January 29, 2015

Dolphins at SB 49: Guess who Tannehill is picking

PHOENIX -- The Miami Dolphins aren't in the Super Bowl. But they definitely are at the Super Bowl.

Dan Marino has been here for several days and be part of a CNN kickoff show Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

Club president and CEO Tom Garfinkel is in town, as is general manager Dennis Hickey. Hickey will collect a Steinberg DeNicola 2015 Humanitarian Award, along with Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, at a ceremony Saturday. The award will be presented by sports agent Leigh Steinberg.

Executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum will be in town by this evening and owner Stephen Ross is scheduled to arrive by Friday.

But the most interesting Dolphins representative at the Super Bowl this week is undoubtedly quarterback Ryan Tannehill. He made the rounds at radio row and on the NFL Network and said, well, nothing of news value.

But he spoke volumes by posing for a photo in and around the Super Bowl village when he clearly picked one team to win the game Sunday. Ryanseattle

Yeah, Tannehill is picking the Seattle Seahawks over the division rival New England Patriots.

Am I the only one getting a kick out of Tannehill's expression?

Some people on my twitter were not amused. They wondered if this might incense the Patriots. I doubt it. I doubt a prediction by an opposing quarterback is on their radar.

I will say that Tannehill picked rightly. I don't think it would be a good look for him to pick a rival team. I don't imagine Dolphins fans would love that.

Finally, let me leave you with this thought:

Since 2001, the Patriots have dominated the AFC East. They have a 67-19 intra-division record during that time. That's a .779 winning percentage.

The Jets have a 40-46 intra-division during that time for a .465 winning percentage. The Dolphins have a 36-50 intra-division record during that time for a .419 winning percentage.

And the Bills bring up the rear with a 30-56 intra-division record since 2001 for a .349 winning percentage.

The Patriots have won the division every year except two -- 2002 when the Jets won and 2008 when the Dolphins won.

Must do better, my friends. The Dolphins must do better.

Tony McDaniel: Success in Seattle after four years in Miami

PHOENIX -- The idea that players come to the Dolphins and often perform worse than they did before arriving or go elsewhere and perform better than they did with the Dolphins is not new. We've seen it time and again.

Karlos Dansby.

Dannell Ellerbe.

Vontae Davis.

Wes Welker.

Rob Ninkovich.

Erik Walden.

There are multiple others that you can probably number off the top of your head.

Tony McDaniel is one of those. He played four seasons with the Dolphins and was not a starter while making 82 tackles. In Seattle he started 14 of 16 games this season and has had 83 tackles in two seasons.

"Coming from Miami I was a backup, role player," McDaniel told me Wednesday. "I felt I could have always been a starter but my role was different down there. Then I got here and got a chance to compete for the starting job and I guess I fit the role here. I did the things they asked me and then they brought me back for this year."

Interestingly, the Dolphins got more out of McDaniel than the Jacksonville Jaguars ever did. No surprise. The Dolphins are better than the Jaguars. Well, the Seahawks got more out of McDaniel than the Dolphins ever did. Again, no surprise. The Seahawks are better than the Dolphins.

"I wouldn't say I am a better player," McDaniel said. "It's just that I got more of an opportunity than I ever had in Miami. The scheme is better for me. Down in Miami I was a 3-4 defensive end and here I'm a three-technique in the 4-3. I would say overall I'm a little bit better player because I have more confidence. I think when you're a starter you have a lot more confidence going into games."

McDaniel says the culture is different in Seattle than it was in Miami.

"When you play for a winner you're more relaxed," he said. "You sleep better. The food is better. Women are better. I would definitely say the culture here is like a brotherhood. I think it starts with Pete Carroll because he always has a positive attitude about everything. Even in the most difficult situation he's always positive. It rubs off on the rest of the team. I love it here."

McDaniel never bought a home in South Florida. He rented. But he would have happily stayed in Miami had the Dolphins decided to keep him. It was the Dolphins' decision not to keep him.

"I definitely wanted to stay," he said. "I was there for four years. I built relationships in Miami. I mean I was comfortable where I was. But they had a different plan in signing somebody else or drafting somebody else. And I'm kind of happy they did because it changed my life."

And here is what I think: Both the Seahawks and the Patriots have players that seemingly didn't fit in or perform well other places but suddenly are important to the success of Super Bowl teams.

Akeem Ayers.

Michael Bennett.

LaGarrette Blount.

Brandon LaFells.

Jonathan Casillas.

These outstanding teams seem to find ways to use players that have failed with lesser teams. Why? How?

When you start reading in this space that players are succeeding with the Dolphins after failing elsewhere, then you know something is going right in Miami.

January 26, 2015

Salary cap: Dolphins underperforming vs. NFL

Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey last week made the point that "difficult decisions" loom this offseason when it comes to the salary cap.

And I've been thinking about this because while I'm certain the team's cap braintrust (Hickey, Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte) have been thinking about those decisions and an action plan for tackling them, I hope they can do better than they've done in the past.

Check that.

Tannenbaum hasn't been around so he doesn't own the past. Hickey has been around only a year so he only rents the past. Aponte has been here for years. She owns the past.

And the past has included some good cap decisions. And some terrible cap decisions.

That becomes abundantly clear to anyone looking at the charts overthecap.com published Monday in breaking down Miami's 2015 cap outlook.

To me, great use of cap space is defined by paying areas of your team worthy of that payment. I don't mind paying players that play up to their contracts. Amazing use of cap space is paying bargain prices for areas of your team that perform at a high level. And terrible use of cap space is paying a high price for little reward.

The Dolphins in 2015?

They are scheduled to pay exceedingly high value for areas of the team that simply have failed to reach the threshold of that compensation. Check the offensive and defensive spending published by overthecap.com and you see this quite clearly.

Dolphins-Offensive-SpendingThe Dolphins are scheduled to pay nearly twice as much for their wide receivers as the NFL average. Now tell me, which one of those players has been a Pro Bowl player for the Dolphins? None. Which one has been a game-changer for the Dolphins? None. Which one is elite? None.

So the Dolphins have agreed to pay elite value but have not enjoyed elite player dividends from that room.

The same holds true for the offensive line.

The Dolphins have been troubled along the offensive line for nearly a decade but the past three or four years have been particularly troubling. The chart shows the team has clearly thrown money at the problem, spending approximately $7 million more for the offensive line than the NFL average.

And yet ... this offseason it is clear Miami must somehow find two starting guards. So as much as the Dolphins have invested on the offensive line room, it remains incomplete.

That's wasteful use of cap space.

Defensively, the same problems abound at defensive line and linebacker -- or two of the four position groups on the defense.

The Dolphins defensive line was once the backbone of the team. But recently players have underperformed their contracts.

Last year, for example, the Dolphins gave Randy Starks a two-year, $10 million deal. It made him the third-highest paid player among 30 4-3 defensive tackles, according to overthecap.com. Did Randy Starks play like the third best 4-3 DT while the run defense finished 24th in the NFL?

No.

Did he reach the standards he set earlier in his Dolphins career?

No.

The Dolphins did (probably) get fair value out of Cameron Wake ($7.2 million for 11.5 sacks), Earl Mitchell and Jared Odrick. And they got excellent value for Olivier Vernon ($759,000 in cap space for 6.5 sacks). But the point is other teams are simply doing better. Dolphins-Defensive-Spending

The Buffalo Bills are spending a ton on their defensive line but they had three Pro Bowl players there and four players with 10 sacks or more.

The Baltmore Ravens, running a 3-4, have one of the dominant defensive lines in the NFL. They're on the hook for approximately $21 million in cap space for that room compared to Miami's nearly $30 million.

These are teams the Dolphins are directly competing against in the same conference. But the Dolphins are losing the battle at the bank because they're not getting the same bang for their salary cap buck.

The same problem is evident at linebacker.

What great linebacker do the Dolphins have? Let me help you: Nobody.

Jelani Jenkins is probably the most cost-effective of the bunch. He's a find. Everyone else? Too expensive and underperforming.

By the way, the last few weeks I've had at least four NFL people mock the Dolphins for the contracts they gave Phillip Wheeler No. 1 and Dannell Ellerbe No. 2. It is no surprise the Dolphins are likely to jettison both this offseason -- barring either agreeing to take a drastic pay cut.

Obviously, not everything is dire in the world of 8-8. Like the team on the field, Miami's contract negotiators more or less win about as much as they lose.

The tight end room was a bargain considering Charles Clay has played under his rookie contract until now. That, however, will change.

The cornerback room is not as bad as it seems in the chart because that includes Cortland Finnegan's $6.475 million cap hit in 2015 and the truth is Finnegan will either retire or get cut so $5.475 million of that is going to be savings.

(On this Finnegan contract ... What were the Dolphins thinking? Here's a player who had been bad for two consecutive years. His mentor Jeff Fisher decided he could no longer keep him on his team. He's cut. Finnegan is representing himself without an agent. And he gets $5.5 million fully guaranteed? In what world? The signing was not only questionable from a financial standpoint, but it caused the Dolphins to otherwise stand pat at cornerback, which proved unwise. This, by the way, is not a second guess. Check the archives. I hated the Finnegan signing when it happened. Antonio Cromartie, meanwhile, got a one-year deal for $4 million. And he was better than Finnegan the previous two years and went to the Pro Bowl this year.)

Anyway, aside from Finnegan the Dolphins have done a good job on cornerback deals. Brent Grimes was expensive but he was a bargain his first year with the team on a prove-it contract and went to the Pro Bowl this season. So far, so good.

Finally, to avoid confusion let me address a couple of questions the chart might raise:

The quarterback position is a bargain for the Dolphins right now because backup Matt Moore is scheduled to become a free agent and so his $4-5 million is not showing on the chart and Ryan Tannehill is playing under his rookie contract. All that will soon change so don't do handstands over that. The Dolphins obviously need a backup. And even if Tannehill is not extended in 2015, which the team hopes to do this offseason, he will be very expensive starting in 2016.

The running back room is cheap according to the chart because Lamar Miller is still playing under his fourth-round draft pick contract. Also, Knowshon Moreno, who the Dolphins paid $3 million in 2014 in exhange for 148 yards before he was injured, is no longer counting because he is unsigned.

NFL #deflategate investigation will continue after Super Bowl

Welcome to Super Bowl week.

The New England Patriots will travel to Arizona today and will be met there with hundreds of questions about #deflategate. I'm certain they will not be forthcoming with their answers other than to deny, deny, deny.

It is certain that the investigation will not be concluded before the Super Bowl is played. Quarterback Tom Brady said Sunday he's been told the investigation, led by the all-too-well-known-in-these-parts Ted Wells, will not circle back to speak with him until after the game.

So faced with the option of taking prohibitive action prior to a cursory and perhaps rushed investigation prior to the Super Bowl or potentially having a known cheater play (and possibly win) the biggest game of the year, the NFL chose to be systematic and proceed cautiously.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have suffered something of a black eye. Their brand on the field is pristine because, well, they win a bunch. Brady will be playing in his record sixth Super Bowl next Sunday.

Off the field, the Patriots have a reputation as a team that cheats. Simple as that. Right or wrong, fair or not, this scandal piggybacking on the memory of Spygate, for which the Patriots were deemed guilty, fined, and docked a first-round draft pick, has solidified the organization as one that cheats.

Their fans defend against that fact. What else are they going to do?

Coach Bill Belichick defends against it. He said in no uncertain terms over the weekend that "I have personally and we as an organization have followed every rule to the letter," relative to deflating footballs.

Belichick says the Patriots conducted an internal study on the matter and deemed himself and the Patriots innocent. (Good to know).

But to deny more damage has been done is to deny the truth.

Evidence of that damaged brand?

Well, when SNL is spoofing on you, you know. Enjoy: 

January 23, 2015

Ted Wells (yeah, him) investigating Patriots

The NFL today released a statement about its investigation of the New England Patriots and the so-called Deflategate controversy.

This is that statement (with the revelation Ted Wells is involved, something that will jar the memory of Dolphins fans who kept pace with the 2013 harassment scandal):

"Our office has been conducting an investigation as to whether the footballs used in last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game complied with the specifications that are set forth in the playing rules. The investigation began based on information that suggested that the game balls used by the New England Patriots were not properly inflated to levels required by the playing rules, specifically Playing Rule 2, Section 1, which requires that the ball be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Prior to the game, the game officials inspect the footballs to be used by each team and confirm that this standard is satisfied, which was done before last Sunday’s game.

"The investigation is being led jointly by NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss. Mr. Wells and his firm bring additional expertise and a valuable independent perspective. The investigation began promptly on Sunday night. Over the past several days, nearly 40 interviews have been conducted, including of Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties with relevant information and expertise. We have obtained and are continuing to obtain additional information, including video and other electronic information and physical evidence. We have retained Renaissance Associates, an investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information.

"The playing rules are intended to protect the fairness and integrity of our games. We take seriously claims that those rules have been violated and will fully investigate this matter without compromise or delay. The investigation is ongoing, will be thorough and objective, and is being pursued expeditiously. In the coming days, we expect to conduct numerous additional interviews, examine video and other forensic evidence, as well as relevant physical evidence. While the evidence thus far supports the conclusion that footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half, the footballs were properly inflated for the second half and confirmed at the conclusion of the game to have remained properly inflated. The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action. We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence. 

Upon being advised of the investigation, the Patriots promptly pledged their full cooperation and have made their personnel and other information available to us upon request.  Our investigation will seek information from any and all relevant sources and we expect full cooperation from other clubs as well. As we develop more information and are in a position to reach conclusions, we will share them publicly."

Dolphins special teams ranked 12th for 2014

Every year the Dallas Morning News conducts a comprehensive study of the special teams for all 32 NFL teams. The study looks at 22 categories -- obvious ones like field goal percentage and not so obvious ones like takeaways and giveaways -- and then ranks all the teams based on a point system.

And the results of that study this year found that Miami's special teams ranked 12th overall in the league.

And that is, well, pretty good.

If the Dolphins ranked No. 12 in every statistical category, they'd probably be in the playoffs. Indeed, the Dolphins ranked higher than five playoff teams.

There are categories that need work. Miami had the most giveaways in the NFL in 2014 with four. Opponents also had the second-highest field goal percentage against the Dolphins.

But there were building blocks as well: The Dolphins were sixth in the NFL in kickoff return average.

Were there hiccups on special teams in 2014? Yes. No doubt the successful fake punts by the Lions and Jets come to mind. But the Dolphins special teams also had fine moments such as the blocked field goal and return by Dion Jordan against the Lions.

And overall, the ranking speaks well of the job special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi did.

A troubling thing for the Dolphins (not their fault but still troubling) is that the Buffalo Bills ranked No. 2 on special teams in this study. And the New England Patriots ranked No. 3. The New York Jets ranked No. 20.

No doubt if Rizzi can straighten out kicker Caleb Sturgis, whose field goal percentage was 27th in the NFL, and get punter Brandon Fields back on track after his net punting average dropped to 23rd, the Dolphins may be able to score even higher in 2015.

Of course, that assumes both Sturgis and Fields are still on the team in 2015.

Hickey knows 2015 could be make or break

Dennis Hickey is a realist.

He knows there is a narrative out there, somewhere, that this Miami Dolphins braintrust (except for newly hired executive VP Mike Tannenbaum) has had a chance to shine in the past and may get only one more chance to win in 2015.

He knows coach Joe Philbin, entering his fourth season, may get only one more chance to get the Dolphins in the playoffs and if the Dolphins don't get in Philbin might be swept out after 2015. And Hickey knows despite the fact he's only been the general manager one year so far, he might not last past two years if Philbin fails because he might get swept out with the coach.

So does Hickey feel 2015 is make or break for him and Philbin?

"That’s how I approach every season I’ve ever been a part of," Hickey said this week. "All of the work that’s put in by so many different people, the goal is to win. That’s what everyone in our organization is about, that’s the great thing about adding Mike (Tannenbaum) to the mix, because he’s of the same philosophy, we’re about winning.

"That’s the way I approach every season."

Most general managers get a chance to hire at least one head coach and often two. Hickey hasn't gotten a chance to hire any and in fact woke up one morning three weeks ago and had a new boss -- Tannenbaum -- over him that he didn't have the day before.

And if the Dolphins fail in 2015, Tannenbaum will likely survive based on how owner Stephen Ross has done business so far during his tenure.

Remember that when Ross took over, he got rid of coach Tony Sparano but kept GM Jeff Ireland. Ireland was the man for Ross even when most people believed the general manager had done enough (or failed enough) to be fired.

Then Ross hired Philbin to team with Ireland. And when those two had a falling out, Ross picked his newer hire over the older hire even when a logical argument could have been made for sweeping them both out together.

Well, the advent of Tannenbaum makes him the most recent hire -- the new fair haired boy, so to speak.

And the folks who would be left on the outside looking in if the Dolphins do not succeed in 2015? Philbin and Hickey together, league insiders believe.

The obvious way to avoid such a housecleaning is to win in 2015.

It is indeed make or break.

January 21, 2015

Miami Dolphins salary cap: 'Difficult decisions' loom

The Miami Dolphins have for a few years been in the enviable position of enjoying certain salary cap flexibility that allowed them to spend quite freely in an effort to upgrade the team. That's what generally happens when a team is still building and the quarterback is unproven and not a salary cap burden.

But those days are soon coming to a close.

And that's when people such as Dennis Hickey, Mike Tannenbaum and Dawn Aponte will truly need to become innovative in the manner they manage the cap.

In a manner they haven't had to do for the Dolphins previously.

The fact is the Dolphins would be way over the estimated $140 million cap for 2015 were it not for the carryover they have available to them from 2014. According to NFLPA records, the Dolphins will be carrying over approximately $7.7 million from 2014 and despite this the 58 contracts currently showing will account for $143,342,933 in cap space.

That would put the Dolphins approximately $3.3 million over the expected cap of $140 million.

By contrast, the AFC Champion New England Patriots will be $3.5 million over the expected cap and they are carrying huge cap hits for quarterback Tom Brady and cornerback Darrelle Revis. They're also a better team than Miami, by the way.

So the Dolphins are mediocre. The Dolphins are not yet paying their quarterback a big sum. And they have generally the same cap situation as the Patriots before the offseason wheeling and dealing begins at the start of the league year.

The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets -- in the same boat as the Dolphins on the field -- are in much superior cap position. NFLPA records show the Bills will have approximately $18 million in cap space with 62 contracts counting while the Jets show a whopping $46.4 million in cap space with 52 contracts showing.

What am I telling you?

Well, let Hickey tell you.  

“In the salary cap era, every year you’re going to have tough decisions and difficult decisions and this year's no difference," Hickey said. "So you look at all those things and that’s part of the process. You not only meet with coaching staff, but you’re meeting with Dawn Aponte and her staff and just seeing where we’re at and where we can go to become the team that we want to be."

The team the Dolphins want to be will not involve some players you've come to know -- for better or worse. That's because to get under the cap and then extend themselves some latitude, the Dolphins are going to have to cut players or cut their salaries.

There are nearly a dozen players among the 58 under contract that may be either cut or have their salaries renegotiated (cut) to give the team an ability to conduct business in free agency and the draft.

Some players who might be affected?

Dannell Ellerbe.

Phillip Wheeler.

Randy Starks.

Cortland Finnegan.

Brian Hartline.

Brandon Gibson.

Nate Garner.

Shelley Smith.

Brandon Fields.

Mike Wallace.

There are others if the Dolphins want to get medieval about things. And remember, we're talking about getting rid of some players here. We have not even begun to add talent yet.

Cutting Wheeler, you should know, would only save the Dolphins $200,000 against the cap prior to June 1 but he's on this list because cutting him after June 1 would save $3 million. That pales compared to the $8.45 million Miami can save by cutting Ellerbe after June 1.

The point here is two-fold:

The Dolphins have as much hard work to do as a rival team that is much better than them and pays multiple future Hall of Fame players. And the Dolphins won't initially have the kind of cap freedoms they've enjoyed in the past and other mediocre teams in their division such as the Jets and Bills will continue to enjoy this offseason.

"I can’t speak to the last couple of years," Hickey said, "but I know Dawn’s done a great job with the cap and now we have to, again, we have some difficult decisions upcoming."  

GM Hickey says Ryan Tannehill is the Dolphins future, strikes contrast with words about Wallace

Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey today spoke with the media for the first time since the 2014 season ended and one thing was left very clear from his session at the Senior Bowl, in Mobile, Ala.:

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill definitely has a future with the Dolphins.

Receiver Mike Wallace? Not certain.

Everyone speculatated that already based on what happened throughout last season and, perhaps just as importantly, what happened in the season-finale when Wallace had a public falling out with coaches.

But the fact the team's general manager was so effusive about Tannehill -- saying he is "excited about his future with the Dolphins" -- while declining to give Wallace, the team's highest paid player, anywhere close to similar treatment is telling.

The stats tell you Ryan Tannehill did indeed improve last season over the previous year. But the stats say Wallace, who doubled his TDs from the previous year (10 compared to five), also dramatically improved in the most important category.

(Yes, points scored to me is the most important category as that's what decides game outcomes).

Yet, Tannehill got the kind words from the GM.

"We're really excited about what he accomplished this year and what he's going to continue to accomplish," Hickey said. "... We really like the progress he made and excited about his future with the Dolphins."

And Wallace did not.

"I think we're all frustrated with the way the season went," Hickey said when asked about Wallace. "... The goal is to use that as motivation as we approach the offseason ..."

Hickey's message relative to Wallace is there is a decision to be made about his status -- which shows the club is unhappy with the player in some regards ...

"We're looking at all things with our players," Hickey said.

So is Wallace a fit? Yes or No?

Will Wallace's act in the last game factor into your decision on him?

"We look at all those things with our players," Hickey said. "Again, it was a disappointing finish, there's no sugarcoating that. You have to look at the season in totality. We evaluate players on a daily basis. Every practice, every meeting, all those things. We are constantly looking at players and that's what goes into looking at players in totality as we make decisions."

Well, apparently the evaluation of the quarterback is more or less done. He's got a future in Miami. No issues. Big decision made -- although the Dolphins must decide whether to enter into negotiations for a long-term contract extension or simply exercise a one-year injury guarantee option that extends Tannehill through the 2016 season.

The evaluation of Wallace, meanwhile, will definitely include how he dealt with coaches as well as his chemistry with teammates, particularly Tannehill.

Wallace, as I have reported, privately complained multiple times throughout the season about the number of opportunities he was getting in games. That private issue became quite public when he did it in the season-finale against the New York Jets -- leading to him being benched by coach Joe Philbin.

The entire matter has put Wallace's Miami future in doubt at a time his contract does not necessarily give any of the involved parties motivation to part ways. From a cap perspective, a parting of ways could hurt both the player and the team.

Yet that parting is obviously very much on the table.

And the fact the general manager drew such a stark contrast between the way he addressed the questions about Wallace and Tannehill makes that obvious.

Denzel Perryman convo will be interesting for Dolphins

The Senior Bowl is in full swing and Miami Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey will address the media from Mobile, Ala., today. (Check back for updates on that).

One player Hickey and the Dolphins want to talk to is University of Miami middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, who is a very popular man at the Senior Bowl.

Perryman, the Hurricanes' leading tackler the past couple of years, told reporters Tuesday he had talked to or planned to meet with the Dolphins, Packers, Raiders, Broncos, Panthers, Eagles and Bucs. And that was only after one day in Mobile.

Clearly, the kid is going to be drafted. And he's likely to go somewhere in the second or third round.

But here's the thing:

Drafting Denzel Perryman is going to require a long and thoughtful debate in Miami because while Hickey doesn't often mind drafting players that do not meet prototypical size and speed requirements -- Jarvis Landry is an example -- his right hand man Eric Stokes, Miami's assistant general manager, is a strong proponent of drafting players who meet height, weight, speed requirements.

And Perryman does not meet those requirements.

Perryman on Tuesday was measured at the Senior Bowl at 5-10 1/2 which is obviously smaller than the 6-foot mark the University of Miami listed him at on their roster. Even if Perryman had cracked reached the 6-foot stripe he would be considered an undersized linebacker.

And I know what you are already muttering ...

Zach Thomas was a smallish linebacker at only 5-11 and he was outstanding.

That is true. But Thomas had a heart and motor like Secretariat. He was also quicker than people gave him credit for. And he worked endless hours to hone his craft -- studying ways to improve his body, studying opponents and others who played his position.

Is that Perryman?

I don't know. I do know this: Zach Thomas was a fifth-round draft pick.

 

January 20, 2015

A handful of Miami Dolphins nuggets

We've hit a slow period -- for a couple of hours, anyway -- and so today I will give you multiple topics to consider. Here we go ...

Top of the agenda remains the Dolphins looming decision with Mike Wallace. I've been pondering this for several weeks. I understand it will not be an easy decision.

On the one hand, you have a 10-touchdown contributor who remains a top-tier talent with dynamic play potential -- assuming he and the quarterback can get on the same page on deep passes.

On the other hand, you're also talking about a player who has worn on assistant coaches and, now I'm told, some teammates, with his constant talk of needing more balls thrown his way.

And I think this: Mike Wallace is not a cancer. He is not a troubled guy off the field. Is he a little more self-centered than I would love? Probably. Anyone not thrilled about life when the team wins but he isn't a big part of it (Cleveland 2013) is showing some me-first thinking and that's not good in a team sport.

But you know what, that should be manageable for any solid head coach and coaching staff. Figure it out. Overcome.

The solution is not to simply toss another talented player overboard and create more voids for general manager Dennis Hickey to fill this offseason.

----------

As you know, the NFL is investigating the New England Patriots over the possibility the team sanctioned or allowed their footballs to be deflated in the AFC Championship game while the Indianapolis Colts footballs were not.

This is key because it gives the team using the deflated football an advantage throwing the ball, particularly in bad weather.

This is key to you because if the NFL finds this indeed happened, the Patriots may be fined and more importantly may lose draft picks.

Well, the Patriots have pretty much dismissed the idea of them deflating the football. Tom Brady laughed it off recently on WEEI radio in Boston.

The problem is that on the same radio station in 2011, Brady admitted he liked the football deflated.

In an interview with the station, Brady talked about how the football deflates when tight end Rob Gronkowski spikes it after scoring a touchdown.

"When Gronk scores -- it was like his eighth touchdown of the year -- he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball," Brady said. "But I feel bad for that football because he puts everything he can into those spikes."

Look, I know this may seem petty. But the NFL takes this seriously because it affects the integrity of the game.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are a exemplary organization in that they win consistently, they have one of the NFL' best owners, their head coach and his staff are outstanding and their quarterback is one of the all-time greats. They are just about everything any football fan would want their team to be.

But ...

The fact of the matter is they have a reputation and a history for having cheated in 2007 and possibly before then. The NFL fined head coach Bill Belichick $500,000. The NFL fined the organization $250,000. The NFL did take away a first round draft pick.

That happened. And so when the Patriots are alleged to have done something outside the rules again and the NFL is investigating, it is not to be simply dismissed as a joke.

----------

Andy Dalton is going to the Pro Bowl. Ryan Tannehill is not.

Dalton today took a spot that was supposed to belong to Aaron Rodgers, who is skipping the exhibition game because he is injured.

And Dolphins fans who follow such things are upset that Dalton got picked ahead of their QB. And here is why:

Dalton was an alternate to the game. Tannehill was not.

Dalton simply got more votes despite his 19 TD and 17 interceptions season. Tannehill, meanwhile, had a 27 TD and 12 interception season but he is not an alternate.

The only other Dolphins alternates were Mike Pouncey and Lamar Miller. Pouncey is in the game. Miller was obviously not as high an alternate as Denver's C.J. Anderson, who today replaced an injured Le'Veon Bell in the game.

And I think this: Sometimes when voting shows an obvious disregard for the facts on the field -- as in picking an inferior QB over a superior QB -- it would make sense for the NFL to step in and fix the issue.

The Pro Bowl purist might complain. The realist understands the Pro Bowl is dying a slow death and there have been multiple changes in recent years to save the game. Picking better players might be one logical way.

----------

Former Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has either joined the New Orleans Saints front office. Or he hasn't.

ESPN reported today he had. FoxSports 1 reported he had not.

My guess is Ireland, looking for a job since leaving the Dolphins a year ago, will eventually join the Saints but nothing is official yet.

I wish Ireland the best. He wasn't the best GM in the world. Neither was he the worst, by the way.

Like everyone else, he missed on some and hit on some. I think we realize now that the players he picked the last two years weren't always helped by the coaching in Miami.

----------

Senior Bowl practices begin today and if I were the Dolphins, I'd be up in the grill of as many cornerbacks as possible. I believe Miami needs to get a cornerback early in the next draft -- that and interior offensive linemen.

And I believe it goes beyond that ... I believe the Dolphins need to get bigger at the position.

When 5-10 Brent Grimes is covering 6-5 Calvin Johnson in a game one on one, that is not a winning matchup for the Dolphins.

The good news the next draft offers multiple taller cornerbacks who don't already play for the Seattle Seahawks.

At the Senior Bowl the Dolphins must pay attention to Quinten Rollins out of Miami of Ohio. He has great ball skills. He's also 6 feet tall.

Other outstanding prospect cornerbacks who are big and will be available in this draft:

Trae Wayans is 6-1.

Kevin Johnson is 6-1.

Will Redmond is 6-foot. 

 

January 19, 2015

NFL title games a lesson in finishing

Did you watch the two games on Championship Sunday?

If you didn't watch because you are a Miami Dolphins fan and your team has conditioned you that football season ends the last week of December then please take a look at what happened on Sunday because it serves as a lesson for what is highly important.

Finishing.

Sunday was a lesson in finishing -- a how-to and how-not-to.

The Green Bay Packers, an outstanding team by most accounts, did a terrible job of finishing on Sunday in the NFC Championship game. Leading by 16 points at halftime and by 12 with just over five minutes to play, the Packers all but had a Super Bowl ticket punched late Sunday afternoon.

And then they failed to finish.

The Packers collected their fourth interception of the day to seemingly seal a victory but safety Morgan Burnett personified the misbegotten spirit that possessed the team by simply falling to the ground with the pick instead of charging downfield for an extra 10-15 yards to get his offense closer to field goal range.

(He was obviously trying to avoid a fumble by going to the ground. He was, obviously, trying to play not to lose instead of pressing the issue.)

No problem. All was still good at that point for the Packers and the Seahawks had to feel deflated.

And then Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, a gambler throughout the season, went into a shell. He has Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. He has a fine offensive line that protects Rodgers like the QB was Fort Knox. McCarthy also has an outstanding, winning receiver corps.

But against a stacked tackle box, McCarthey ran the football on first down. Ran the football on second down. Ran the football on third down. The strategy lost four yards. It took 72 seconds. Punt.

And then the roof caved in for Green Bay. Seattle drove for a TD. Green Bay still led 19-14. Then Seattle attempted and succeeded in recovering an onside kick. And then the Seahawks scored another TD and converted a two-point conversion.

Suddenly, the Seahawks led 22-19.

The Packers, now desperate, unleashed Rodgers again and got themselves a field goal to tie the game. Where was this before?

Anyway, the game went to overtime and Seattle scored a TD on its first possession. Game over.

And the lesson?

Well, the Dolphins had games against Denver, Detroit and Green Bay practically won for 55 minutes last season. And then breakneck comebacks happened. And losses happened.

It was as if nobody knew an NFL game is 60 minutes long.

Was it coaches going into a shell? Was it not having a killer instinct? Was it sudden lack of talent showing itself in the final five minutes after hiding for 55 minutes? A lack of execution? What was it?

All I know is no loss leaves a more bitter taste than a loss after a game that seems won. It is deflating. It raises questions both inside and outside the organization. And when it happens over and over and over it cannot be dismissed as sheer happenstance.

The AFC Championship game also is a lesson in finishing.

The New England Patriots demolished the Indianapolis Colts and in doing so looked nothing like the team the Dolphins beat in the regular-season opener.

The Patriots, everyone would agree, started slow and were not a very good football team early on -- managing only a 2-2 record the first four weeks. But they're 12-2 the past 14 weeks.

The Patriots grew. They found their identity. They settled players into roles that seemed better, right -- moving players around on the offensive line, making multiple lineup changes at running back, even playing Darrelle Revis differently later in the season than they did earlier.

This wasn't atypical. The Patriots often get better as the season progresses.

They seem to often finish better than they start.

And that is a stark contrast to the Dolphins.

The Dolphins are 5-3 in September the past two years and if that level had been maintained, the team would have been in the playoffs in 2013 and perhaps in '14 as well. But that didn't happen either season because the Dolphins finished poorly both seasons.

Miami lost the final two games in '13 and lost three of the final four in '14. A defense that was solid early in the season had, for multiple reasons, fallen off the table by season's end. And an offense that is young, that should be growing together, was struggling more at season's end than it did earlier in the year.

Opponents, it seemed, had figured the Miami offense out.

Look, I'm not going to blame a lack of talent exclusively. I'm not going to blame a lack of execution exclusively. I'm not going to blame the coaching exclusively.

I expect everyone knows all of them have conspired to make up late-season nose dives that all fans would rather forget.

So what's the solution to finishing poorly and not improving over the season like the best team in the AFC East does?

No, the answer is not deflating footballs, smart guys.

The Dolphins will again this offseason try to improve their talent. They will try to fill holes. They will address what they believe are needs, wants and must-haves. There's nothing new in this. My personal opinion is Miami's two biggest needs are cornerback and guards (one for certain, but perhaps two). Linebacker later, people.

The Dolphins must also study the approach of their coaching staff. What are they doing that habitually gets less rather than more production out of players late in the season? What can they change to change a now obvious trend? How can they finish close games better? Is it more aggressiveness on offense and defense? Less aggressiveness on offense or defense? Less Kodaking? Better clock managment?

When Sunday's game was over, Aaron Rodgers sighed and said, "We gave it away."

Dolphins fans know how he felt.

January 16, 2015

Decision on Kevin Coyle's status has been made

Kevin Coyle is staying with the Miami Dolphins and keeping his job as defensive coordinator.

Coyle's status had been uncertain since season's end in part because the Miami defense had a disappointing year and in part because head coach Joe Philbin had not been clear on what direction he was going to take with his assistant after the season.

"I need obviously some time to think about some things," Philbin said the day after Miami's season ended. "The season just ended, but I haven’t made any decisions about any coaches for 2015, none of them.”

That was the last word on the topic from the Dolphins. And so as the weeks passed and there was no factual direction on the matter, speculation grew Philbin was at least considering accomplished defensive coordinators such as Jim Schwartz, Dick LeBeau, Vic Fangio and others after they were discharged from their jobs and became available.

But if the coach entertained such considerations at all, he has now dismissed them.

Coyle remains the Miami defensive coordinator.

And this is what I think: Get used to it. There is little to be gained by arguing the contrary (if that's what you believe) when it absolutely is not going to be done. This is indeed an eletion. But only one man gets a vote. That man is Philbin. And he's cast his vote in favor of Coyle. So wish Coyle success.

The Dolphins need success from Coyle, certainly more than they've had lately.

The defense slumped, particularly late in the season, and finished 20th in the NFL in points allowed. It is their lowest finish in the most important statistical category since 2009.

Interestingly, part of the argument against Coyle is that he took over a defense that was No. 6 in the NFL in points allowed and in his three years the unit regressed to No. 7, No. 8, and then No. 20 last season.

But rather than blaming Coyle for the drop, Philbin is obviously charging Coyle with fixing the problems.

Those problems?

The Dolphins have to find a way to play better late in the season instead of worse. The Dolphins allowed 41, 28, 35 and 37 points the final four games. Cornerstone players such as Brent Grimes, who had been outstanding early in the year, faded for some unknown reason.

Grimes wasn't alone. The Dolphins got more production from their entire defensive line earlier in the season than it did after about the halfway mark. And, interestingly, the linebacker corps seemed to be more productive early in the year when there was uncertainty and unexpected injuries (such as Dannell Ellerbe going out for the year and Koa Misi missing multiple weeks) than later in the year.

Coyle has admitted he needs to figure out a plan this offseason for maximizing, and indeed developing, Dion Jordan. Jordan was a No. 3 overall selection out of Oregan in 2013. For multiple reasons including a shoulder issue and an NFL suspension he has failed to get fully integrated into the Miami system.

The Dolphins at times use him as a 4-3 defensive end. And sometimes they use him as a strongside linebacker. So what is he?

Coyle is a proponent of the 4-3 defense and so his retention likely means the Dolphins will remain a base 4-3 team. Early in the coach's Miami career that was something of an issue because the personnel Coyle inherited had been acquired to play a 3-4 scheme.

One assumes another offseason in which the personnel department seeks talent upgrades for the scheme Coyle intends to run may help that matter.

And help is definitely necessary.

The Dolphins this offseason have obvious needs at linebacker -- particularly middle linebacker where the Misi experiment did not -- and cornerback, where the Dolphins may lose Cortland Finnegan to retirement.

(Finnegan has not announced his final intention to retire but he hinted at it previously and brought numerous family and friends to the Miami season-finale so they could ostensibly watch him play one final NFL game).

Even if Finnegan tries to play again, he also was not very good after he suffered a high ankle sprain midway through the season.

The Dolphins also have a number of free agents from the defensive side of the ball, including Jared Odrick, Louis Delmas and Jimmy Wilson, so the return of those players is uncertain. The team also may make salary cap related moves concerning Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler.

So in that respect the defense may be changing in 2015.

But the defensive coordinator will not.

January 15, 2015

PFF end of season recap of Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins season ended with a whimper (again) and the team is already into its offseason planning. Part of that planning has been studying and gaining an understanding of how the 2014 team played.

My friends at ProFootballFocus.com offer this end of season recap of the Dolphins:

Offensive line

Left tackle Branden Albert went out for the season Nov. 9 at Detroit but his +17.5 was still good enough to rank him eighth best among all tackles, which highlights how big of a blow the Albert injury was to the Dolphins/

After a promising start to his rookie season, right tackle Ja’Wuan James struggled in the move to left tackle. Since Week 10, James’ -30.0 is the worst of any tackle in the league, and his 29 hurries allowed in that time were 11 more than any other tackle.

Translation?

Ja'Wuan James is not a left tackle, folks. We knew this. He was not drafted for this. Cannot kill the kid for this.

Coinciding with James’ move to LT was Dallas Thomas starting five games at RT. James had the worst grade of any tackle since Week 10, but Thomas was third-worst at -20.3. He allowed seven sacks, five hits, and 14 hurries in his five starts.

Remember the Dolphins coaching staff stubbornly refusing to remove Thomas from the lineup?Remember me saying Jason Fox would be a better option -- no, not great but better?

Well, in the two games Fox started he performed well against Minnesota and poorly against the New York Jets in the season finale (who didn't)? But combined Fox graded out a -3 with no sacks allowed those two games.

Not great. But better than Thomas.

Passing

Quaterback Ryan Tannehill had a 99.7 rating when throwing deep outside the numbers to the right. He went 8-for-21 for 252 yards with a TD. It was down the deep middle of the field and to the left where he struggled, going a combined 8-for-32 for 226 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs.

Tannehill was pressured on 38.3% of his drop-backs, sixth-most in the league, and took a sack on 18.2 percent of his pressured drop-backs, which was 12th most in the league. If you interpret these stats, it suggests Tannehill successfully avoided sacks more often than not when pressured.

Rushing

On 177 carries in 2013, Lamar Miller forced 20 missed tackles. On 216 totes in 2014, Miller forced 32 misses. So Miller did improve the percentage of plays in which he made tacklers miss.

One area where Miller still needs to improve is the passing game. His six drops on 44 catchable balls yielded the fifth-worst drops among halfbacks who saw at least 25% of their team’s running back targets.

Receiving

Tannehill’s passer rating when targeting his receivers: Mike Wallace 114 passer rating for Tannehill, Jarvis Landry 96.6 passer rating for Tannehill, Brian Hartline 91.1 passer rating for Tannehill, Brandon Gibson 77.9 passer rating for Tannehill.

Oh-oh, Brandon.

Despite playing injured for most of the season and even missing two games, tight end Charles Clay received a similar grade in the passing game in 2014 (+4.0) as he did in 2013 (+5.0). He also vastly improved his run blocking from -6.1 in ’13 to +2.9 in ’14.

Jarvis Landry, like a lot of rookies, appeared to hit the wall late in the season. Through the first 13 weeks, he was 13th in the league in YAC (315 yards), but over the last four weeks, fell to 39th (92 yards).

The folks at PFF credit the rookie wall. I offer this alternative: The Patriots, Ravens, Vikings, and Jets -- all coached very well on defense -- changed up coverage strategies on Landry near the end of the season after seeing on tape what he had done earlier in the year.

Defensive Summary

After sitting out the first four games while on suspension, safety Reshad Jones’ +14.4 led all NFL safeties from Week 5 onward. Despite playing just 38 percent of his run snaps within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, Jones had a 7.6 percent run stop rate that was third best among safeties. When he did play within eight yards on run plays, that run stop rate improved to 13 percent.

Defensive end Cameron Wake’s 65 pressures were fourth among all 4-3 DEs, behind Charles Johnson, Michael Bennett, and Junior Galette.

Dion Jordan rushed the passer 103 times in 2014 and produced 12 pressures. He dropped into coverage 40 times.

Derrick Shelby had a -2.3 grade overall, but excelled versus the run (+6.7). His 10.3 percent run stop rate was fifthe among all 4-3 DEs who received at least 25 percent of their club’s run snaps.

Coverage

Both Cortland Finnegan and Jimmy Wilson were exposed in the slot, each allowing a 120-plus passer rating to the opposing quarterback when covering the slot receiver. In limited time before he was injured, Michael Thomas allowed two catches on 35 snaps in the slot.

Brent Grimes had a +5.8 coverage grade through nine games, allowing a 60.0 passer rating against him. Over the last 7 games, however, his coverage grade fell to -5.7 and he allowed a 118.0 rating to opposing quarterbacks.

January 14, 2015

Dolphins OL must meet great force with greater force

The NFL does nothing in a vacuum and so today when the Buffalo Bills introduce Rex Ryan as their new head coach it will have ripple effects.

In South Florida the ripples have the potential of looking like waves crashing against quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That's because Buffalo's new coach, as most of you understand, is a very good defensive coach. Regardless of what you think of him or his head coaching ability, there can be little dispute he knows defense. His teams may often stink but his defense consistently troubles with multiple schemes and confusing blitzes and innovative wrinkles.

And now Ryan takes over the Bills defense.

Let me see ... Buffalo's defense finished the 2014 season No. 4 in the NFL in points allowed. They were No. 3 in the NFL with 30 takeaways. They led the NFL with 54 sacks. They sent three defensive linemen -- Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams -- to the Pro Bowl.

They are expected to get outstanding young linebacker Kiko Alsonso back after he missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.

And Rex Ryan is going to coach them. On Tuesday, Ryan released a statement thanking former Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz for his service to the organization and releasing him to find other opportunities. Part of that statement read, "our plan is for our defense to continue to play well and be a dominating force.”

Which part of all that makes a Dolphins fan feel good?

Ryan stays in a division that already boasts defensive wizard Bill Belichick. In New York, the Jets Tuesday hired former Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, another budding defensive guru based on his work with Cardinals the past two years.

It is enough to make one feel, I'll say it, queasy.

So how does this affect your Miami Dolphins? Must I spell it out?

The only way an answer force in the NFL is with superior force (great, I sound like Patton now). If the Bills are going to have a great, attacking, "dominating" defense that has three Pro Bowl players on the defensive line, then the Dolphins need to do work on their offensive line.

Winning the AFC East is impossible without a great offensive line. Simple as that.

The Dolphins have the nucleus for a very good offensive line. Assuming left tackle Branden Albert returns to form (so far, so good) and stays healthy, and Mike Pouncey can go back to the center spot he has told the team he prefers, the Dolphins have a good start.

Ja'Wuan James can then go back to right tackle and this offseason must work to improve a body that is a little soft, to be frank, so that next year his run blocking can catch up with his solid pass protection.

That's three chips.

GM Salguero re-signs free agent Samson Satele as a backup center. That does not mean he is the plan at starting guard if GM Salguero fails to get a guard, because GM Salguero will find a superior guard barring something akin to a Biblical flood. Satele is simply a fallback at center should Pouncey struggle with health. Period.

As to the guard situation. Daryn Colledge is a free agent. Wish him well. He filled a void in 2014 (more or less) but he is not the answer for a team needing OL upgrade.

Indeed, let's address this right here: Cheap, off the scrap heap, stopgaps, projects and back of the draft guys are not too often the answer. The Dolphins last year had a chance to spend in free agency to upgrade at guard but chose instead to be thrifty -- signing Colledge and Shelley Smith fairly cheaply.

They got what they paid for. Neither guy is a blue chip. Yet combined they cost $4.5 million worth of cap space that could have more wisely been used on one better player such as Jon Asamoah or Zane Beadles. No, those guys aren't awesome but they were pretty good both of them, Asamoah in particular.

Note to Dennis Hickey: The Patriots have Belichick. Buffalo is coming at you with a Saks-type defensive line. The Jets have a front seven from Neiman Marcus. 

Stop shopping at Target.

So this offseason I'm looking at pending San Francisco 49ers free agent guard Mike Iupati. Loyal readers of this blog will remember I advocated drafting Iupati in the first round in 2010. The Dolphins instead got Jared Odrick, who is good but never stamped the defense with his game or audacious personality.

Iupati can help stamp the offensive line with a physical, no-nonsense approach that makes total sense. Will he be expensive? Sure, he will. But again, you buy a $500 pair of English or Italian shoes in 2015, you'll still be wearing them in 2020. You buy a cheap Chinese-made pair in 2015, you'll be barefoot in 2016.

The next issue I tackle centers around 2014 third-round draft pick Billy Turner.

Turner played left tackle at It's Very Cold Up There University. He is not an NFL left tackle and plus the Dolphins have one. The Dolphins also didn't draft him to play right tackle because that was the vision for James.

So the vision was to play Turner at guard, preferably left guard.

Then life got in the way. Turner injured a foot in training camp and that derailed his season because this coaching staff simply cannot get guys who fall behind in camp caught up for whatever reason. It happened last year with Dallas Thomas and Dion Jordan and the Jamar Taylor and Willie Davis. It happened this year with Turner.

"It was a little tough because I got injured right away and it cost me six or seven weeks so that changed the process for me," Turner told me recently. "I faced a little adversity there. But coming back from the injury and talking to the coaches they said they wanted me to focus on my technique and whatnot and from the point I came back to where I was at the end of the season.

"I thought my technique got 100 times better than it was. On a personal level, I know my technique got much better and that's going to make me that much better and much more capable to play when I do get my shot."

Great. But here's the issue: The coaching staff used Turner as a guard when he got healthy because that was the original vision but that changed to tackle once Branden Albert went down with an injury. When Nate Garner then went down with his migraines, coaches worked Turner at both guard and tackle in practice.

Turner, a rookie, never settled in anywhere. And I get it because once the season threatens difficult issues they need to be resolved somehow.

But this offseason offers a fresh start. Pick a side for Billy Turner and slot him in at guard on that side. No, Dallas Thomas is not better. No, Shelley Smith shouldn't be ahead of him. No, Garner isn't going to be your answer there, either.

Turner is a third-round pick. Count on that pick to pan out. Tell Turner, who is currently unsure what he's going to play, that he is a guard. Let him start getting his mind right to play guard.

And then play Billy Turner at guard.

"Who wouldn't like to settle into a position but at the same time, who knows where you're going to end up," Turner told me.

No. Wrong.

The Dolphins should know. And they should let Turner know.

And, by the way, I'm not awarding the spot to Turner. He starts out as the starter in January. But he needs to get stronger and change that body this offseason. He knows that. He also needs competition.

Draft, please.

I hear there aren't a lot of great interior offensive line prospects at guard. But the plan should definitely call for the Dolphins adding a guard if one is available relatively early in the draft.

Again, the Bills are going to come at this team with a high-priced defense and a newly minted defense-minded coach. Belichick is king of the division. And the Jets front seven merits respect.

Your quarterback Ryan Tannehill has endured more sacks the past two seasons than any other NFL quarterback. You need to make a franchise defining decision on Tannehill after the 2015 season. So put him in the best position to maximize his talents by protecting him.

It is quite fundamental, really.

Don't allow yourself to be sitting in the same position next year where people are having to project how good Tannehill is or is not based on the fact he had to work under the most adverse circumstances -- no protection -- in the NFL.

Address the offensive line.

Meet Rex Ryan's force (not to mention Bill Belichick's and Todd Bowles') ... with greater force. 

January 13, 2015

NFL continuity as an overrated concept

One of the most over-used and now cliche concepts for managing an NFL team is the adherence to continuity.

Great NFL teams preach continuity and practice what they preach, the common thinking goes. Those teams have men they trust at the top of their organizations and on their coaching staff and they stick with those guys come gray skies or blue. It is, the uninitiated contend, the most tested way to be successful.

And to put evidence behind their argument people who believe continuity is great point to the New England Patriots. The Patriots, you see, are a model of continuity. Since 2012 the Patriots and Green Bay Packers are one of only two NFL teams with the same head coach, same starting quarterback, same offensive coordinator and same defensive coordinator.

They are the New England Rock of Gibraltars.

Yeah, this is all quaint. But it is flawed.

I believe in NFL continuity but only when continuing down the same path is the right thing to do. I believe in NFL continuity when one is trying to continue something, you know, successful. I believe in continuity when one has total confidence the folks with which one is continuing are the best people you can get.

And that is why I dismiss the call for complete continuity within the Miami Dolphins.

Anyone who has read this space or my columns or follows me on twitter (you should follow if you don't already) knows I believe the Dolphins would be better served replacing defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle. I'm not alone on this. Some people within multiple branches of the Dolphins organization share the same opinion.

But so far, head coach Joe Philbin, whose contract gives him authority over the composition of his coaching staff, does not agree. So far, Kevin Coyle is still the Dolphins defensive boss.

Continuity!

But here is my problem: What are the Dolphins looking to continue?

A continued inability to maximize the defensive talent on the roster? So we can expect more days of no solid plan for Dion Jordan? More days of Chris McCain showing great promise in the season opener and then becoming less functional on defense as the year moves forward?  More days of experimenting with linebackers who underperform while sitting linebackers who are better? (This happened, see Jelani Jenkins). More days of players (Jamar Taylor, Willie Davis, Jordan) not developing? More days of players (Vontae Davis, Sean Smith, Karlos Dansby) leaving the team and performing better at their new stops than they did here? More days of players (Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler, Dansby again, Kevin Burnett) coming here and performing worse than they did at previous stops or here under previous coaches?

More days of a defense allowing more points every passing year?

I do not think that merits continuity.

I believe all those truths combined are reasons for dismissal even if one thinks continuity is wonderful. And I don't think it is wonderful for its own sake. I think continuity is over-rated.

Consider my arguments:

Would it have been better for the Dolphins to have continuity with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman last season over the hiring of Bill Lazor?

If you answered yes, you must immediately purchase and wear a dunce cap.

The Denver Broncos on Monday "mutually agreed" to part ways with head coach John Fox. The man had a 46-18 record in Denver. He coached four years and won four AFC West titles. He won one AFC Championship. He went to one Super Bowl.

But his team was eliminated in the first-round of the playoffs Sunday -- the second time that has happened in his four seasons -- and John Elway decided it was time to shift gears.

The continuity advocates must be apoplectic.

I do not criticize Elway because he realized that despite Fox's success the coach did not lift the team to its expected heights, particular at the end of seasons. That team was built to win a Super Bowl. And it didn't. Fox had run his course in Denver and failed to finish.

Next.

Remember, Elway is the man who had a highly paid starting quarterback in Kyle Orton. And when Orton wasn't winning in 2011, he was benched in favor of Tim Tebow. And even though Tebow rescued what was a losing team and helped the team go to the playoffs and win a playoff game, he got replaced the next offseason by Peyton Manning.

Elway does not accept continuity for the sake of merely reaching the same height over and over even if the last guy enjoyed some level of success. Elway apparently believes in being aggressive to reach higher.

Is it a gamble? No doubt.

But every NFL season is a gamble. There is no sure thing with change. But I remind you there definitely is no certainty with continuity, either.

About that continuity paradigm again ... yes, the Patriots have been staying the course. The Green Bay Packers also are a model of staying the course. Did either of those two teams stay the course when their outstanding starting quarterbacks could be replaced with younger, possibly better replacements?

No. They made bold changes.

The Super Bowl teams last year were Seattle and Denver -- teams that embrace change. I've outlined the Denver change. The Seahawks had a different defensive coordinator last year than the year before. They brought Percy Harvin in and sent him packing just as easily and indeed, let multiple good players go with no remorse.

One of the NFL's most improved teams this year? The Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones has juggled that coaching staff every season the past four years.

The Buffalo Bills went from six wins to nine wins this season -- and their defense got better with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

The Colts are in the AFC title game. They fired Jim Caldwell. He coached three years there. He had a .542 winning percentage. But he had one bad year without Peyton Manning in 2011 and he was gone. Three seasons. Good-bye. Oh, the Colts also got rid of Manning. And they got rid of Bill Polian who has built not one, not two, but three franchises into Super Bowl teams.

So the Colts cleaned house in 2012 after years and years of success -- continuity be damned.

Did I mention the Colts are in the AFC title game on Sunday?

Baltimore is considered a pillar of continuity. Except they fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in-season during a losing skid in 2012 ... and then went on to win the Super Bowl the same season. The team has had three offensive coordinators the past three years. This team sheds cornerstone players such as Ed Reed (not re-signed), Todd Heap, Anquan Boldin, Micheal Oher, Derrick Mason, and others, as if it was changing clothes. 

People that worship continuity typically run toward two cathedrals to give their little icon sanctuary.

1. They say perpetual losers are in constant flux. They point to teams such as Cleveland or Oakland. But they inexplicably make the leap that change is the reason for the losing rather than understanding that it's exactly the other way around.

It's the losing, my friends, that is the reason for the change.

I just showed you examples of how change has proven to be quite profitable for many good organizations. These organizations realize when you don't have the right people on board, you throw them over the side and look for other right people.

The problem comes when organizations either hire wrong people and A. do not change them or B. change them but hire more wrong people.

This is not a problem in change being wrong. This is an issue with wrong change being wrong, just as wrong continuity is wrong.

The other argument people use to favor continuity is pointing at the past where coaches or players or whomever struggled early on and then, given ample time, succeeded.

These people love to use Hall of Fame coaches Tom Landry and Chuck Noll as examples.

Landry began his head coaching career with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960 and compiled a 19-46 record his first five seasons. And, the narrative goes, Landry then blossomed because he was given enough time and his owner Clint Murchison Sr. allowed for continuity to take root.

What these folks do not say is Tom Landry took over an expansion franchise. The man was handed, well, nothing. He had to build from a dirt practice field on up. Comparing him to a coach handed an established mediocre team -- or in the Coyle case, a playoff-caliber defense -- is intellectually deceitful. 

Noll? He was 1-13 his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers and, the continuity brigade argues, the ability of the Rooney ownership to stay the course with him paid off handsomely five years later when the Steelers started a dynastic run.

What folks leave out is Noll took over a team that had lost 40 games the previous four seasons. So no, he didn't immediately turn things around his first year. But he improved his second year, and his third year and his fourth year. He showed constant improvement. And seeing constant improvement breeds continued confidence things will stay pointed in the right direction.

That is not the case with the Dolphins defense and is actually the opposite of what we're seeing with a unit that has regressed.

By the way, the Steelers, a team known for continuity, just "parted ways" with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. LeBeau, 77, made it very clear he is not retiring and is already on the radar in Arizona if Todd Bowles gets a head coaching job.

Two good coaches on the move.

So much for continuity for its own sake.

January 12, 2015

WR room decisions Part Deux: Landry, Matthews

In discussing the uncertainty with the Miami Dolphins wide receiver room in the previous post, I gave Rishard Matthews and Jarvis Landry a virtual pass based on their salaries. But just as the team must make decisions on its high priced veterans, it must also make lesser calls on its younger pass catchers, too.

Matthews, for example, has been on the endangered list with the Dolphins for quite some time. Despite his youth (three NFL seasons) and penchant for having solid training camps, I know he is not a favorite among coaches, particularly Joe Philbin. And I know given his choice, he'd also rather be elsewhere.

This past season Matthews was fined multiple times for being late to meetings and he failed to make weight as well. All you have to know about Matthews and his future with the team is found in the final two weeks of the season.

He was not injured prior to the Minnesota game Dec. 21. He was not on the injury report even once. But he was inactive for that game for disciplinary reasons.

He was not injured prior to the New York Jets game Dec. 28. He was not on the injury report even once. But he was inactive for that game for disciplinary reasons.

After Matthews was active in each of the first 14 games of the season, coaches apparently had enough and made the player a healthy scratch the last two weeks of the season. Not the best way to end a season, folks.

And, by the way, the move (not the decision by coaches but rather by Matthews forcing their hand) had painful repercussions in the season finale.

The Dolphins went into that game with their four other wide receivers active. But when Mike Wallace had his episode and didn't play the second half against New York, the Dolphins were left with only three wide receivers the entire second half.

That hurt the team.

Look, a team relies on the limited resources of its 53 players. And when one of those guys, even a bottom of the roster guy such as Matthews, doesn't pull his weight, it can show up on game day.

So do the Dolphins continue to coax Matthews along, hoping he finally straightens out? Or does Joe Philbin, who I remind you has no great fondness for Matthews, finally demand Miami go in another direction before the 2015 season begins?

Jarvis Landry is another matter. He's outstanding.

He's a hard worker. He brings attitude and toughness to his position. His status on the team is not in question.

But because the Dolphins have to decide what they're going to do with several of the other guys in the wide receiver room, the moves may affect Landry. Remember, a team feels the ripple effects down to the last man.

And so at some point the decision on Landry will be as follows: Is he simply a slot receiver, nothing more, nothing less? Or can he play outside?

It is an important question.

If the Dolphins decide Landry can be a good receiver outside, they would then have latitude to make decisions on Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson they might not otherwise make. It's as simple as having a ready replacement on the roster if the team gets rid of somebody.

But if the Dolphins decide Landry is a slot receiver -- and only a slot receiver - the latitude for making other decisions on outside receivers Hartline, Wallace and Gibson becomes more cloudy.

Fans will overwhelmingly believe Landry can be good on the outside. But fans do not watch tape and their jobs are not on the line based on these calls.

I've had multiple NFL sources tell me there is little doubt that moving Landry outside would be a mistake. Landry, they say, is great running short routes against the other team's third best cornerback, but outide his lack of elite speed or size would become problematic.

Landry, they say, wouldn't be able to separate on longer routes because of his (lack of) speed and quickness which reportedly has him running the 40 anywhere from 4.68 to 4.59. And at 5-11 and 200, he's not an obvious mismatch in the size and strength department that some slower receivers are.

Again, these NFL people say Landry is a budding star NFL slot receiver. But outside he'd be a JAG (just a guy).

And they point to his statistics this year as the tip of that argument. Landry caught 84 passes for 758 yards this year. That's a 9-yard-per-catch average.

Nine yards per catch for a WR is poor.

That average tied Landry for 289th in the NFL.

Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas, an unspectacular player, averaged 9.3 yards per catch.

Again, Landry was very good as a slot guy. But translate to the outside where quickness, speed or size are required?

Another interesting decision for the Dolphins to make this offseason.  

January 11, 2015

Uncertainty within the Dolphins WR room

The Miami Dolphins wide receiver corps will be an interesting place for offseason decisions soon.

The team could keep or cut Brian Hartline, Mike Wallace or Brandon Gibson. Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews are youngsters who are still on their rookie contracts so there's no financial decision to make on them.

And in his first interview since the 2014 season ended, Brian Hartline tells me he's feeling the uncertainty of the situation. Hartline is asking the Dolphins to make a relatively quick decision on his status and communicate that within the next couple of weeks.

To me, the decisions that need to be made are quite difficult.

Let's look at the situation:

Wallace is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $12.1 million against the cap in 2015. No one, and I do mean no one is going to take that contract in trade so get that out of your mind now. He is also not going to accept a pay cut, per a source.

So the Dolphins' choice is to decide to keep Wallace or cut him.

If the Dolphins cut Wallace post June 1 (either in fact or through a post-June 1 designation, of which they get two) they can save $6.9 million of cap space but would carry $5.2 million of dead money. If they cut him prior to June 1 the cap savings is only $2.5 million and the team would carry a whopping $9.6 million in dead money on the player.

Wallace, by the way, is going to get $3 million in actual dollars from the Dolphins even if he is cut because that money is guaranteed.

The issue gets tricky with Wallace because making a decision on him is not soley a cap issue. As I and the NFL Network reported weeks ago, Wallace told his position coach and later repeated to his head coach that if he wasn't getting the football thrown to him, there was no need for him to play just prior to halftime of the season-finale against the New York Jets. This according to multiple team sources. Wallace has denied this.

But not only did he do it, I am told he did it previously, including in the 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots. Indeed, Wallace voiced this complaint to position coach Phil McGeoghan previously but the season-finale was the first time I know quarterback Ryan Tannehill was upset with Wallace about this matter (forcing him to complain to McGeoghan as pictured) and the first time the issue went all the way up to head coach Joe Philbin (as pictured below). Philtanny

So the issue now is whether Philbin can keep Wallace on the team and keep the respect of the locker room at the same time -- knowing that dozens of players in the locker room, including the starting quarterback, are aware of what happened and are now looking to see whether Wallace gets away with it.

It is going to be an interesting decision.

Moving on ...

Hartline is scheduled to cost the Dolphins $7.35 million in cap space. I don't believe any team is going to take that contract, either, so trading him is unlikely.

The Dolphins can try to renegotiate and by that I mean try to negotiate a pay cut. But Hartline obviously doesn't have to accept. 

If the Dolphins cut Hartline post June 1 (either in fact or through a post-June 1 designation, of which they get two) they can save $5.95 million of cap space but would carry $1.4 million of dead money in 2015. If they cut him prior to June 1 the cap savings is $3.1 million and the team would carry $4.2 million in dead money on the player.

Gibson is in the final year of his contract. He is scheduled to cost $4.26 million against the cap. The Dolphins could try to trade Gibson but who is going to rent him for one year at such a high price? They could also try to renegotiate a pay-cut but he would decline, according to a source.

So to save money here, cutting him is the only real option. If the Dolphins cut Gibson they would save $3.26 million of cap space regardless of whether they do it before or after June 1. The team would nonetheless carry $1 million in dead money.

Those are the choices. Those are the decisions the Dolphins must make about their very high priced wide receiver room.

Me? I cut Gibson, and save $3.26 million. I would also ask Hartline to take a reasonable pay cut -- it cannot be too large because otherwise he'll reject it and the team will have to cut him. And, trust me, he'll be way more productive in New England or Indianapolis than he was with the Dolphins because he's a good player.

PhilbinwallaceBut, understand, I'm not the Dolphins. I'm giving this opinion in a vacuum based on not having to live with Mike Wallace. His attitude behind the scenes is definitely an issue. He puts a good face on everything in front of reporters and the TV cameras but the coaches and the players know he's something of a diva. He's also hard working and potentially dynamic. But he's a diva nonetheless.

There are no easy answers here, folks. Actually, it feels like there are no right answers.

So that is why I would take the road of least resistance.

January 08, 2015

Joe Philbin's must improve his messaging

Joe Philbin often spends considerable time on his messaging. The Miami Dolphins coach told me that days before the game against Denver he was already thinking about what he would tell players after that victory. His message was going to be not to look past the coming Dec. 1 game against the New York Jets now that everyone believed the team was pretty good after going to Denver and beating Peyton Manning.

Well, the planning went for naught because the Dolphins didn't win at Denver. But the point is Philbin puts a lot of time and effort into his messaging.

Unfortunately for him, it sometimes doesn't strike the right chord.

And that is what I'm told happened the final week of the season.

Early that last week, when the Dolphins were 8-7, I'm told by multiple sources that Philbin's main message to the team was to make a reach for 9-7.

That was it.

It was just win for the sake of having a winning season. Philbin explained the history -- how Miami hadn't had a winning season since 2008 and that this game represented an opportunity to be 9-7.

And how did that go over?

"I care about making the playoffs and I knew we weren't going to make the playoffs so to me the season was a disappointment whether we finished 9-7 or whatever," one source said. "I didn't care about 9-7. I was thinking playoffs or no playoffs and that's where my head was at when he said that."

Well, Saturday night before the game Philbin changed the message.

No, he didn't mention the possibility of making the playoffs.

Sources say he told the team to remember the San Diego game of eight weeks prior and think about the feeling everyone enjoyed after that game -- that sense of victory and great accomplishment. He told players to recall earlier great performances in the season and think about the feeling they had after those games.

And he told the team everyone should want to feel like that after the season-finale.

I cannot tell you how everyone felt after that message because I have not talked to everyone in the room. But at least a handful of people in the room who heard the message didn't exactly feel like running through a wall for their coach.

"He tells us every week to look at the next game and think about going 1-0 without looking back or too far ahead," one source said. "And then the final game of the year he's asking us to remember what happened two months ago and how we felt?"

"Man, to be honest I don't even remember what he told us," another source said with a chuckle. "I can't remember any of his speeches. I remember some of my high school coach's speeches. I remember the time he cried because he was so proud to be our coach. I remember my college coach one time hugged every player on the team in the locker room before we went on the field and told us he loved us. I remember that.

"But I don't remember no [Philbin] speech or messages. I don't think that's a terrible thing. But I guess it ain't good, neither."

Hmmm.

Joe Philbin is going to coach his fourth season with the Dolphins in 2015. He's had three years to refine his craft, which is not just about organizing Xs and Os but also how he addresses his men and others.

He's come a long way. He no longer reads off index cards to give his post-game locker room speech. (Thank you, God!).

But a couple of players and others have told me they don't often feel like Philbin is talking from the heart. "I don't feel him at all," one said. "We have to get by on being professionals. We have to motivate ourselves. I ain't complaining. That's fine. But no, I wouldn't say he gets inside anybody, if you know what I mean. "

A couple of players have told me they think Philbin tries to compensate for, well, something, by simply talking louder. (Strange, but that's what they've told me).

I don't know how the coach can improve on this. I have no clue what he can do to connect. But I would suggest he do something to prevent having people, particularly veteran players who've been around him for a couple or three years already, tune him out.

January 07, 2015

Joe Philbin to get contract extension

Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin's status for the 2015 season was not in doubt once team owner Stephen Ross publicly endorsed him before the season ended. But that endorsement raised the question whether the Dolphins would commit to Philbin financially beyond that '15 season, which was scheduled to be the final year of the coach's contract.

That question is now answered because a club source close to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said this evening the team will indeed offer Philbin an extension.

The purpose of the extension is two-fold: It addresses the idea that Philbin would enter next season as a lame duck coach. It also insulates the Dolphins should Philbin's Dolphins have a good year and the coach wish to parlay that into other opportunities.

The Dallas Cowboys, it should be noted, allowed head coach Jason Garrett to enter this season, the last on his currently contract, without an extension. The Cowboys won the NFC East, have won a playoff game, and Garrett is for most intents a hot commodity and a free agent after the season.

The Cowboys still expect to sign Garrett to a new deal but that might now cost them more than an extension would have cost before this season.

The fact Ross will offer Philbin an extension is not unprecedented. He gave Tony Sparano a contract extension after the 2010 season so that Sparano would not enter 2011 as a proverbial lame duck.

But here's the truth of the matter:

Giving Philbin an extension won't really guarantee the coach a job beyond 2015. Although Ross will make a financial commitment to Philbin, he can still fire the coach if he wishes with the understanding he'll still pay off the contract.

Ross paid Sparano after firing the former Dolphins coach late in the 2011 season.

So while giving Philbin an extension will indeed give the coach financial certainty for at least one year and perhaps more, it will not guarantee Philbin he will be the Miami coach beyond 2015.

Only winning will help Philbin in that department.