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. 

Dolphins: No Rooney Rule violation or issues

The Miami Dolphins talked the NFL about the pending hiring of Mike Tannenbaum as the team's executive vice president of football operations days before announcing it Tuesday and those conversations included whether the team needed to conduct a Rooney Rule interview.

And the sides agreed no such interview was necessary.

This according to a high-ranking source close to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross.

The source said that had the league concluded a Rooney Rule interview was necessary, the Dolphins would have complied with one but there was a mutual understanding one was not necessary.

This obviously pushes back against the narrative that the Dolphins were completely unaware such an interview of a minority candidate might be necessary and that learning of that possibility after the fact, owner Stephen Ross changed how much authority Tannenbaum will wield over general manager Dennis Hickey...

... After a press release from the team outlined Tannenbaum's role.

The Dolphins continue to maintain Hickey will report to Tannenbaum on all matters except those relating to picking the club's 53-man roster and draft-day decisions. Hickey keeps final say on that. What remains unclear is what else is Hickey responsible for other than those giant and important assignments?

The answer might be nothing.

And if that's the case, Hickey doesn't answer to Tannenbaum at all -- which again relieves the Dolphins from having had to comply with the Rooney Rule.

Rooney Rule flub throws wrench in Tannenbaum authority

In announcing the hiring of Mike Tannenbaum as the Miami Dolphins executive vice president of football operations it became clear that general manager Dennis Hickey would report to Tannenbaum. It was clear because the Dolphins said it was.

"General Manager Dennis Hickey will report directly to Tannenbaum and will continue to lead the personnel and scouting departments and have control of the 53-man roster," is what the team's announcement of the Tannenbaum hiring said in the first paragraph.

Tannenbaum himself then repeated he was over Hickey. And while Hickey made the final call over personnel and the draft, let's face it, if he reported to Tannenbaum, the boss could ultimately make the underling make decisions he wants.

It's like you being able to decide your own schedule at work, until your boss says you have to work on a Friday you want to take off. That Friday, you work or you might end up out of a job. 

But that broad authority for Tannenbaum, the Dolphins found out today, created a problem.

Giving Tannenbaum such power would have required the Dolphins to conduct a Rooney Rule interview to at least consider filling the Tannenbaum role with a minority candidate. The Dolphins conducted no such interview.

So the NFL today contacted owner Stephen Ross to ask, well, why not?

And in answering, Ross changed Mike Tannenbaum's role on the spot.

"We have discussed the hiring of Mike Tannenbaum for a senior football position with Dolphins owner Steve Ross," an NFL spokesman told The Herald today. "Mr. Ross has confirmed that General Manager Dennis Hickey retains all of his prior authority over the draft and other personnel matters, and that Mr. Hickey will continue to report directly to Mr. Ross on these matters.  Any public statement to the contrary is erroneous and does not accurately reflect the reporting structure at the Dolphins."

So now Hickey reports directly to Ross even though yesterday the erroneous "public statement" to the contrary came from the Dolphins themselves and out of Mike Tannenbaum's own mouth.

"Coach (Joe) Philbin will continue to report to Steve Ross, and everybody else will report to me," Tannenbaum said.

Are you sure, Mike?

"Again, Dennis and all of the other departments will be reporting to me and, again, I think this is a real opportunity," Tannenbaum said. "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."

Well, that was yesterday. Today, Dennis Hickey does not report to Mike Tannenbaum on the things that matter -- the roster decisions, the draft. Everything else, Hickey reports to Tannenbaum.

Everything else for a Dolphins general manager with limited powers to start with, by the way, is nothing else.

And now let me ask some questions that reader Ryan Dunn pointed out: Shouldn't the Dolphins new vice president of football operations know the Rooney Rule? Shouldn't the owner who voted for the expansion of the Rooney Rule to include executives have been aware he was in danger of not being in compliance with the rule he voted for?

This is so Dolphins.

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.