don't know how Finnegan, representing himself, convinced the Dolphins to give him a two-year $11 million deal but that mistake has to be erased this offseason either by cutting Finnegan or forcing him to take a pay cut. Finnegan counts $6.475 million against the cap as it currently stands. Sorry, he's not that good and the Dolphins need the cap space. If he wants to play for an incentive laden $1 million (vet minimum) deal and the promise he can compete for a starting job, great. If not ... Repair that bad contract and replace an overpriced player. By the way, I do not count on either Jamar Taylor or Will Davis. Maybe they turn into something starting next year. But Taylor has durability issues based on his first two years and when he did get on the field he wasn't exactly Deion Sanders. Davis, a great person, has to get stronger to compete consistently in the NFL. He hasn't done it his first two years. So the Dolphins have to go cornerback shopping, folks.

4. Address other bad contracts. The Dolphins have half-a-dozen contracts that are head scratchers in that they pay high but the return on the investment is not good enough. So capologist Dawn Aponte, empowered by the plans of GM Dennis Hickey, must get busy on correcting these bad contracts. Which ones? Well, the cap hit for Dannell Ellerbe is scheduled to be $9.85 million. Sir, take a pay cut or you are cut. The cap hit for Randy Starks is $6 million. Pay cut, please. The cap hit for Brian Hartline is $7.35 million. That needs renegotiation because it's too high. Nate Garner is at $1.85 million. He's a third-string backup. We don't pay $2 million for third string. Brandon Fields's cap number is at $3.9 million in 2015. He's a punter. Coming off a subpar year. Much work to be done on this front.

5. Make a decision on Mike Wallace. Since his season-ending troubles in which he told Miami's receiver coach and then coach Joe Philbin he didn't want to play unless he got the football (Wallace denies this which to me is also troubling) the case for and against Wallace is difficult to litigate. This is not the first time Wallace has been upset or pouted. But he remains a supreme talent. So going into Year 3 of his contract the decision must be made to get totally committed or break ties before the draft. The current road is unsustainable. So this is what I do: I call in Ryan Tannehill and Wallace. It is a mandatory meeting. And I tell them, you guys are the dynamic players on this offense but strangely you have no chemistry between you. Get chemistry, dang it! Get to a field somewhere in the country and work every day on deep and intermediate patterns at game speed. Take an hour, run 10-15 patterns, go to lunch. Talk to each other. Do this five days a week for a month. Also, go to dinner once a week, no excuses. If you survive this terrible regimen, we'll go forward. If you cannot, if somebody finds excuses to be absent, if somebody has a hang nail, if somebody's tummy hurts even one day, somebody is getting cut and we'll go in another direction. Peyton Manning every year texts his wide receivers and they show up at Duke to work out on their own. Tom Brady works with his guys in California. Drew Brees works with his guys.  Wallace is counting $12 million against the cap in 2015. I don't think this is asking a lot. And if he balks, we know what to do next. By the way, the fact that the people involved (Tannehill and Wallace themselves) have not done this before, like last year, says something. The fact they probably won't come up with the idea on their own this year says something. And everything being said is bad.

 

January 01, 2015

2014 Miami Dolphins season in review

I thought about spending a day or so thoughtfully breaking down the 2014 season so that I could produce for you two lists today -- the top 10 Miami Dolphins moments and the worst 10 Dolphins moments of the season -- and have that serve as a review of the last year.

And then I realized I was about to fall for the banana in the tail pipe trick.

Look, the Dolphins were 8-8 in 2014 just as they were 8-8 in 2013. And after that '13 season that finished with a whimper, the organization said something akin to, "Next year will be different, we will not tolerate mediocrity. We want improvement."

And this year when the team again crawled to the regular-season finish line and mediocrity again reared its familiar head we got a figurative "this is good enough," from owner Stephen Ross.

So the Miami Dolphins 2014 season in review?

It was an 8-8 season. Nothing's changed.

If you are not watching football today, give me your top 5 and bottom 5 moments of the year in your comments. You guys would probably do a better job at it than I would at this stage (not really, but I'm encouraging you to participate). 

Much prosperity, joy, peace and a 12-4 record to you in 2015.

December 31, 2014

Rex Ryan not offered Dolphins DC job

Rex Ryan has not been offered a job as the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator, a high-ranking club source told me this morning following an erroneous report to the contrary.

The National Football Post reported the Dolphins offered Ryan, the former New York Jets head coach, a multi-year deal worth $8 million to coach the Miami defense.

And while many (all) Dolphins fans would love that to be true, it simply is not.

I am told head coach Joe Philbin is today still mulling the future of defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and has not reached out to his former AFC rival on any level. He also hasn't reached out to his former AFC rival's representation. He also hasn't reached out to anyone behind Coyle's back.

Coyle may indeed be fired eventually, and as early as today. But not yet at this hour.

The truth of the matter is Ryan has made it very clear he has no intention or desire to be someone else's defensive coordinator. He either wants to be a head coach or pursue opportunities in televsion. He already met with ESPN this week and is scheduled, according to the New York Post, to interview with the Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers for their head coach vacancies next week.

One more thing: How could Joe Philbin, who is in the final year of his contract, offer an underling an $8 million deal?

Another one more thing: When it was apparent Rex Ryan would be fired as Jets coach and before owner Stephen Ross committed to Joe Philbin for another year, a source told me the Dolphins were not interested in Ryan as their head coach, either.

It is the silly season, folks.

Potentially decision day for Dolphins assistants

Miami Dolphins assistant coaches will report to work today one last time before getting some well-earned time off.

So it stands to reason that if head coach Joe Philbin is going to make career decisions on members of his coaching staff, it would come by today. That makes sense because it would be a cold move by Philbin to send some of his assistants off on vacation while they have the sword of possible unemployment hanging over their heads.

It would also be more humane to let assistants about to fired (if any) get out into the open market to compete for new jobs as soon as possible.

And as teams in New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Oakland and Chicago will be hiring head coaches in the next few weeks and assistants afterward, it would be a small advantage for any free agent assistant to start getting ready now.

For those reasons, I would not be surprised that any looming changes would be done by today. Obviously, there are mitigating circumstances to all that.

It's possible Philbin can tell an assistant he isn't returning but there is no announcement today.

It's possible Philbin can be asked to terminate an assistant and he resists. That would delay the process. It happened after last season when ownership wanted offensive coordinator Mike Sherman out and Philbin did not -- which is the reason Sherman's ouster as offensive coordinator was not announced until Jan. 6.

And, of course, there is the possibility Philbin is going to dig in and (cowboy twang here) ride with the posse he done rode into town with. (End cowboy twang).

I have a hard time believing that last one. Philbin saw this year that he can indeed make better staff decisions now than he did in 2012 when he first was hired. New offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was an upgrade from Sherman. New offensive line coach John Benton was an upgrade over Jim Turner.

Benton would have been an upgrade by simply not gifting linemen anatomically correct blow up dolls as Turner did but Benton actually did good work in that he got more out of Samson Satele than the veteran center had produced previously with Indianapolis, he did great work with rookie Ja'Wuan James, and he didn't mess up Branden Albert. Yes, sometimes good coaching is not messing up a good thing.

There's a feeling in the building that new linebacker coach Mark Duffner was also an upgrade this season but I frankly cannot present detailed evidence to that as I don't have enough information on the subject.

So the question becomes two-fold:

Does Joe Philbin think the troubles of his defense and his special teams fall mainly on players? Or do defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi bear so much responsibility for the problems that they must go?

Coyle's problems have been previously chronicled by me here and here and here. One thing I failed to add in all that.

The Miami defense this year and, really, for the past two years has had the troubling and building habit of playing terrible complementary football.

The offense will score and the defense will immediately give up points, allowing the game's momentum to seep back to the opponent. It has happened so often I started saying on twitter that the Miami offense would score and the Miami defense would answer.

It's very frustrating. And I'm not the only one who has noticed.

“There are definitely some points in time where we didn’t build off the momentum, there is absolutely no doubt," Philbin said in his season-ending press conference. "[Sunday against the Jets] we got a 10-point lead and we give up a 74-yard touchdown pass maybe. It’s two plays, three plays later.

"We always talk about it’s easy for me to get up in front of the team and say, ‘Hey, we have to play complementary football. The offense, we need a three-and-out and special teams you have to do this.’ There were a lot of examples throughout the course of the year. If you go back to the first Buffalo game, we took the ball down (to score) to make it 9-3, but then they return a touchdown. Then we score a touchdown to make it 16-9, but then (C.J.) Spiller runs for 55-yards. Unfortunately, there are a lot of illustrations of those kinds of sequences where things were not perfectly aligned like that."

That leads me to the special teams.

Look, Darren Rizzi is a fine coach. The Miami special teams were good in 2011 and 2012. But this year ... Inconsistent at best.

Special teams won the Minnesota game with a blocked punt for a safety. But the second half against the Jets began with an 87-yard kickoff return. There was also a successful fake punt that led to a score.

A fake punt led to a Lions touchdown in Detroit while a blocked field goal and run by Dion Jordan led to a Miami TD in the same game. Inconsistency.

Jarvis Landry was good on kickoff returns. And terrible on punt returns. Inconsistency.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis was 28th in the NFL in field goal percentage and had a 60 percent success rate on kicks of 40-49. That's bad, folks. Meanwhile, punter Brandon Fields had his lowest net average since 2010 and lowest gross average since 2008.

“I thought it was a little up-and-down, kind of like our team," Philbin said of the special teams. "I think we kind of started slow. Then I thought we really picked it up and made some impactful plays and did some positive things. I thought our block teams really did a good job. We got our hands on the ball quite a bit. I thought that aspect of our game was good. Our coverage was probably just average at the end of the day. Our return game was probably more average than we would like it to be.”  

December 30, 2014

Phillip Wheeler: 'Stuff changed' in Miami

Just as there are players that fans love, there are players that fall out of favor because of their play, or words, or deeds away from the football field. Ted Ginn never had a chance after fans saw him drop passes and scurry toward the sidelines as a habit. Jonathan Martin was already not a favorite for his inability to block and then the harassment scandal happened.

Dallas Thomas is not a big favorite now.

And neither is linebacker Phillip Wheeler.

The thing I've learned, however, is that sometimes journalists and media assume players are not good players when they are performing here. To those I present players such as Wes Welker, Vontae Davis, Karlos Dansby, Rob Ninkovich, Brandon Marshall and others.

All of them were not what we expected with Miami.

All of them were good, no, GREAT with other teams either before or after they left the Dolphins. It is as if those guys came here and underperformed or somehow failed to reach expectations. And then they left and either regained their abilities or captured a new swag that Dolphins fans rarely if ever saw.

Yeah, I blame coaching for that.

And today's Dolphins roster has players like that.

Look, Dannell Ellerbe was in line to be the successor to Ray Lewis in Baltimore. The only reason the Ravens let him go is they could not afford to match what the Dolphins paid. And he has been disappointing in Miami.

Mike Wallace was a dynamic deep threat in Pittsburgh. He scared opposing defensive coordinators. He doesn't really scare anyone in Miami. Sure, he turned into a productive possession type receiver. He is not bad. But he was brought here to be great. He was paid to be great. And he's not great.

(I have no doubt if the Dolphins cut him and Wallace goes back to Pittsburgh or somewhere like New England, he'd be great).

Dion Jordan tilted the field at Oregon. He stood out and not because he's 6-6 and runs like a deer. He made plays. He was dynamic. And in Miami he cannot get on the field full time.

Phillip Wheeler is on that list as well. He was an outstanding player for the Oakland Raiders in 2012. He was the No. 5 rated strongside linebacker in the entire NFL, per ProFootballFocus.com metrics.

And then he came here. And he seemingly fell off the table.

Wheeler is often criticized in the media. Fans joke about him on social media. I'm not certain I've ever seen a Phillip Wheeler jersey at Sun Life Stadium's stands.

But what if what we're seeing is the product of the same malady that befell other fine players who produced elsewhere but were or became curiously unproductive here?

I don't know how the guy that made a game-saving play in Indianapolis his second game in Miami seemed to regress so badly the past 30 games. So I asked Wheeler what happened to the guy everyone saw in Oakland?

"I feel like I could still do that," Wheeler said. "I feel like the way they coached, they had a good linebacker coach and a coordinator that believed in me and what I could do. They started out here like that but stuff changed along the way, I'm not sure what.

"But I still believe I can play that way, given the opportunity. I guess you could say they gave me the opportunity, but I don't feel like everybody was on the same page here. [In Oakland] when I was there everybody wasn't on the same page, but I was on the same page with the coaches and the scheme. I came here thinking it was going to be similar but there was a little bit different coaching."

It may sound like Wheeler is putting it on the coaches, but in the same conversation he makes the point, "I don't think we have bad coaches."

Well, then, how would Phillip Wheeler fix Phillip Wheeler?

"I would love to play the WILL linebacker," he said. "I didn't play there this year. I played it last year and [coaches] felt there needed to be a change. And they changed it and put me at SAM. But I love to play WILL and start at WILL and play the nickel which is the dime backer. I'd play more. I'd love to do that but it is totally up to me to make them play me. That wasn't the case this year."

No, that wasn't the case. Wheeler played only 384 snaps this year after being on the field for over 1,000 the past two seasons with Oakland and Miami. That suggests coaches trusted him less, thought less of him was better for the team.

Wheeler doesn't see it that way. He believes he can regain his performance from his time in Oakland.

"I still think I can play like that," he said. "I definitely know I can play like that. And I'm going to prove to somebody I can, whether it's here or the next place I go that I can do that."

Salguero and PFF review of Jets at Miami Dolphins

One of the most impressive facts about the Miami Dolphins 2014 season?

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill survived.

That's right, after 1,095 snaps during this season, Tannehill walked away with his head still on his shoulders and all his limbs intact. He also started every game for the third consecutive year. That is no small feat considering Tannehill has been sacked 105 times the past two years.

That is the most sacks suffered by any NFL quarterback over that span.

And yet Tannehill displayed amazing toughness. Again. This goes somewhat overlooked when viewing the Dolphins through the prism of the team's major issues. You know, things like the highest paid player telling the coach he was taking himself out of the game.

(Still cannot believe that one).

Bill Parcells told me once that durability is an ability.

And Tannehill has shown he has plenty of that. But general manager Dennis Hickey must not continue to let the franchise play Russian Roulette with the quarterback's health.

Dennis, assuming you're reading this ... I know there are linebacker and cornerback and safety and other issues on the roster. But you need two top-notch guards. Mike Pouncey wants to move back to center. You have two solid offensive tackles in Branden Albert (assuming he returns to health) and Ja'Wuan James.

You must fill those two guard spots with quality players -- not throw-away draft picks or free agent projects on the cheap like last year.

The reason is Tannehill may be ready in 2015 to make the leap in his second year in Bill Lazor's offense into something special. But he cannot do it if he is on his back. And he cannot do it if his luck runs out and cannot play.

Anyone not buying into what I'm saying, please watch the tape of Sunday's loss to the Jets. They had a season-high seven sacks against the Dolphins.

Seven sacks.

The Dolphins play in a division where the Buffalo Bills have three Pro Bowl players on the defensive line. They play in a division with Bill Belichick.

They must, must, must figure out a way to protect Ryan Tannehill in 2015.

As to the end of the 2014 season, it came in a 37-24 loss to the Jets and ProFootballFocus.com did its weekly tape review. I added some of my insights as well.

Offensive Summary

Billy Turner got his first career snaps on Sunday, filling in for 17 plays when Ja’Wuan James went down. Jason Fox went from RT to LT and Turner substituted for Fox at RT. He performed well, not allowing a single pressure on 12 pass-blocking snaps.

This is not to be dismissed on a day the Dolphins allowed seven sacks.

Third-down back Damien Williams had 10 snaps and they came exclusively on passing plays, setting him up as a possibility for the same role in 2015.

Mike Wallace played 32 snaps before his issues with the quarterback and the coaches. Brian Hartline took on 68 of 72 snaps, Jarvis Landry saw 51 snaps, and Brandon Gibson saw 44 snaps.

Passing

The Dolphins did take some "shots"  on Sunday. Tannehill was 3-of-6 on passes of 20-plus yards downfield for 67 yards and a TD.

Tannehill was under pressure on half of his 46 drop-backs. Daryn Colledge, no doubt playing his final game for the Dolphins, was bad, allowing three sacks. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan sent the blitz on 24 of 46 drop-backs.

Rushing

Lamar Miller’s big run came off right tackle, but he was also productive on middle runs too, piling up 47 yards on six carries behind center Samson Satele.

Miller’s struggles came on runs to the left, netting just 12 yards on eight carries to left end and left tackle. It has been clear for some time that tackle Ja'Wuan James was solid in pass protection but needs to improve his run blocking.

Receiving

Hartline’s biggest day of the season came with minimal yards after the catch. Hartline collected 1 YAC -- which I supposed is better than a Llama but not great.

Jarvis Landry caught all four targets when matched up against David Harris and Calvin Pryor, matchups he should win in the passing game.

Defensive Summary

Although the Miami defense embarrassed again, they missed just one tackle on the day. Imagine if they'd struggle tackling also?

Dion Jordan capped off his suspension-shorted season with two more quarterback pressures. He produced at least two pressures in each of the final three games of the season.

Jordan Kovacs played the most defensive snaps of his career -- 29.

Cortland Finnegan, meanwhile, could not finish the game. He was benched when it became clear the Jets were targetting him and Eric Decker was simply too much for him.

Finnegan has made vague suggestions about retiring but Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Finnegan had made no mention of that on Monday when the two met. If Finnegan does not retire, he will likely be cut for salary cap purposes.

Coverage

Brent Grimes, Finnegan, and Jimmy Wilson all took their turns attempting to stop Decker, but could not. He hauled in all three of his targets against each of them.

Jelani Jenkins held down Johnson, Ivory, and Amaro, allowing two catches on three targets, but for -3 yards. Jenkins did get lost in the wash (or picked, depending on one's perspective) on a crossing route that TE Jeff Cumberland caught for a TD.

Opponents’ Passing

Geno Smith only attempted seven passes over 10 yards, but completed them all, including five of 20-plus yards for 223 yards and two scores.

The Dolphins came with a blitz on nine of Smith’s 29 drop-backs, sacking him once, but allowed 7-of-8 completions for 154 yards and two TDs.

Geno Smith, you must remember, had a 0.0 quarterback rating against the Buffalo Bills earlier this season. He had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating against the Dolphins on Sunday.

December 29, 2014

Lots of spin and no decisions for Miami Dolphins

Black Monday has a different meaning at Miami Dolphins camp this year. While other teams -- Atlanta, the New York Jets, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland -- are making bold decisions and plans for upgrading in the future (they hope) the Dolphins are in something of a holding pattern.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin talked to players individually throughout the morning. He then met with the team as a whole.

"I told them the reason we're here is to make a difference on and off the field," Philbin told the media today. "I told Mr. Ross when I interviewed for the job that we were going to get better week to week and year to year and 8-8 again, obviously I failed my responsibility and obligation I made to Mr. Ross. So I didn't do well enough coaching this football team to get them better.

"I started off with that and I said we're all in this thing together. It certainly is not all about Joe Philbin. It's not the Joe Philbin show here. It's about the Miami Dolphins and winning championships and reaching our potential. And we have to find ways to improve and do that quickly. That was really the message, the main message."

The major topic of conversation and buzz at camp today was the Mike Wallace incident at the end of the half on Sunday when Wallace told Philbin he wasn't playing unless something changed. Philbin then benched the wide receiver.

Both Wallace and Philbin were asked to elaborate on the episode. Philbin evaded:

"I had a conversation with him during the game and made a coaching decision," the coach said. "It's really nothing more complicated than that."

Philbin was asked by me to confirm that Wallace told him he didn't want to play.

"I've never really discussed private conversations with players with anybody," Philbin said. "Those are private conversations. He and I had a discussion and then I made a coaching decision. That's all there is to it."

The coach and receiver also had a meeting this morning.

"It was in the privacy of my office and the door was shut and those conversations are between me and him," Philbin said.

Wallace came into the locker room about 45 minutes after his coach spoke and addressed the issue by, well, telling a version of events that has been refuted by a handful of people I've talked to since last night and doubled back with today.

Wallace was asked if got into an argument with quarterback Ryan Tannehill or Philbin or anyone yesterday.

"Nah. Coach's decision," he said.

Wallace was asked if he had conversation with Joe and they told him he's not going back in in the second half:

"No. I found out when I was going back on the field," Wallace said.

Interestingly, yesterday Brandon Gibson said receiver were informed at halftime that Wallace would not be playing in the second half. Wallace was standing next to Gibson and approved everything his teammate said on his behalf at the time.

Wallace was asked If his preference was to get back out and play in the second half?

"Of course," he said.

Wallace was asked if the reports, obviously including mine, that he asked out of the game are true.

"No," he said.

Again, the report was completely true and accurate.

The question of Wallace's status with the team going forward will be interesting. Look, if today's words from Philbin and Wallace can be believed then all is well, there is nothing to see here, and Wallace will continue with the Dolphins next year.

If today was all a bunch of hooey then Wallace may be cut this offseason. We shall see.

Philbin was asked about the receiver's status with Miami going forward:

"Nothing's changed that I know of," Philbin said. "I don't think we've made any roster moves, have we?

"Again, I haven't spent one second thinking about 2015 yet. We took a look at the film. Watched the game film. I got meetings with every single player here over the next day or so. To get feedback, ways we can get better, ways we can improve, things I can do better, things they can do better. But I haven't really thought about who's playing what position in 2015 or any of that stuff."

One final thing: Philbin will wrap his meetings with players today and perhaps early tomorrow. Then he'll meet with assistants, at which time he'll decide the fate of coaches such as Kevin Coyle and Darren Rizzi -- coaches whose units were wildly inconsistent this season.

"The process is going to start here soon," Philbin said referring to Coyle. "Today is dedicated to the players and then I'm going to sit down with the coaches as I do every single year. I need obviously some time to think about things because the season just ended. I haven't made any decisions about any coach for 2015. None of them."

December 28, 2014

Sources: Mike Wallace stopped playing

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace was upset in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the New York Jets. He had passing words with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, then came off the field and told coaches he no longer wished to continue playing, sources told The Herald Sunday night.

The story was also reported by NFL Network's Jeff Darlington.

Wallace has apparently threatened similar incidents in the past, according to these sources. Those incidents were not public. And in the past Wallace never directly told head coach Joe Philbin he didn't want to continue.

Although Philbin said after the game "it was a coaching decision" to bench Wallace, that decision actually didn't come until after Wallace came off the field and told Philbin he was done playing.

It was the first time Philbin heard those words directly from Wallace this year.

Afterward, I asked Tannehill if Wallace's actions would impact the duo going forward. As I wrote in my column today, Tannehill said he didn't think it would be a problem.

But seriously, how can it not be a problem? It most definitely is a problem for the coaching staff and some players.

Think of this: In the final game of the season, the team's highest paid player decided he was going to stop playing because something was not happening as he would want. That raises trust issues among the coaching staff. And while some players remain strong in the belief Wallace is a good teammate, perhaps agreeing why he took the actions he took, others believe he basically quit on them.

So do the Dolphins forgive and forget?

Or do they worry that in any similar difficult situation in the future, Wallace might not like what's going on and, well, quit again?

If the Miami braintrust decides the latter is the right answer, Wallace's days with Dolphins could be over.

The eventual answer could be tied to the salary cap.

Wallace next season is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $12.1 million against the cap. He is scheduled to make $9.85 million of which $3 million is guaranteed. So the Dolphins can simply pay the piper and hold their breath Wallace has no further episodes.

But as I just reported, he's had previous episodes so the chances of him simply stopping in the future seem poor. So perhaps the Dolphins will either try to trade Wallace or cut him.

If they can find no suitor that will swallow what now seems like a bad contract, the Dolphins can cut Wallace and enjoy a cap savings. If they either cut him post-June 1 or designate him as a post-June 1 cut, the Dolphins would be on the hook for a $5.2 million cap hit, which would be a $6.9 million cap savings.

Cutting Wallace pre-June 1 would be less palatable as the dead money would be $9.6 million while offering only a $2.5 million savings.

In both instances there would be dead money in future years that the Dolphins would have to carry.

Tough either way. And that it is coming out now shows how troubled the Dolphins truly are, as I write in my column. Sunday's 37-24 loss was just a symptom of a sick franchise.

The disease is something no one seems to have a cure for.

[Note: The column, you may read, says Wallace either quit or was benched. I was told early on Sunday that both were true. Sunday evening the picture came into better focus but that was after deadlines so the latest is here.]

 

Mike Wallace conducts bizarre locker room availability

I covered last year's harassment scandal. I saw Daunte Culpepper hand out press releases about himself to the media to fight the team's position that it was cutting him in 2007. I reported on the disagreements between Dan Marino and Jimmy Johnson and covered each of their departure pressers in the wake of 62-7.

And today I witnessed the most bizarre locker room session in my career.

Mike Wallace, benched in the second half by coaches after he had a disagreement with a coach and, by extension, Ryan Tannehill, declined to speak to the media after the game.

But only sort of.

He asked Brandon Gibson to handle the questions to him so as to avoid not saying the wrong thing. This is not a new Wallace approach. His first game with the Dolphins he was upset after the game for not being targetted and refused to talk to reporters.

That was not a good look and Wallace obviously realized it. So today, he adapted. he didn't talk. But his sentiments got out there through Gibson, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Wallace answering the questions directed at Wallace.

It was surreal.

This is how it went ...

Question to Mike Wallace: Mike, we didn't see you a whole lot after the first half. Were you injured or what was happening?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "You know, um, differences in opinion led us to Mike probably not playing in the second half. So that was decision by the coaches. That was kind of the way we went."

Question to Mike Wallace: Where you told you could not play in the secong half?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "Coming in the second half, starting in the second half, we were notified Mike was not going to play the second half. Brian moved over to Mike's position. I moved to Brian's position. Jarvis stayed in the slot. That's all that was told."

Question to MIke Wallace: Mike, did you have a problem with the fact you were targetted only once in the first half?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "It's obviously frustrating for any player. Used to being a player who can make plays down the field, the middle of the field, short, but sometimes that's how it rolls and obviously frustrations ... that was due to frustrations."

Question to Brandon Gibson: And why is this happening?

Brandon Gibson: "Just don't want my dog to say anything wrong."

Question to Mike Wallace: Do you expect to be back next year?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "That remains to be seen, obviously, we can't discuss anything right now. Moving forward, I plan on being a Dolphin as long as my contract allows me to be."

Question to Mike Wallace: Who was the difference of opinion between?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "Honestly, things that were communicated or misunderstood or said that things didn't work out to a lot of communication that just didn't work out."

(Yeah, no idea).

Question to Mike Wallace: Mike, were you playing any less hard at the end of the half than you were at the beginning of the half?

Answer from Brandon Gibson: "I think if you watch the film, I play hard each and every play whether I'm blocking, running the deep pass, short pass. You can watch the film and my play speaks for itself."

Question to Mike Wallace: And Brandon Gibson's words represent your words?

Mike Wallace: "Definitely."

Wallace: We good?

No more questions are asked.

Gibson: "Appreciate everything. Have a good offseason."

This is so Miami Dolphins.

New York Jets beat the Dolphins: Yeah, embarrassing

I do not believe owner Stephen Ross will reconsider his decision to keep Joe Philbin. So live with that, Dolphins fans.

Live with this as well: The Dolphins are a bit of a mess today.

They had a chance to deliver the first winning season since 2008 and failed by losing 37-24 to the New York Jets. That's the 4-12 New York Jets.

The defense gave up the most points the Jets have scored all season. The Jets had 500 yards of offense until a six-yard loss on a throwaway run before the last New York FG.

Mike Wallace finished the game on the bench because there was some exchange between him and a coach and quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Wat Aikens was inactive because of a disciplinary issue.

Koa Misi got hurt. Again. And could not finish the game.

The special teams yielded a fake punt pass that went for a 38 yards and led New York to the cinching touchdown.

Did it tell you the defense was terrible? It made Geno Smith look like Joe Namath in his prime. Smith threw three touchdown passes. Three!

If Joe Philbin think Kevin Coyle is still the answer as the defensive coordinator it would not suprise. He is, after all, resistant to change.

But Coyle has earned a firing for breaking this defense. It has gone from a playoff-caliber unit years ago to a unit that needs significant help this offseason.

This is the second consecutive year a reeling Jets team beats the Dolphins at home. The bright side to that?

The Jets won't visit Miami in 2015. The Dolphins home game against New York next year will be played in London.

Live blog: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins season-finale.

New York Jets the opponent.

Dolphins going for their first winning season since 2008.

Live blog below:

 

Live Blog Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets: Dec. 28, 2014
 

Inactives, Aikens discipline, Fox starts

The last set of inactives are in for the Miami Dolphins in 2014 and there are some interesting (and possibly troubling) nuggets involed.

Safety Walt Aikens, who has not been on the injury report all week, is inactive today and a league source says the reason is the rookie is sitting for disciplinary reasons.

Aikens agent, Chris Turnage, has so far been unavailable for comment.

The Dolphins are starting Jason Fox at right tackle for the second consecutive week because Dallas Thomas is inactive for the second consecutive week. Thomas missed last week's game because of a foot injury and was limited in practice this week.

The other inactives: Rishard Matthews, LaMichael James, DeAndre Coleman, Sam Brenner, and Matt Hazel.  

Rex Ryan as Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator?

My column today explains defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's status with the Miami Dolphins and tells you about the decline of the Dolphins defense this year.

And, no, I don't believe the New York Jets today will light up the Dolphins because, well, have you been paying attention to the New York Jets offense? But the evidence of trouble for this Dolphins defense was presented already and often this season.

Me?

I'd try to hire Rex Ryan as Miami's defensive coordinator. Frankly, I would have tried to hire Rex Ryan as the head coach with Bill Lazor as the offensive coordinator and Dennis Hickey remaining as GM. But that's just me. I wouldn't stand still amid mediocrity, if I were an NFL owner.

And six years out of the playoffs, three by this coach is, well, mediocre.

But that's not reality. The real owner has decided the head coach is staying. And now he has a decision to make on, among other things, who will be his defensive coordinator.

Why not Rex Ryan?

Ryan is expecting to be fired as Jets coach, per multiple reports. Duh. He himself his missed the playoffs four consecutive years. But anyone that knows the NFL, understands Ryan is a gifted defensive coach.

So why not  hire him at Kevin Coyle's replacement?

Well there are obstacles. Firstly, another team might hire him as coach. Television might hire him as an analyst. And, Joe Philbin and Ryan don't seem to be a good match based on Ryan's free and open personality and Philbin's more, shall we say, stoic approach to things.

Rex, being Rex, last week opened the door to the possibility by publicly lubing up Philbin and the Dolphins on his conference call with the South Florida media when he was asked his thoughts on Philbin returning.

"He’s a (heck) of a football coach," Ryan said, using a word other than heck. "So, obviously Miami made a great decision bringing him back. I can tell you going against him, that’s a heck of a football team and that’s a really well-coached team. No surprise that he’s back. He’s one of the better coaches in the league and I’m really happy for him."

Philbin was complimentary of Ryan as well during the week.

So is this a thing? Can Rex Ryan come to the Dolphins as their defensive coordinator?

Doubtful at this stage.

But it is not beyond possibility that Miami has an opening. Personally, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

December 27, 2014

Keys to the game: New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

This is it. Sunday's season-finale between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins is the final chance for players (and maybe a coordinator) to shine.

After this game both teams will go into the offseason with uncertainty. The Jets will go into a search for possibly a general manager and head coach.

The Miami Dolphins will go into the offseason in search of answers to why this team has failed to be in the playoffs every year since 2009. Six years out of the playoffs is quite a drought and ties the franchise record, set in the 2002-2007 seasons for longest stretch out of the playoffs.

History!

But before we get to thinking offseason and which players are going to be cut for salary cap purproses and which free agents will be signed -- issues that will be covered here -- there is the season-finale.

This is how that game breaks down:

When the Jets pass the football: The Jets don’t just suffer from bad quarterback and inconsistent receiver play. They suffer from a lack of self-awareness. Last week, trailing New England by one point with six minutes to play they have the football at the Pats’ 30. What does one do with a terrible pass attack late into such a close game? Run, run, run. OC Marty Mornhinweg got it two-thirds right. He ran on first down, ran on second, but on third-and-4 he decided to put the game in Geno Smith’s hands. Smith held the football and took at 10-yard sack. What might have been a 42-yard field goal attempt (at worst) for the lead turned into a 52-yard attempt. Nick Folk missed the kick. Do these guys not watch their own games? The Jets should never put the game in Smith’s hands if they can help it because he has in the past found a way to fumble it, or hand it over via interception or take a sack or simply throw where he never meant it to go for an incompletion. The Jets are last in the NFL in passing, 29th in sacks per pass play, and 21st in third down efficiency. But they apparently aren’t aware of this. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Jets run the football: Here lies the strength (relative term) of the New York offense. The Chris Combo (Johnson and Ivory) has combined for 1,435 yards and New York is No. 3 in the NFL in rushing yards and No. 2 in rush average. The Dolphins got a first-hand view of the New York run game’s potential in the first meeting between the teams when the Jets rushed for 277 yards (most allowed this season by Miami) and Johnson had 105 yards and Ivory contributed 62 more. The Jets clearly identified something in the Miami run defense that day but the Dolphins seem confident the holes the Jets saw have since been plugged. The Miami argument is backed up by the fact the Dolphins gave up 210 of those 277 yards in the first half and then allowed only 67 rushing yards in the second half. ADVANTAGE: New York.

When the Dolphins pass the football: There is one game this season in which Ryan Tannehill did not throw a TD pass – against the New York Jets. That stuns given the fact the Jets secondary has been the weak link in their defense the entire season and Tannehill, Miami’s MVP, is already guaranteed his most productive season of his three-year career. It is encouraging for the Dolphins that receiver Mike Wallace has caught three TD passes the past two games, meaning 30 percent of his TD total for the year has come the past two weeks. The Dolphins did not have tight end Charles Clay against the Jets in their first meeting but he has 12 catches for 173 yards the past two games, his best two-game stretch of the season. That will put pressure on the New York safeties and linebackers. Look for Clay to be a major target on plays the Jets blitz. The Jets lack an elite edge rusher so that should mitigate the Miami coaching staff’s decision to play either Dallas Thomas or Jason Fox at right tackle. Fox was good last week against Minnesota, a game Thomas missed while injured. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

When the Dolphins run the football: The Jets may struggle in the back end of their defense but their front seven have been very good overall and excellent against the run. New York is No. 3 against the run this year and this game may get some help from Muhammad Wilkerson, who missed the first meeting between the teams and has been dealing with a toe injury for nearly a month. The Dolphins decided to settle their interior line last week by calling an end to the shuttle system they’d been using at left guard. Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith had been switching off every two series but that stopped last week and is not part of the plan this week, either. Colledge will play every down. The Dolphins will continue to use multiple backs. Lamar Miller gained 92 yards last week, his best game since September but coaches sat him near the end of the game because he’d apparently surpassed his play count. He had 19 carries at the time. The Dolphins run game eclipsed 100 yards in eight of the first 10 games but last week was their first over 100 yards in the last five games. ADVANTAGE: New York.

Special teams: The Dolphins won their game last week on special teams – getting a punt block for a safety against Minnesota. The Jets lost their chance to take the lead and possibly beat New England on special teams last week when a 52-yard fourth-quarter field goal missed the mark. Both teams have been up and down on special teams this year, but generally the Dolphins have been more up than down and the Jets have been more down than up. ADVANTAGE: Miami.

Coaching: Rex Ryan was said to have cleared out his office recently, per reports in the New York media. So he's likely coaching his final game for the Jets after four consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. The team still plays hard on his behalf. The defense is still trouble for opposing coaches but Ryan never figured out the QB situation during his tenure. That’s a sin in today’s NFL. Joe Philbin is coming back to the Dolphins for at least one more year despite missing the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. He can go into the offseason feeling good about finding a keeper at quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. But, um, the defense is aging and never responded in key moments and important games this season. So which team ending its season plays hard for its coach today? ADVANTAGE: Even.