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37 posts from March 2009

March 31, 2009

Dolphins break the free agent bank record

The Dolphins reported no free agent visits Tuesday. Fact is, they haven't had an unrestricted or restricted free agent visit since Demarcus Faggins did so on March 18.

So is it fair to believe the Dolphins are pretty much done with free agency for 2009?

"I wouldn't say we're done," general manager Jeff Ireland said. "You never know what's going to fall off the tree. In that case, you're not done."

The Dolphins piggy bank, tired and not nearly as fat as it once was, hopes Ireland gives it a break. That's because the team has already spent more money during this free agency period than in any previous year since free agency began in 1992, according to figures from the NFL Players Association.

Despite having a reputation for being cheap fiscally conservative, Bill Parcells has given the green light on approximately $136* million in free agent contracts so far. While that doesn't come close to the $142* million the Jets spent last season, it is a Miami club record. The Dolphins added 11 free agents a year ago to contracts worth a reported $103.6* million, which broke the previous record set in 2006.

Safety Gibril Wilson and center Jake Grove cost a combined $57 million. There was the re-signing of safety Yeremiah Bell, offensive tackle Vernon Carey and linebacker Channing Crowder, which coach Tony Sparano has said was an investment of  "$70 million on three players to make sure those players were here."

Then there was the combined $9 million more on cornerback Eric Green and offensive lineman Joe Berger.

Do the math. Carry the one, that's $136 million spent by Miami on unrestricted or soon-to-be unrestricted free agents this offseason. And that is so far because although Ireland doesn't expect it, a player can unexpectedly become available much the way Chad Pennington suddenly became available last season.

"Never say never," Ireland said. "You never know when someone falls off a tree and you might go down that road."

Jason Taylor, perhaps?

[*No team pays every cent it is committed to paying, as sometimes players are cut, traded or retire before the end of their contracts. But this figure relates the total amount of money the team has agreed to pay through the end of every contract signed.]

Cody Brown tour comes to Dolphins April 10

The Dolphins are not the only team in search of a pass rushing outside linebacker who can also hold the edge of the defense, which is one reason Cody Brown has been traveling the country the past few weeks, working out for New England, Denver and Carolina as the NFL draft draws closer.

Brown, a University of Connecticut defensive end, is one of the top pass-rushers available in the coming draft based on his 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for losses in 2008. That's why he's in demand now and will be coming off the board on the first day of the selection process.

On Monday, Brown added to his list of teams visited by working out for the New York Giants. But the day of interest to Dolphins fans is April 10 when Brown gets a chance to reaquaint himself with the Dolphins. Brown, 6-2 and 244, is scheduled to be among the local players the Dolphins will bring to camp on Good Friday as part of their locals visits.

"It's been working out good,'' Brown said after his workout for the Giants Monday. "A lot of teams didn't know I could drop into coverage and do all that but I feel like I've been dropping pretty good. All the teams I've been working out for have told me I've been doing a real good job."

Brown has not worked out for the Dolphins but they have kept close tabs on him dating back to the regular-season when they studied him on film. The study was significant enough that Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland recognized Brown when he showed up to one of their practices with his friend Donald Thomas, a former U-Conn teammate and current Miami guard.

"I was just chillin' with him and he told me he was going to go to one of the practices," Brown said. "I went out there to one of the practices with him and I watched the guys out there and I met Parcells and I met the GM, Jeff Ireland. And they were saying they've been watching me on film and that they wanted me to show what I could do, show more at the Senior Bowl. Pretty much they said they liked me as a player."

Pretty much the talk on the field moved inside the team's training facility, where the talk with Parcells started to take on the feel of a job interview.

"Yes, because like certain questions I answered he was talking to me like it was a job," Brown said. "He was going into the detail of everything that we were talking about."

Brown says his tour to various pass-rush hungry teams has been routine. They all want to see if he is capable of making the transition from a college defensive end to an NFL OLB.

"Pretty much you get down there at whatever time they want you," Brown said in going through the typical itinerary. "You warm up for a little bit. Some teams want to start you off with drills and other teams want to go over plays and stuff. Most teams do the drills first. And after you're done with the drills you go into a meeting room and they sit you down and you talk about football. You talk about family and they see what you're like as a person. That's pretty much it."

The Patriots stuck out for Brown because they got a little more in-depth.

"The Patriots showed me their defensive scheme and showed me how I would play in their scheme and how I would fit in," Brown said. "And then they compared it to what you did in college. So if I had a defense I could compare to it, they would help me out with learning the names and stuff like that."

Brown, obviously, would be happy to play for whichever team picks him. But he admits playing for Miami would be special because, after all, South Florida is his home.

"I would love that," he said. "I'm from the area. Most of my family members are Dolphins fans. So it would be a tremendous thing to happen for me."

And what type of player would the Dolphins be getting if Cody Brown ends up on their draft selection card April 25?

"A very versatile player. A smart player," Brown said. "A player who plays with intensity. I feel like I can pass rush really good as well as drop into the coverage very good. That's something most people can't really do."

Watch this quickie video of Brown against Buffalo in the International Bowl, a game in which Brown has six tackles, including a sack:

March 30, 2009

Dolphins preseason schedule set [Update 4]

The Dolphins just released their preseason schedule and it definitely has an NFC South feel to it.

Miami will host the Carolina Panthers while playing at New Orleans and Tampa Bay in the coming preseason. The Tampa Bay game will be telecast nationally on FOX.

The team will also host the Jacksonville Jaguars to round out the exhibition schedule.

Although some of the dates are yet to be set the time frame and venues for the games are set. They are:

Aug. 14-18 ... vs. Jacksonville at Dolphins Stadium.

Aug. 22-23 ... vs. Carolina at Dolphins Stadium.

Aug. 29 ... at Tampa Bay.

Sept. 3-4 ... at New Orleans. 

[Update: The dates listed above are directly from the Dolphins. The NFL has released a national television broadcast schedule that lists the Miami game at Tampa on Aug. 27, a Thursday. So I have called the Dolphins and am awaiting word on which is correct. My instinct is that the Dolphins are wrong.]

[Update 2: Dolphins made a mistake. The Tampa Bay game is Thursday, Aug. 27.]

[Update 3: The regular-season schedule should be out in two weeks or so. Expect the Dolphins to return to prime time for the first time since 2007 when they played a Monday night game at Pittsburgh. During the NFL annual meetings a couple of weeks ago, Mike Tirico, who does the play-by-play on Monday Night Football, dropped by during Tony Sparano's breakfast with the media. Someone said the Dolphins hadn't seen him (or a prime-time game) in a while and Tirico said, "I'm sure that will change this year." We'll see.]

[Update 4: For those of you remembering that Chad Henne is expected to get extended playing time in the coming preseason, I serve up this fact: Jacksonville's pass defense was 24th in the NFL last season. Carolina's pass defense was rated 16th, Tampa Bay's was fourth, and New Orleans' was 23rd.] 

March 29, 2009

Taylor would "absolutely" return to Dolphins

Spent part of Sunday afternoon and evening getting over food poisoning but between trips to the loo I noticed you guys flooded my e-mail box with Jason Taylor questions.

Somebody asked if my Sunday column was just me writing fiction or if I had actually talked to someone to report it. Yeah folks, I talk to other folks. And yes, I have been told the Dolphins would seriously consider bringing Taylor back to South Florida under the correct circumstances.

Would Taylor return, I was asked by some e-mailers?

"Absolutely, there no reason why I wouldn't," Taylor told a gathering of reporters Sunday in advance of his charity golf event Monday.

But Taylor volleyed the ball back in the Dolphins court on the issue. "I'm the wrong person to talk to about that."

Taylor also didn't dismiss talk of the New England Patriots being on his radar (yes, they definitely are) but said he has not spoken to the team. I think that's the reason he has an agent, but that's just me.

Anyway, expect Taylor to pick a team, and a team to pick him, in the coming month or so -- certainly not long after the draft is complete at latest.

Gotta go, if you know what I mean.

Sunday column: Taylor can return if he wants

This weekend, my Dolphins column is about Jason Taylor and his current situation as an unrestricted free agent.

That situation is simple: Taylor can go to New England Patriots, chasing the brass ring that comes with a promised championship -- although that promise never really holds, it seems. Or Taylor can do the other thing, the interesting thing, the harder thing.

He can return to the Dolphins.

Why is coming back to Miami the harder thing? Well, it could not happen without a promise from Taylor that he is committed to working hard in the offseason conditioning program, which he didn't do last year.

The Dolphins would not come with the likelihood of competing for a Super Bowl, as the Patriots do. But I think we learned last year one should not underestimate this Dolphins organization under Bill Parcells and the Patriots are one Tom Brady injury away from being out of the playoffs.

The Dolphins, would, however come with the idea of giving Taylor his best opportunity to end his career on a high point. That high point would be tied to him working diligently this offseason on getting ready for the season. That high point would be tied to him being part of a pass rush that includes Joey Porter and the young pass-rushers the Dolphins plan to add in the draft. That high point would be tied to giving an imaginative Miami coaching another weapon.

That high point would also come for Taylor as playing in Miami would give him the opportunity to stay close to his family, which he is said to covet.

We'll soon see what drives Taylor when he decides where to go. The decision will tell you what is important to him.

Is it purely about getting with the team most likely -- on paper at least -- to win? Or is it about working hard during the offseason as well as the regular-season, being close to his family, and playing for the team he says he loves?

We'll see  

March 27, 2009

The words from Sparano's mouth [Part deux]

You didn't think an hour or so of interview time could be handled in only one blog post did you? Below is the second and final part of Tony Sparano's interview with media present at the NFL owners' meeting earlier this week.

In the second half, Sparano talks extensively about Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. He talks not so extensively about John Beck.

He talks about the Patriots. He talks about Tony McDaniel. He gives Ernest Wilford some attention. He discusses how he came to not call the plays in Miami after longing and to do that when he was in Dallas. He talks about Tony Romo and how Bill Parcells knew when the time was right to put the young quarterback in ahead of Drew Bledsoe.

It's interesting stuff. So digest it all. And comment at will.

On the projected use of defensive lineman Tony McDaniel, whom Salguero didn't know existed before last week: "We’re going to bring him in and start him and take a look at him at defensive end first. I think that’s kind of where he belongs right now, and then see if he can go in there and play. We have a couple of candidates in there with Fergie right now, with Joe Cohen and Paul Soliai that we need to see a little bit more of. This gives us a chance this spring to see a little bit more of them too. We’re going to start Tony out at end and we’ll see. It’s kind of like the offensive line. At the end of this, if he’s a better nose we’re going to end up having him there. I just have a feeling that’s going to be a pretty hard position for him."

How many plays for Ferguson per game (294 for Charlie Anderson was No. 1 on special teams): "Ferguson averaged 33 plays a game. Some games he played 17. Some games he might have played 40, 40-something, so it just depended on the nature of what was happening out there. As the season went on we got Ferguson a little more involved in what we called big nickel, and we were able to put him out there in the sub package, when people went to sub against us thinking he was going to come off the field and they were going to run the ball we kept him out there a little bit and got him involved in that. That’s right around what we thought Ferg’s play count is. If we can get him 30, 35 plays, that’s where we want him."

On the need for a back-up nose, which is not as important as the need for a backup cheek: "Very important to find someone who can back him up and go in and help Ferg that way a little bit. That’s the question. If you look at where we are right now compared with where we were a year ago, well where we were a year ago some of these front line players, Ferguson, were question marks. When you look at that there were a lot more question marks. Now we have some of those question marks answered a little better, but there’s still these other questions – Who’s going to back him up? Soliai and these people, Randy Starks, whoever it might be, these guys have to step up and play. That will be interesting to watch the competition between Starks and Merling, maybe, and who’s going to do what. These guys have to step up and we have to see what we have. I always use this with my coaches. Look, if we don’t get one other piece right now, one other player, when we’re looking at our team, what do we do? This is the process we go through. One of the things from our end right now is, hey, we have to make Paul Soliai a better player. We have to make this Joe Cohen a better player, continue to get Randy Starks, Randy I thought was one of the players who improved the most as the season went on, started to feel a little more comfortable in our defense coming over from the 4-3 defense. We’re in the business of making these young players better.

On paying attention to New England getting second-round pick for Cassel, getting three compensatory picks, Peppers trade talk and threatening to bring a young Jim Brown out of retirement: "It doesn’t really get a reaction from me. I feel like we need to take care of our own house. As we look at it, we have done that. We feel really good about the moves we were able to make right now, and bringing back the players we were able to bring back. We could be sitting here right now and not having a right tackle, and not having a mike linebacker. So when we look at what we did to keep the three players from being free agents out there right now, with Vernon and Channing and Yeremiah and then bringing in some of the players we were able to bring in, we feel really good about where we are right now. At the end of this our goal is we get better. I don’t know exactly what that will equal at the end of this whole thing, but I know we will get better."

On the need for a big wide receiver who can run faster than Ernest “The Human Glacier” Wilford: "I mentioned that before, every team may want one of those guys. But from our end, I’m really happy with the group of guys we have because I know their strengths. I clearly know their strengths right now and clearly know their weaknesses. What I don’t know is there are some young guys on the roster right now who have the ability to go in and do some of this work, London being one of these guys, Lowber maybe being a guy who can go in and do some of those things, Anthony Armstrong is a guy out there I’m interested in watching a little bit more. When you see some of these guys, that gives us a chance to watch a few of them. But there’s no question when you’re looking, if you find one of those players, that’s great. It depends on how we enter this draft situation.

Ok, Tony, who is the team to beat in the AFC East, and please be completely honest: "No comment. You’re never going to get me on that one."

Well, perhaps we can get you on this one. What about the impact of young quarterbacks last year and why you sat your young guy: "With Flacco and Ryan, those guys were outstanding this year, but when I look at Chad Henne and think about all the knowledge he’s getting, knowing every day what Chad Pennington puts those guys through. He really does put them through the ringer that way. He challenges them. I can’t imagine that’s not the most valuable information that this kid can get."

Do you see Pennington rubbing off on Henne and Beck -- in work habits not arm strength, of course: "Yeah I do, in his study habits, in his work habits. All those things. Take nothing away from Chad Henne. Chad Henne went to Michigan, won a starting job as a rookie (freshman) and didn’t look back and started for four years there for a heck of a program. But at this level all the little things that go into playing that position, that make Peyton Manning what Peyton Manning really is and Tom Brady what Tom Brady really is. When you’re able to get those kind of things on the job, I think it’s critical – and watching what Henne has done during the offseason and during the season a little bit at the end of the year and watching how he’s grown a bit. I was really impressed with that. So I think the kid has been smart about it. I think he’s said, this is my job right now, this is my challenge, so I’m going to make sure I get everything I can out of this guy. The great thing is Chad Pennington is willing to do that for him."

On Brady saying Michigan is great environment to learn in, although lately not to win football games in: "When I watch Chad out on the practice field or watch Chad even in some of the ball games, preseason games, or the one game he played in this year. Everything is water off a duck’s back to him. In other words, nothing really fazes him that way. He’s a very cool, calm character. I think that comes from being in that environment. Every week, 100,000 people breathing down your back and you’re the guy."

Dumbest question in the world, does Henne want to play: "If he sits another year, that’s a good problem. What I mean by that it’s a good problem all the way around in that if he sits another year he’s learning a little bit more. He’s do all those things. I know Chad Henne and I know the competitor in Chad Henne. He’s not going to settle for that. And I know Chad Pennington. There’s going to be great competition out there when it goes on. I just know whenever he gets the opportunity I feel like he’s going to be very ready because of what Pennington has been able to do with him. How he’s been able to him. And what the kid has done himself. This guy has been there in building a month and a half right now, an easy month and a half, three or four days a week."

So when is the right time for Henne as if everyone doesn't know it'll be 2010 the latest?: "You just said what David Lee says, ‘You know when you know.’ I think that’s true. You do know when you know a little bit. I think a large part of that is contingent on what Chad Pennington does. I just know how hard he’s working. This guy is working his tail off as well. When you see that, and you see a guy who has however many years Chad’s been in the league now and you see him working the way he’s working, that’s impressive, too. I know how prepared Chad Pennington will be and I know Chad Henne will be prepared as well, when it happens, it happens. From our standpoint, I just hope we continue to do well and these guys continue to have success and when it’s his turn it’s his turn."

Did you know it was time for Tony Romo when the time came?: "I knew when we put Romo in."

How?: "At that point with Tony every time you put him the game, every single time you put him in the game something good happened. We had a lot of exposure with him, more exposure certainly than what we had with our quarterback Chad Henne now. We had Tony for a couple of years and preseasons, Tony got a lot of playing time that way. Nothing against Drew Bledsoe at the time, but you could just see where we were. We were 3-3 and just lost to Philadelphia down in their place. At that point, 3-3, and this guy was beating the door down, I mean Tony was beating the door down at that point. It was just the right time. We were 3-3, we were a .500 team. We needed to be able to make a change. We put Tony in there and didn’t look back."

But some bad things happened with Romo early on, and that was before he was dating Jessica Simpson: "The Giants game, yeah. I think his first pass was a play-action pass that ended up getting tipped by Strahan and intercepted, if I remember the play correctly. But we’ll chalk that one up to us as coaches. Bill felt Romo was a guy really to stay on top of: I really felt like Tony was a pretty easy guy to coach. He’s an intelligent guy that is a competitor. This guy is a competitor. He loves competition. If you’re walking down the hall with Tony Romo, he’ll try to beat you to the door. I think that with him it was always easy to motivate Tony. I never worried about that."

Can you confirm Salguero's story about Henne getting a bunch of work in the coming preseason and being the guy in 2010?: "We want to get Henne as much work right now as we can get him, in the spring, as we get on in these OTAs and in the preseason, yeah. That’s our time to find out. That really is. That’s not saying we don’t get Chad Pennington his work. We know he needs his work. He’ll get work to get ready to play. But the nice thing about Chad Pennington is he can communicate with you on what kind of work he needs, too. He’s far enough along in this thing, last year when he came in I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall and I’m saying to him, look what do we need to do, how much work do we need to get, he tells me exactly what he needed at that particular time. Where Chad Henne, even last year we knew, we have to get this guy as much work as we can and we tried to get him as much as we can get him. He’ll play a lot. We’d like to him play a lot."

What about what'shisname, your third-stringer, John Beck: "It will be hard to get John work. But there’s only three quarterbacks right now. That’s all we’re carrying. With John, he knows his job first foremost is to compete with Henne. He gets his reps in practice. He’ll get some reps in the preseason games as well. He’s done a nice job staying focused as the season went on. That wasn’t an easy situation for him. He was in the middle of a quarterback deal, enter Pennington and Henne and all of the sudden that thing changes, so it was really not easy for him. But at the end of the day, he was the guy we kept. He’s a young quarterback, only two years in the league. So he’ll continue to get better, I think. He’s a pretty diligent guy. He’ll work at it. But his first worry is Henne and competing there before we can worry about taking the next step."

What is the difference in threatening motivating guys off an 11-win vs 1-win season: "I wouldn’t worry about deflating. When these guys walk through that door Monday of next week and it’s Day One of the off-season program, they’ll figure out that we really don’t care that we care what happened a year ago. At this point we can’t worry about what happened a year ago or any of those things. It’s our job to get better. They know how I’m going to approach this thing. The nice thing about my team right now is they know we did good this last year, but it wasn’t good enough. We need to take the next step. They’re pretty hungry to take the next step. I’m pretty excited about what their attitude would be like when they come back."

On the impact of 17- or 18-game schedule cutting down on preseason and interest in baseball sooner: "Without having a lot of time to spend thinking about that, but just hearing a little bit about it, particularly in the last few days. From our end one of the things we’d have to do, your springs would have to be a little more productive. I think really more importantly some of the things you’re not able to do in the spring, the 7-on-7s, the 1-on-1s, the things you’re not allowed to do in these OTAs, we’re not allowed to go and do. Those kinds of things when you’re trying to make evaluations with them, the less practice opportunities. The college have, if I’m correct, 29 practice opportunities before they play their first game. Some of these situations, depending on how you practice, you really have to make a conscious effort looking 15 days out from the first preseason game and starting to think about practice opportunities now and starting to count the number of practice opportunities you have to get those players ready."

As a former offensive play-caller, how did you decide not to call plays in Miami: "When I was hiring coaches and I went around and started to look at some different people and started to visit with them, I had two different deals going on. One was if I found somebody I was really comfortable with, who had the experience to run the offense, they would run the offense and I would be the head coach and make sure I was able to touch both sides of the ball, special teams, have my hand involved in all that and bring this thing together a little bit more. If not and I found somebody who maybe needed to be coached a little bit, then I would call the plays. I found Dan Henning. He has 30-plus years of experience and has been a head coach in this league, has called plays for a lot of head coaches and I turned the offense over to Dan. Dan and I communicate very well together. That’s all I can ask for. I trust him and Paul Pasqualoni with both the offense and the defense and I am very much involved on both sides of the ball that way. What this team needed at the time when I came in here certainly wasn’t a guy who was just an offensive guy or just a defensive guy. In fact, in the last couple, several years, they may have had that back and forth. They needed someone who was going to be a head coach and let Channing Crowder know, I’m with you and this is what I see and at the same time be over here with Teddy Ginn. That’s really helped me a lot."

Was Lord Big Tuna like that?: "Bill was like that. But early on, Bill wanted to call the plays. The facts were the facts, Bill Parcells at that time had come from the whole New England staff and the Giants staff where they had been together, Romeo Crennel and that group, they had been together so long that he trusted them. When he came to Dallas he wasn’t able to get any of those people. At the end of the day, we were all new faces sitting there. I think you have to earn Bill’s trust. So finally I got to that point and he was able to turn that over to me and let me call the plays. But until then, Bill was going to call the plays. If I didn’t find Dan Henning maybe, I might be doing that."

Do you miss it even though you were making about one-tenth the salary you are making now?: "During the course of the game when I’m out there communicating with our offense and our defense I don’t really give it a second thought because I have too much on my plate to be honest. The game management part of this thing every week presents something different to the head coach. Every head coach will tell you that no matter how long they’ve been doing that. To me that’s a great challenge. I kind of get excited about it. It helps me not miss calling the plays."

What if Dan Henning, who was present at the founding of the world, retires: "I can go back and call it – and would. If I didn’t find the right guy, I’d absolutely would."

Please talk about Ronnie Brown going forward as going backward is bad for a running back: "I would think that Ronnie not having to battle the offseason deal with the rehab and doing all he had to do, I would think Ronnie would be able to take the next step with his progression with another good offseason. Ronnie had great offseason in that rehab, but we had to kind of wean him into the spring a little bit. Now we don’t have to guard those reps. Ronnie can go and we can get him going early in this process which should help him. At the end of this he should be a lot sharper."

On Ronnie Brown carrying the ball 25 times a game like a real featured back: "As long as we have Ricky and Ronnie and both of them have a great offseason, I really don’t see that. I look around the league and I see fewer and fewer teams that have one guy running around. The teams that do, you better guard them pretty well because these guys are too big and too strong on the other side for one back to be bringing it up in there 35 times a game, 16 weeks of the season. That’s a hard deal. I don’t think that’s something I’m that interested in now."

Another idiot reporter who wasn't present before sits down and asks a question that's already been asked about Henne: "He’s done really well. He’s been at the facility for about six weeks now, three or four times a day now. He’s been throwing, he’s been running, he’s been lifting. He got a lot better at the end of the season last year. He’ll continue to get better. With him you see the ball jump off his hand and you see him making these throws against your defense. He spent a lot of time this off-season with our quarterbacks coach David Lee preparing, watching film, watching Chad Pennington’s stuff and at the same time really learning an awful lot from Chad Pennington, which is so valuable."

Do you have a comfortable situation at quarterback: "It is the right situation. You go back into and you know Chad Pennington is the guy. He just came off arguably one of the best years he’s had and you look at it and say this is still a young football team and our hopes is we want to get younger. We want to be young for the long haul. Chad Pennington is a guy who shows great leadership there. But Chad Henne is a guy I think won’t be comfortable in that position and will continue to chase Chad Pennington."

You have a young team with big expectations: "Just that they understand, my area of concern would be when we come back we understand, and I said this to them before they left, you don’t pick up where you left off, you go back to the beginning and start all over again and try to do better. If they come back with that attitude and that mind-set, we’ll be fine. This group is a pretty gritty group so I think they’ll do that."

How does Brady getting healthy and married change AFC East: "I think it changes it tremendously. When you bring a player like Tom Brady back in the division on a team with weapons like the Patriots have, you bring more firepower to a team that already has a lot of firepower. This team won 11 games and however many they won without him last year, you could argue if Tom was there, who knows what would have happened. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in our league and has been for a long time so when you bring a quarterback like that back like that on a team like that you’re going to have to step up and everybody is going to have to play their best when we play them."

What about Pennington's four interception game that ended his and your season?: "If I know Chad Pennington like I know Chad Pennington, he doesn’t deal with that very well. It’s probably something that drives him during the off-season, his training, his preparation and the way he goes about his business. If I know him, he can’t wait to get out there and get another bite at the apple a little bit, just because of the kind of guy he is. He wears that on his sleeve a little bit, a lot like I do. I don’t erase that vision very easily in my mind. He being the quarterback in that situation I would say that’s something he’s thought about a lot during the off-season."

Did the Ravens D show you Pennington can’t play against good teams: "It’d be hard for me to put my finger on what Chad Henne can give us without Chad Henne really being out there in games in those kind of situations. What I do know is we turned the ball over both times we played Baltimore, particularly in the playoff game. So did everyone else who played Baltimore. That’s not an excuse for it. My point is if you turn the ball over against a team like that the possibilities of winning the game are slim and none. You put yourself in a massive hole. Going into ball games like that, if you can play your best football, not turn the football over, I would really like to see what the outcome would be. Chad Pennington in that kind of situation, the guy’s been rock solid for 15, 16 weeks, we get into that ballgame and one gets tipped, one gets picked, and all the sudden you have three turnovers and you start to put yourself into a little bit of hole. I would say he’d want that back. Knowing Chad, he would really want that opportunity back."

March 26, 2009

The words from Sparano's mouth [Part Uno]

Tony Sparano spoke with the media for over an hour on Tuesday morning and rather than filtering his thoughts to you in drops, I figured I would open the faucet full-throttle today and tomorrow.

So I am posting the complete transcript of his talk with reporters -- of which only I and Edgar Thompson of the Palm Beach Post stayed for the entire session -- over the next couple of days.

In Tony Part I, Sparano shares his thoughts on Ernest Wilford, Terrell Owens, Andy Alleman, the return of Tom Brady, and the hiring of Rex Ryan in New York. He talks (because we asked) about Brandon London, the idea behind cutting Vonnie Holliday, about Cameron Wake, the offensive line in general, Jake Grove in particular, and much more.

Enjoy the words right from the coach's mouth:

On Ernest Wilford: “The plan for Ernest right now will be that he will be in training camp and competing and doing those things. Every year something different happens out there on the field with these players. If it didn’t we wouldn’t know anything about Greg Camarillo or Davone Bess. So this is another opportunity for our guys to go on the field and compete and Ernest is one of our guys.”

On the young DL: “Young guys that all improved during the course of the season at some point or another. We’re really happy with their progress. We hope they take the next step. Obviously we’ve moved on from Vonnie Holliday. So that gives guys like [Phillip] Merling a chance to become more of a full-time player out there, kind of the way [Kendall] Langford was for us. We look forward to getting those guys on the field. Dotson is a guy who showed a lot of upside right now but we’ll have to see. He doesn’t have a lot of game time [experience] right now but we’ll have to see what happens when he gets out there.”

On Camarillo, Smiley participation In OTAs. “Right now they’re both doing really well. That’s all I’ll say, they’re both doing well. I’m not sure what the time table is for either one of those guys. I have an idea what the timetable is but none of that is etched in stone at this particular time. They’re both doing really good and we have to hope at some point we get a chance to see them.”

On Wake and the pass-rush: “Well, one of the things we feel like we can’t get enough of is pass-rushers. With Cameron we feel we need to put him in a position to rush the passer. It’s what he’s done well. Maybe not try to ask him what he hasn’t done. This would be a good opportunity to put him in one of the outside linebacker positions and see him rush the passer.”

On the need to assist Joey Porter in the pass rush: "The moves that were made this offseason to assist Porter were just really right now Cameron and we just added a couple of defensive line – we added Tony McDaniel. But Cameron is the guy we brought in to assist that whole thing. Now I’ve been happy from what I’ve seen out of our players that were here last year. Charlies Anderson I’ve seen him around the past three and a half weeks and the program hasn’t started yet. To see Charlie Anderson out there doing what he’s doing and see some of the other guys that are in the weight room lifting prior to the program starting, that’s encouraging.”

On Vonnie Holliday: “Well, again, I’m getting out of my jurisdiction here with some of this. All I can say about Vonnie is, yes, he was an outstanding guy in the locker room and he was a good player for us. But from our end, we need to get younger. We really do. At the end of the day Phillip Merling was brought in to be the replacement and he was there and did play well. From our end this kid has an opportunity to go in and play. That’s what’s most important right now is that you take a look at this draft and you added Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling and we need them on the field at the same time. Vonnie is a good leader. We’ll miss Vonnie. But it’s time to move on.”

On what saw or didn’t see in Samson Satele that led to the trade: “It isn’t really about what I didn’t see in Samson but it was more importantly having the opportunity to upgrade the position. Jake Grove really was a guy in free agency we looked and targeted for a long time, knowing there was a possibility that something like that could happen. I know Jake, I’ve done the guy coming out. I think everyone in the place knew an awful lot about the guy. For us it’s an upgrade in an area that is critical in our division. You look at our division and the people those guys have to play against, that’s not taking anything away from Samson. Obviously he did a good job because we won 11 games. This was an opportunity to upgrade because we’ve seen this guy play against our division.”

On Jake Grove's being the right replacement: “We’ve done our due diligence with the whole thing, obviously. Jeff and Bill have done a tremendous job of getting into the background of all these guys we’ve brought in here. I don’t think that was really a concern of ours at the time. It certainly isn’t. When you talk to people about Jake and his strength totals and the way he works in the weight room, you certainly get the picture. From our end, our offseason program is something that is important to us and Jake’s there on campus right now. He’s involved in lifting right now and the program hasn’t even started. So we feel like that’s something that helped an awful lot of our players last year.”

On whether he thinks it is more difficult to go 1-15 to 11-5 or 11-5 to title: “In my mind I don’t want to take anything away from what our football team did this past season. But that’s over. We’re moving on right now. In my mind, the next step is the harder step, it really is. To turn this thing around, that’s difficult. I want to take nothing away from what those guys accomplished – our coaches, our players, our organization. But to make the next step – consistency, to win 11 games and continue to push on and get into the playoffs and maybe take the next step in the playoffs is the most difficult step. I’ve been on teams that were really good teams. Really good teams. And I’ve not won a playoff game or haven’t been involved in any of that. So it’s hard to take that step.”

On re-signing his own free agents in 11th hour deals: “To be honest with you, how close any of those things got is not really important right now. What’s important is we got those guys here. We spent, at the end of this thing, $70 million on three players to make sure those players were here. That being said, the players wanted to be here. And that’s a credit to what’s going on with the program and the direction that it’s going and them – the players themselves. Vernon Carey, Channing Crowder, Yeremiah Bell, I’m sure they all would have had options out there. But they wanted to be here and wanted to be part of this whole thing. That said a lot to us. And I think we showed them the same respect.”

On Gibril Wilson: “Obviously from my experience in the NFC East and when I was in Dallas playing against him and he was with the Giants, I thought the guy was a tremendous football player. A physical guy. Always around the football. Plays through injuries, does all those things. This guy is a really a productive player. We had the opportunity to get him and get younger, that was a really good problem for us.”

On Eric Green: "With Eric, obviously we moved on from Goody, and this was an opportunity to find a young corner that has something to prove. This is his hometown, not his home town, but he’s from the area out there. He grew up a Dolphins fan. This really meant a lot to the kid. We, as you know, like to take chances on guys that feel they have something to prove. We feel it keeps them hungry. This is a hungry player that’s coming into our organization that has some real talent.”

At this point Sparano is asked why the Dolphins weren't interested in Terrell Owens. He declines to answer the question. Then he's asked what he thinks of Owens.

On T.O.: “Terrell is an outstanding player. He’s a real good player. He’s in our division now. And having to face him twice a year, I know the thigns he can do during the course of a game. He can take over a game no different than Randy Moss can take over the game. From our end, that’s a challenge. You bring these big physical receivers into our division, Buffalo gets better making that move. We have to, we have to address the challenge when we get to it. He’s a guy who will require the same amount of attention as Randy Moss or a Fitzgerald, those kind of guys.”

You were exposed to those things. You need them. Why not get him?: “No comment.”

On Andy Alleman: “We picked him up last year from New Orleans. To be honest with you, I’d done a lot of work on him when we were at Dallas. We brought him in for our top 30 day, I remember that visit. We had a chance to spend a lot of time with him. So I knew Andy pretty well. It was a great opportunity for us to bring in a guy who had some position flexibility. That’s why we took him. He played more guard and he got better and better as the season went on and that’s what we think he’ll continue to do.”

On the offensive line: “One of the things, first of all, is these guys have to get healthy. That’s not completely done yet. Guys like Donald Thomas and those kind of guys are a lot further along. So that’s good to see. I just feel like in our division your core, the inside three players, and having Jake and Vernon now for a long time, that kind of solidifies an area a lot of these teams are still looking to find. They’re still looking to find the tackles. But the core, having to play against Jenkins and Stroud and Wilfork, that group has to be physically strong enough, physically tough enough to do the things they need to do. I think that’s the group, when you look at it, that needs to come along. Justin was playing better when he got injured. We make a move and have Jake Grove in there and that’s an opportunity to upgrade that position. Then at the same time, you get Donald Thomas back and now you have Murphy, now you have Alleman, and now you got guys that are providing some competition with Joe Berger. That will be a good problem for us.”

On which position -- center or left tackle -- is more important: “In our league left tackle is the most important position. I just think the guy that guy has to block every week. Now in our division, you can argue that point a little bit with the way we have to play and what we do to move the ball. But left tackle. Week in and week out, left tackle.”

On importance of getting pass rush other than Porter: “Very important. Very important we find somebody who can do that other than Joey. In the last three games of the season where teams started to take the protection completely to Joey, we had to come up with way to still put pressure on the passer. And a year later, you hope Matt Roth is going to be a lot better. He had a heck of a season for us, but you hope he’s going to be a lot better technically and make that kind of jump. Chalrie Anderson I thought at times last year flashed and did some good things. Now there are some guys on the roster we’re excited to take a look at are Walden who has pass-rush skill, Cameron, and these type of players. We have an opportunity to see these type of players during the spring and see if we can’t find a little bit more help out there rushing the passer. As you know you can never have enough pass rushers. That’s what we believe. And right now we don’t have enough.”

On Wake again: “You feel like he’s played a little bit better competition but on Day 1 he’s going to be seeing Vernon Carey and Jake Long. So we’re going to get an opportunity to see pretty fast what he’s able to do right now. But we’re hopeful this guy is going to be a guy who is going to come in and help us. Film doesn’t lie when you watch him. He’s an exciting guy. He does have pass-rush ability. There were a lot of people trying to get at him when we were able to get him. I think this defense will be a good fit for him to be able to showcase his skill set."

“That’s another thing getting back to (Armando’s question about pass rush earlier) that there’s four or five guys in the building right now that we have an opportunity see compete. Young players and this gives us a chance to see what they do and gives us a chance to see if we can get help that way.”

On Rex Ryan question along with Tom Brady: “I think obviously I have a lot of respect for what Rex did in Baltimore. They beat us two times down there everybody that plays that defense knows they not only has very good players, but the scheme and what he did with the players is what I think enhanced that defense. We have to try to stay ahead of the curve and really try to do our due diligence on that defense and we have spent an awful lot of time this offseason looking at those things. Maybe things we could do better and trying to get ourselves prepared for that. They’ve helped themselves with a couple players there and taking a couple of players from that defense. No different than when we took players from Dallas when we came here. It’s just people that are familiar with what you do.”

On Brady: “Tom returning obviously that puts, and again taking nothing away from Cassel because at the end of that whole thing he was playing really well. But Tom Brady is Tom Brady. Anytime you add a player like that on to your team you’re adding great firepower back to your team, great leadership back to your team. that will be a tough challenge. I’m very familiar with Freddy Taylor. I was with Freddy in Jacksonville. Freddy’s a good player. You give Freddy that kind of space, put him in that kind of offense and it can cause problems.”

Does Brady's return put a highlight on Miami's CB spot: “It puts a highlight on a lot of things, Armando. I mean, it’s a highlight on the pass rush. If we rush the passer, those guys don’t have to hold up as long. There aren’t a lot of people in this league that if you don’t rush the passer, they’ll hold up. From our end, we know that’s where it starts. We were fortunate this year getting 17 ½ sacks out of Joey and however many 40-some sacks this year that put us in the top seven or eight in the league. When you put up those type of minus plays, it helps in the back end a little bit. All along people were asking about what was happening in the secondary. But at the end of the day it’s the rush that helped the back end, too. We had players back there that helped us and had great season, but it was the pass rush and what we were able to do helped us. If you can generate pass rush, that will help the back end."

We’ve got guys at the corner positions that we’re going to get a look at. Eric is going to be one of them. He knows he’s got to compete for a job. That’s good for us. We’re in a situation right now that we want that competion on the field.”

On what he saw his last game in Dallas when the Giants pass rush ran over his offensive line: “It certainly doesn’t mean, from our end ... We won 11 games and we don’t kid ourselves. We still know we have a long way to go and a lot of holes to continue to fill. We might have some pieces inhouse we’re excited to see rush the passer right now and all those things. I think obviously if you have good pass rush in this league it helps. Because these quarterbacks are too good. These skill players are too good. to have a good pass rush helps. You can get some of these shutdown corners if you can still have that nowadays, I don’t know that there anymore. Because the skill set is too good on these receivers. That’s a good luxury to have.”

On Bandon London's potential 2009 contribution: “I hope he can make a greater contribution. The fact he played 276 plays and finished third on the team from a special teams standpoint and did a tremendous job that way. But, at the end of the day you hope those players have a little bit bigger piece of the pie in the offense. He’s an athletic guy, a hard working guy, a really hard working kid. He’s has a chance to make a good contribution. That’s what I like about that position right now. The bess’s, Teddy Ginn, Brandon London, Wilford, these guys are all hungry to get better so it gives us good competition.”


March 25, 2009

Miami's need for speed off the edge

DANA POINT, Calif. -- I've spent the past two or three days talking to people within the Dolphins organization and as you know, sometimes it's not what people say, it's how they say it.

In this story that appears in today's Miami Herald, coach Tony Sparano made it very clear the Dolphins, "can never have enough pass rushers." That's what the Dolphins believe and to add to that sentiment, Sparano says, "and right now, we don't have enough."

So the Dolphins want more pass rush. And they need more pass rush. That's what he said.

But I'm telling you the way he said it, and from what I've gotten out of other conversations, I believe the Dolphins will go get at least one more pass rusher, possibly more, in the coming draft. And I'm not talking about on the second day. 

I'm saying within the first two rounds. I'm saying the Dolphins see this as their greatest need. I'm saying the need is so high on the priority list, a source has told me the Dolphins still will not rule out Jason Taylor as a one-year fix to the problem, assuming the money is right.

I'm saying bells should be going off in everyone's head that the pass rusher is the position the Dolphins would love to find the right player to select in the first round.

Of course, that is not guaranteed. What if some receiver unexpectedly falls to Miami? What if the best cornerback in the draft falls to Miami? Then the Dolphins might not go with the pass rusher first. But eventually they will select a pass rusher.

So who do the Dolphins go after?

Larry English?

Clint Sintim?

Cody Brown?

Connor Barwin, who can double as a TE in case he flops as an OLB?

Please don't say Aaron Curry or Everette Brown. They should both be gone before the Dolphins take a first whack at the selection process. But what other players would solve Miami's need to go get the quarterback?

[BLOG NOTE: Yesterday there was a lot of banter related to everything except football. That was yesterday. Today, the topic is football. If you go off the reservation and start discussing Sally Struthers' weight issues, I will delete your post. No talk of kittens, cakes, monkeys, or presidential press conferences. Censorship? Sure. So what?]

March 24, 2009

News & nuggets at Sparano breakfast [Update 7]

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Just had breakfast with Tony Sparano.

I had the scrambled eggs and bacon and bagel with cream cheese and home fries.

He had oatmeal.

And he and I and about 10 other reporters talked Dolphins football. Some highlights:

Sparano confirmed my report in today's Miami Herald that Chad Henne will be getting a lot of playing time in the coming preseason and, is in fact, the future of the franchise at QB. [Update 5: "We want to get Henne as much work right now as we can get him, in the spring, as we get on in these OTAs and in preseason," he said. "That's our time to find out. That really is ... He'll play a lot. We'd like to see him a lot in the preseason."]

You might ask why all this love for Henne one year after Pennington had a stellar season? Why this eagerness to get him ready? Here's the most telling quote that should make you drool at the possibilities of a Miami passing game with Henne at the helm: "With him you see the ball jump off his hand," Sparano said.

Sparano mentioned John Beck as an afterthought almost. "It'll be tough to get John work," the coach said. Said he's in a tough situation and that his first worry should be competing with Henne. I think Beck's first worry should be getting traded. He is definitely available.

Sparano said the team will use recently acquired defensive lineman Tony McDaniel as a defensive end to start with, not a nose tackle. That can change later on. The nose tackle spot is manned by Jason Ferguson and Sparano included Joe Cohen and Paul Soliai as players who will get a chance to play there also.

Sparano made no secret of the fact the Dolphins are desperately looking for pass rush. Obviously that is an area that will be addressed in the draft, but Sparano said there are some players on the roster that intrigue him in that regard. They are Charlie Anderson, Derek Cameron Wake, Matt Roth and Erik Walden.

Sparano called newly acquired cornerback Eric Green a guy, "with something to prove." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

[Update 2: Sparano said injured receiver Greg Camarillo and injured left guard Justin Smiley, "right now they're both doing really well," in the rehab. But he would not say if they will be ready to participate in the team's strength and conditioning program that begins March 30 or in OTA or minicamps.

[Update 3: Unlike some of you, Sparano has no question new starting center Jake Grove will be an upgrade over Samson Satele. Although Grove has struggled to stay on the field because of injuries and really isn't that much different in height and weight than the departed Satele, the coach is confident Grove will be there for games and will stronger at the point of attack against AFC East nose tackes: "We've done our due diligence with the whole thing, obviously," Sparano said. "Jeff and Bill have done a tremendous job of getting into the background of all these guys we've brought here. I don't think that was really a concern of ours at the time. It certainly isn't.

"When you talk to people about Jake and his strength totals and the way he works in the weight room, you certainly get the picture. From our end, our offseason program is something that is important to us and Jake's there on campus right now. He's involved in lifting right now and the program hasn't even started. So we feel like that's something that helped an awful lot of our players last year."

[Update 4: Sparano, a former offensive line coach, cannot hide his like for the offensive line situation. "One of the things, first of all, is these guys have to get healthy," he said. "That's not completely done yet. Guys like Donald Thomas and those kind of guys are a lot further along. So that's good to see. I just feel like in our division, your core, the inside three players, and having Jake Long and Vernon Carey now for a long time, that kind of solidifies an area a lot of these teams are still looking to find. They're all looking for tackles.

"But the core, having to play against [Kris] Jenkins, [Marcus] Stroud, [Vince] Wilfork, that group has to be physically strong enough, physically tough enough to do the things they need to do. I think that's the group, when you look at it, that needs to come along. Justin [Smiley] was playing better when he got injured. We make a move and have Jake Grove in there and that's an opportunity to upgrade that position. Then at the same time, you get Donald Thomas back and now you have [Shawn] Murphy, now you have [Andy] Alleman, and now you got guys that are providing some competition with Joe Berger. That will be a good problem for us."

Sparano said he looks for Ronnie Brown to "take the next step in his progression," now that he's 17 months removed from his knee surgery and has a healthy season to his credit.

[Update 1: On a none-breakfast-with-Tony-front: The NFL announced the top 25 players receiving performanced-based pay based on their playing time and their salary level. The Dolphins had two players that picked up a small fortune based on their playing time. Starting right guard Ikechuku Ndukwe collected $266,912 on top of his regular salary while tight end Anthony Fasano got an extra $252,901 above his regular salary based on his high playing time. Ndukwe ranked 17th among the 25 players collecting most from the program. Fasano was 24th. Beer is on them!]

[Update 6: Sparano said receiver Ernest Wilford will come to camp with the Dolphins, barring a sudden decision by some other team to trade for him, which is unlikely but you never say never. "The plan for Ernest right now will be that he will be in training camp and competing and doing those things," Sparano said. 

That Wilford will go to camp, of course, is obvious and any child could figure that out. What you will read only here is the fact Wilford is available in trade for any team interested. The problem for the Dolphins is his bonus would accelerate but that's another matter. If Wilford somehow muddles through camp and makes the team at the last cut, he still might be a candidate for a pay cut, depending on whether the Dolphins can work the timing correctly. It's going to be a loooong road back from 2008 for Wilford.]

[Update 7: The NFL has released its complete draft order and per this, Miami's "undisclosed" seventh rounder to Jacksonville in the Tony McDaniel trade is No. 232, or the second of the three seventh-round picks Miami had before the trade. The Dolphins also have pick No. 214 and pick No. 237, which are both in the seventh round. No. 232 was Miami's own pick as 214 comes from Cleveland and 237 is from Carolina.]

I'll have more later after I transcribe the entire session. So please check back later. I'll be updating about once every 15-30 minutes.

March 23, 2009

Dolphins not awarded any compensatory picks

DANA POINT, Calif. -- The NFL has just awarded 32 compensatory draft picks to 16 clubs and, well, do you want the bad news or the worse news first?

The bad news is the Dolphins were awarded no compensatory picks.

The worse news is that AFC East rival New England was awarded three compensatory picks. The Patriots, which already had four picks in the first two rounds, were awarded a third-round pick (97th overall), a fifth-round pick (170th), and a sixth-round pick (207th).

No other AFC East team was awarded a compensatory pick.

The compensatory picks are awarded based on a formula that values what players a team loses do with their new teams.

With Satele gone, who might be next? [Update 4]

DANA POINT, Calif. -- The Dolphins are in draft pick collection mode now.

They have traded center Samson Satele because, as I write in my column for Monday's paper, Bill Parcells has his sights set on 2010 when the team might have 12 unrestricted free agents, assuming there is a collective bargaining agreement reached in the next year. Barring an agreement, the rules about who is and isn't a free agent change, but the Dolphins are going by today's rules looking forward.

Anyway, the only way the Dolphins believe they can overcome a potential exodus of a dozen players in 2010 is by loading up on draft picks in 2009.

So Satele is off to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for an undisclosed pick, bringing back to nine the number of picks Miami will have in the April draft. [Update: The Dolphins have confirmed the trade. ESPN.com is reporting the pick is a sixth-rounder, which seems kind of low to me considering Satele has started 32 games and could have been a good option as a backup center or guard.]

[Update 2: This trade also makes Jake Grove the unquestioned starting center for the team. "We obviously invested a lot of money in Jake," general manager Jeff Ireland said today from the meetings. "We had an opportunity to upgrade at the center position with Jake and did that. And then we had a chance to add draft pick value with this trade so we decided that was the best thing to do. We think it will work out well both ways.] 

[Update 3: Ireland confirmed the trade is for a sixth round pick and the teams are also swapping picks in the fourth round. The Dolphins will now have the eighth pick of the fourth round while Oakland drops down and takes the 26th pick of the round, the pick the Dolphins previously owned.

[Update 4: So we know Grove is the starting center. Who is the backup center? There will be a competion. Ireland said Joe Berger and Andy Alleman will be the guys who will compete. "We've got some candidates," Ireland said.] 

But it will not end there, if the Dolphins have there their way.

Trade time has come to Miami!

And it says here a number of players on the roster are available for the right price. Quarterback John Beck is available. Receiver Ernest Wilford is available even though trading him would accelerate his bonus money on the salary cap. Same with cornerback Jason Allen. And that 25th overall pick in the upcoming draft?

It might also be available in the right trade-down scenario that would bring Miami later, but extra picks.

It may surprise you to read Allen and the first-round pick might be available. But here's the lowdown on those:

Dolphins coaches are not convinced Allen has what it takes to make it in Miami despite his prototype size and good athletic ability.

I have been told that although the Dolphins continue to hold out hope that the lightbulb will come on for Allen, and although he is a very good special teams player, there is one major frustration about his play: In times of crisis, when it is nitty-gritty time, he seems to abandon all that he has been taught. He reverts to old instincts and ways, and doesn't stick with the technique he's been taught.

That basically means the Dolphins are starting to worry he's not coachable.

That might not be a big problem on a team with a more free-wheeling system. But unless Allen starts to become more focused on technique and details and fundamentals as taught by this coaching staff, he'll never be a starter in Miami and may not even be in Miami an exceedingly long time.

As to the draft pick: The Dolphins have a number of players they like and a number of needs they need to fill so that, believe it or not, is a positive. But I am told by a high-ranking team source, the players the team likes most in the draft will probably be gone in the 10-15 slots. The Dolphins would love to be anywhere in that number.

But they are at No. 25. And the players likely to be available there aren't exactly wowing the Dolphins because similar players might also be available five to 10 slots later. So the Dolphins might be interested in trading down.

By the way, Bill Parcells is not at the owner's meetings here in lovely Orange County. But, surprisingly, neither is owner Stephen Ross. As I reported first on Sunday, Ross was scheduled to fly on his private jet along with coach Tony Sparano and his wife and media relations vice president Harvey Greene and general counsel and salary cap guru Matt Thomas.

But the owner came down with something at the last minute and missed the flight. It is unclear what he has and it is not known if he will be at the meetings at all. Ross is not at the meetings Monday so it seems he's sitting this one out altogether.

[BLOG NOTE: Be sure to check back often on Monday and Tuesday because I'll have updates as stuff happens from the annual owner's meeting.]

March 22, 2009

Keyshawn: Ted Ginn Jr. not elite

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Keyshawn Johnson knows about Bill Parcells and knows about being a productive receiver because, well, he was a productive receiver under Parcells for a long time.

And so, one figures, Johnson knows as much as anyone about what Parcells is hoping to get out of receiver Ted Ginn Jr. Johnson thinks if Parcells is hoping for Ginn to become Miami's No. 1 receiver, that is simply not going to happen.

"[Ginn] had a good year," Johnson said. "He had a great year I think. In his second year he showed progress at times. He had a [175]-yard game I think. He's doing OK.

"But he's a guy that is not your elite receiver. He's not your lead dog. He's a guy who needs other guys around him. You can't expect him to do everything, that's just not who he is. But he is productive."

Johnson believes the Dolphins will be searching for a player that can move seamlessly between the outside receiver spot that can stretch the field but also can get in the slot if necessary and do good work against safeties and nickel backs who would be overmatched physically.

Johnson believes Parcells likes versatility in his receivers and a definite amount of physical presence. Johnson doesn't think Ginn is that physical presence at all, especially when it comes to blocking a linebacker.

"He runs like a deer and he plays like a deer -- scared," Johnson said.

Having said that, Johnson is not a hater. He thinks Ginn can go to the next level as long as we all recognize the ceiling is not quite as high as what Ginn's No. 9 overall draft pick pedigree would suggest.

"What's the next level, though?" Johnson said. "You're not asking him to be ... what, you're going to ask him to be Randy Moss?"

Well, I think we all know Ginn likely isn't going to be that. How about a No. 2 receiver?

"Oh," Johnson said, "I think he's a good No. 2." 

Sunday column: The nuances of 2009 success

What will define success for the Dolphins in 2009?

Is it the ability to do 2008 one better and make the playoffs, only this time winning in the postseason? Is it repeating as the AFC East champion? Or will success for your Miami Dolphins be defined with more nuance than that?

In my column today I explore how we will define success for the Dolphins this coming season.

I define success as improvement. And I would argue improvement might not lead to a better record or taking a step further in the playoffs.

I would argue the Dolphins might be better in the coming season than they were a year ago. They might prove to be a more complete team. And they might get worse results than they did last season.

Anyway, check out the column and tell me if you agree or disagree with the premise.

I am already in Dana Point, CA and will be covering the NFL Annual Meetings from here until Wednesday. I will bring you the latest from owner Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who will address the media Monday, and coach Tony Sparano, who will do the same Tuesday morning.

Why do I tell you this? So you'll check back often for updates, of course.

March 20, 2009

Demarcus Faggins courted by other teams also

Most of your were not too impressed by the fact the Dolphins brought cornerback Demarcus Faggins to town Wednesday for a free agent looksee. Faggins, a seven-year veteran of the Houston Texans, is looking for work because his old team is going in a different direction.

Well, the Dolphins aren't the only team interested in Faggins.

On Thursday, Faggins visited with the Tennessee Titans. And today he is scheduled to visit the Cleveland Browns. Miami, Cleveland and Tennessee are all looking for depth at cornerback.

The Dolphins need a starter at cornerback despite the signing of Eric Green earlier this month, but that's another issue -- one that may not be resolved until the end of training camp when someone will undoubtedly win the job opposite Will Allen. 

Hey, I feel a poll coming on ...

Please take the poll and explain the reason for your answer in the comments section. 

March 19, 2009

McDaniels on Dolphins trade radar [Update]

The Dolphins have held conversations with the Jacksonville Jaguars about acquiring defensive tackle Tony McDaniel and are close to finalizing a deal, according to an NFL source.

McDaniel has apparently been on the trading block since late February and the Jaguars have contacted several teams, including the Dolphins, about the possibility of trading for him, the source said.

For the trade to be finalized, McDaniel has to pass a Miami physical. If that happens, the Dolphins would be getting a 24-year-old player with three years of experience, most of those as a backup. McDaniel has played 25 games during his professional career.

It is uncertain what the Dolphins are giving for McDaniel. But it is unlikely any compensation for him would rise to the level beyond a seventh- or sixth-round pick.

McDaniel would give the Dolphins the kind of young backup behind 34-year-old starter Jason Ferguson that they need. But McDaniel has not really played as a nose tackle during his career, so he might also project as a 3-4, run-stopping defensive end.

The Dolphins have Paul Soliai as the backup to Ferguson but he has yet to blossom into a player that could be counted on as the heir to the starting job. At the defensive end spot, the Dolphins earlier this month terminated the contract of Vonnie Holliday so they can use another body at the position to compete with players such at Lionel Dotson and Rodrique Wright.

[Update: McDaniel passed his physical. The Dolphins announced Friday they had indeed made the trade for an "undisclosed 2009 draft choice," which I am disclosing to you is a seventh-round pick.] 

Dolphins still looking at free agent CBs [Update]

Contrary to a report the Dolphins were finished with free agency, the team announced Wednesday a visit by free agent cornerback Demarcus Faggins.

Although Faggins was not signed as of 6 p.m. (which was the last time I checked), you should know the Dolphins have had intentions of signing every player they've brought to town so far in free agency. So do not be surprised if Miami extends a contract offer.

The Dolphins brought Joe Berger, Jake Grove and Eric Green in for free agent visits prior to Faggins and signed all three.

Although Faggins has started 36 games in his career, he is not considered a starting caliber cornerback but rather a role player, a nickel or dime corner and specifically a slot cornerback.

This is what ESPN's Scouts Inc. says about the 29-year-old Faggins: "He has been an on again, off again, starter for the Texans in the previous six years. He is a good athlete with quick feet and fluid, supple hips that he can flip to open and run with receivers, as they get even with him. He is quick in transition and drives on the ball with a decent burst of acceleration. He can be beat by speedy receivers on fly patterns and needs to bail out early when he thinks receivers are going to try and just run by him. He is a smart corner who shows good route recognition when in off coverage and does a good job of reading the quarterback's eyes to get a jump on the ball from zone. He can struggle to make a play on the ball, when lined up on bigger receivers and seems to find his success when lined up on the inside slot receivers. While he can line up and start at corner, he is best suited as a nickel back who covers the inside routes."

Faggins is an original Texan who wanted to return to Houston but the team has decided to go another direction so he needs a new gig.

[Update: Miami's continued interest in corners, who have been no better than average, is troubling in that Jason Allen's fall from grace is almost complete. If the Dolphins had any confidence in their resident 6-1, 200-pound player, Allen would be a favorite to win the starting job vacated by Andre' Goodman's departure in free agency.

The Dolphins wouldn't need to mess with players such as Faggins.

The idea would be to allow Allen, who is 25 and entering his fourth NFL season, to finally fulfill the promise of his size and draft status. But the signing of Eric Green, the flirtation with Faggins and the probable selection of a rookie CB in the coming draft leads to the conclusion the club has zero confidence in what Allen offers.

In fact, the only time the coaches under Bill Parcells seemed to have any confidence in Allen is when they didn't really know him. Remember he was handed the starting free safety job at the start of training camp last year. Of course, this is when coaches were still learning what players could do.

Once practices and scrimmages and preseason games began, coaches saw they made a mistake and Allen got shelved. Coaches had seen what they needed to see. Then Allen was moved to cornerback. And forced into the lineup as the starting nickel or dime package corner, Allen lasted only one game before getting shelved again. He finished the season primarily as a special teams grunt. This guy was the 16th overall selection of the 2006 draft!

Now, with a glaring need at cornerback, the Dolphins are seeking answers among mediocre free agent vets. Allen may still get an opportunity to compete in training camp -- but that feels like it will be more like a battle for a roster spot than an attempt to become a starter.]

March 16, 2009

Peppers on Pats is a bummer for Dolphins

Nervous? A couple of days ago I wrote a column in the Herald basically saying the New England Patriots, which finished behind the Dolphins in the AFC East race last season, had pulled ahead of the Dolphins this offseason.

And think what you will about that opinion, but it would be hard for anyone to argue the Patriots wouldn't be greatly and significantly improved on defense, their team weakness, if someone the caliber of a Julius Peppers were to join them. Yet, NFL.com is reporting the Patriots appear to be on the verge of trading for Peppers.

That report fails to note that Peppers has not signed the exclusive rights franchise tag tender the Panthers hung on him several weeks ago. And the Panthers cannot speak with Patriots about such a deal unless that tender is signed. So The Charlotte Observer is reporting the teams have not talked.

But that doesn't mean Peppers' agent and the Patriots cannot talk. And the NFL.com report indeed suggests trade parameters have been worked out, with New England sending Carolina the No. 34 overall pick in the draft, the second-round pick it got from Kansas City for Matt Cassel, in exchange for Peppers.

If this is true, it has to be a tremendous bummer for everyone in the AFC East not named the cheaters Patriots. 

Look, Vic Carucci, who wrote the story for NFL.com, is an excellent reporter with good contacts. So it is right to believe that where there is smoke, there may be fire. And nowhere have you heard either team deny the story outright. 

So you should consider this a very serious possibility. It is not a certainty. But it is possible.

And what, you should ask as tears roll down your face, would Peppers do for the Patriots?

He would instantly improve their questionable pass rush. Think Jason Taylor with the Dolphins circa 2006. Remember that year? The Dolphins used Taylor as a hybrid linebacker, pass rusher, and tormentor of offenses.

The Patriots would likely do the same with Peppers. I remember Nick Saban practically salavating at the thought of having a Peppers in his defensive scheme. When the Dolphins had the No. 2 overall selection in 2005, Saban told me if Peppers, who was drafted second overall in 2002, were available to him, he'd be, "jumping around celebrating." Those were his words.

It stands to reason Saban mentor Bill Belichick will see the same possibilities with Peppers as his disciple saw.

Like I said before, bummer. 

What about (fill in name here) for Dolphins?

The last couple of days have served to fill up my Outlook box in Microsoft because many readers want to know what the chances are of Miami signing this veteran or that veteran, this aging receiver here, or that overpriced cornerback there, or possibly even that complaining quarterback over yonder.

So rather than spend an hour replying individually to everyone's e-mails on a day off, I figured I'd just work five minutes on here to answer everyone's questions in one fell swoop. [Blog effeciency note: 'Tis better to work five minutes than 60 minutes on a day off.]

Below you'll find the names of some veterans released or generally considered available via trade. And you'll find my take on whether the Dolphins will show interest or not. I have asked specifiically about some of these players. Others, I've not asked about and will tell you I haven't. But I have a guesstimate as to Miami's interest and will share that.

OK, here we go:

WR Torry Holt: The man nicknamed "Big Game" had his string of eight, count 'em, eight consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons broken in 2008 when he caught 64 passes for 796 yards. He also had a career low three TD receptions. And his average per reception, on the decline in three of the past four years, was at a career low 12.4 yards per catch. I have not asked about Holt because the timing isn't right for him to join the Dolphins. Let's face it, the Dolphins are going to draft a receiver. If this was May rather than March and Miami already had failed to come out of the draft with a receiver, this would be more of a possibility. But Miami is intent on adding youth and vibrancy and future potential to the receiver corps. Holt is none of those.

The Dolphins are going to take only five, and sometimes four, receivers to the game, as Tony Sparano would say. After Ted Ginn Jr., Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo and Brandon London (for special teams), there isn't a lot of roster room for a soon-to-be 33-year-old declining player, who doesn't play special teams, and probably wants to maximize his final chance at a contract. Other teams such as San Francisco, Pittsburgh or either New York team would be a better fit for Holt.

One more thing about Holt that all but erases his chances of playing for Miami. You recall last season's game between the Rams and Dolphins? At one point, late in the game, the Rams had the ball with a chance to win if they could author a touchdown drive. Throwing the ball on every down, the Rams scored a couple of first downs, but surprisingly, Holt was on the sideline at that time. In the game's most important moment, Holt took himself out of the game! He was not injured and he was not ordered to come out, I confirmed later. I asked cornerback Andre' Goodman what he made of Holt and Goodman told me he was surprised and that he had seen no fire in Holt's face all game long. That is not the reputation Holt carried throughout his previous 10 seasons. But it definitely is not the type of response or example the Dolphins need for their young receiver corps.

CB Pacman Jones: You guys that think this is a fit are simply trippin'. I know Adam Jones, as he supposedly goes by now, did an interview with Foxsports.com to rehabilitate his reputation. But that doesn't mean he's rehabilitated. What he is is a player three years removed from a good season. He is a guy who sat out all of 2007 on suspension, missed parts of 2008 because of another suspension, and is one misstep from another suspension. Oh, and he's not that good anymore. When he did play in 2008, he wasn't able to lock down many receivers, much less a starting job. He started six times in nine games, but that was only because the Cowboys were depleted at cornerback and they really had no other options. Bill Parcells, by the way, is a big believer in not hiring thugs. He hates the fact some of his players go to clubs because he believes nothing good ever comes out of those visits. He has told his players as much. So you think Parcells is then going to sign a player known for embracing the thug lifestyle and visiting all sorts of clubs, particularly ones with the word, "strip," in front of it? Stop it. Just stop it. 

QB Jay Cutler. Hmmmm. Very interesting. It is clear the Pro Bowl quarterback is on the outs in Denver. The Broncos considered trading him because Josh McDaniels is the new coach and the new coach apparently doesn't feel quite comfortable with the old coach's quarterback. And the old quarterback doesn't necessarily like the new coach, as every meeting between the two worsens a bad situation. So I look for Cutler, who is already selling his home in Denver, to be traded by draft day. Cutler would be an upgrade for the Dolphins. He's better than Chad Pennington. He's proven and Chad Henne is not. The guy took a team with no defense and no running game into the final game of the season with a chance to win the AFC West. That's how good he is.

But he would not come cheap. The Broncos would want a first-round pick for him along with other considerations. It's the other considerations that cloud the picture. If Denver wants two first round picks, that eliminates Miami because the need isn't big enough to justify the move. Other teams such as the Jets, Vikings, Houston, San Francisco, and St. Louis would pull the trigger on a such a deal before Miami ever would. So the chances of this happening in Miami are slim. But to dismiss those chances as impossible is wrong also.

CB Chris McAlister: His agent made a pitch to the Dolphins about signing McAlister but as of this morning, the Dolphins had not shown interest. I am thinking the signing of Eric Green to a two-year contract with base salaries of $1.2 million in 2009 and $1.625 million in 2010 sends a clear signal of Miami's intentions at cornerback:

The Dolphins will give Green the opportunity to compete for a starting job this season and maybe next. But they intend to bring in an early draft pick this year with the hope that rookie also competes for the same starting job. Would McAlister have been a better veteran option than Green? I think so, particularly since Green isn't being veiwed as the long-term solution. But I don't make these decisions and the Dolphins know more about these players than I ever could. So I don't think McAlister is in the picture now. 

DE/OLB Jason Taylor: As I've reported first and exclusively, the Dolphins have not closed the door on a JT sequel. Given the right circumstances, Bill Parcells would love the addition of a proven pass-rush threat that he believes would bring double-digit sacks to the team in 2009. But ...

The window of opportunity is closing. The Dolphins are scheduled to begin their offseason conditioning program March 30 and if Taylor wants to wear the aqua and orange again, he would have to fully commit to being part of that program from the start, and indeed, being a star in that program. I am not sure Taylor wants to make that commitment.

There is also the small issue of MONEY. The Dolphins are not able at the moment to give Taylor the two-year, $10-14 million deal he could probably get elsewhere. They could pay him excellent money, no doubt, but not premium money. So as Miami would welcome JT back under the right circumstances, it would be up to JT to decide if those circumstances suit him.

If he's about getting the biggest payday possible, he won't play in Miami. If he's about taking a vacation until training camp opens, he won't play in Miami.

But if he wants to return home, work his tail off in the conditioning program to prepare for a comeback season, be driven by something other than the biggest available paycheck, and play with a competitive and up-and-coming team, then Miami is his answer.

OK, my five minutes are up. Discuss at will ...

March 15, 2009

Sunday column: Pats, Dolphins still racing

The offseason is supposed to be the down time, the off time. Hence the term offseason. But the NFL knows no offseason, as the competition between teams rages during free agency, the draft, conditioning programs and training camps.

At least that's how I see it.

The offseason determines, in part, what results teams get during the regular-season. And that's why my column in Sunday's Miami Herald looks at where the top two teams in the AFC East stand.

Understand the column looks at a snapshot in time. And that time is right now. It looks at the Dolphins and Patriots as they stand today. You should know the standings can change as the offseason wears on and eventually as the regular season begins -- it's like knowing what the score is five minutes into a game's first quarter.

And today, as we look at the Dolphins and Patriots, I see the team that finished behind the Dolphins in the AFC East as slightly better than Miami now. Yes, I think the Patriots are ahead of the Dolphins right now.

The column outlines the reasons I see New England as having pulled ahead of Miami for the moment. It shouldn't surprise anyone to note one major reason is named Tom Brady and his apparent on-schedule return from last season's knee injury.

You might ask why I locked in on only the Dolphins and Patriots? Well, because the Dolphins finished first in the division last season and their closest, most dangerous challenger was, and remains, New England. While the Bills and Jets have made significant moves this offseason, frankly, I don't think anyone would argue Miami and New England remain the teams to beat.

And as I look at it today, the Patriots are the team to beat moreso than Miami.

I'm sure most of you, being Dolphins fans, will be unable to provide a dispassionate view of the issue. But some of you in the past have been able to be quite analytical in your view of teams, players, and the NFL reality. So I expect a good exchange and healthy debate in the comments section.

["The Patriots suck" is not stuff of healthy debate, OK?]

March 12, 2009

Tale of tape: Goodman vs. Green

The addition of veteran cornerback Eric Green gives the Dolphins a fallback position -- a player with starting NFL experience -- if their plans with a rookie draftee or Nate Jones or Jason Allen or someone else somehow falls through.

But we know that mostly Green was necessary because the Dolphins lost their starting cornerback of the past few years -- Andre' Goodman -- in free agency. Goodman signed with Denver.

So the natural question is have the Dolphins upgraded, downgraded or broken even in basically exchanging Green for Goodman? It is impossible to know for sure until we actually see Green play and compare that to what Goodman did for Miami last season and continues doing in Denver.

But let's compare the players and their histories to, as Nick Saban would say, get a predictor of their future performance:

MEASURABLES: Green is 26 years old. He is 5-11 and 196 pounds. Goodman is 30 years old. He is 5-10 and 190 pounds. ADVANTAGE: Green. He's bigger and younger.

PRODUCTION: The past three years Goodman has played 44 games. He had seven interceptions, 26 passes defensed, 101 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Green has played 39 games. He had one interception, 26 passes defensed, 127 total tackles, and one forced fumble. ADVANTAGE: Goodman. Although Green has been a bigger producer in run support, Goodman's early 2008 slump didn't erase the fact he was productive against the passing game and later in the year became a turnover threat when attacked too often.

PROJECTION: According to one pro scout, who always takes my call God bless him, Green is probably the better athlete in that he has better speed and won't get overmatched as often as Goodman can against big receivers. But the same scout says Goodman is a better technician, has greater instincts, and has shown better overall balance than Green. The scout said Goodman has a reputation for playing even when he's not 100 percent healthy while Green has not played very well when playing hurt. ADVANTAGE: Goodman. The scout said he would grade Goodman a 65 player while grading Green a 63.

Obviously this is only one man's opinion. Beyond that, the statistics speak to what has happened rather than what is about to happen. One area that must also be taken into account is the contract Green got.

That is not available yet. If Green signed for bargain money, that works in Green's favor because Goodman didn't come cheap. Goodman signed for five years and $25 million with $10 million in guarantees. If Green signed for less than that, he pulls ahead in this comparison.

If Green's contract is comparable,however, then the fact Goodman is slightly better in pass defense and has more experience in Miami's system gives him a small edge over Green's youth, superior overall athleticism and potential.