Like it or not, true or not (Oh, it is true), the Miami Dolphins have gotten a reputation under Joe Philbin for not dealing sympathetically with players who have ... um, opinions, personalities, and off-field issues.
The Dolphins like their players to make statements with their play and not their mouths. Within the rules. Without any controversy. Without any issues, for that matter.
And that is an understandable approach because the nature of today's more politically sensitive NFL frowns on players that have any off-field issues of any stripe. It frowns on players that push the envelope on the field. And it actively punishes players that play or live to the beat of their own drum.
So Marshawn Lynch, you're going to get fined for not talking at the Super Bowl.
Doug Baldwin, you're going to get fined for mimicking a bowel movement as a TD celebration in the Super Bowl.
Ray Rice, you're suspended for punching your fiancée.
Adrian Petersen, you're going to get suspended for hitting your son.
Richie Incognito, you're going to get suspended for bullying your teammate.
And, by the way, I agree with all these actions. The lunatics, my friends, cannot be running the asylum.
But there is a way to play like a dog, be an individual, and still not embarrass yourself, your teammates, your fans and the league.
And that is where I have something of a problem with the Miami Dolphins.
In recent years they have, in my opinion, too closely straddled the line between what is improper and what is just human to the point it seemingly costs them talent.
Look, I agreed Chad Johnson had to go when he hit his wife. I agreed the team could not simply sit idly and leave the Incognito-Jonathan Martin issue unattended, although I think everyone, including owner Stephen Ross went overboard portraying Martin as a sympathetic figure.
(I remind you Ross said he wanted to visit with Martin to get his side, but never wanted to visit with Incognito. I think a more accurate portrayal would have been Martin as a troubled man -- talk of suicide and drug and/or alcohol use are obvious signs -- who was harassed wrongly and unfairly by Incognito but who also allowed lawyers and others to run roughshod over him in handling a situation that could better have been handled internally if he had simply told people in authority the problems early on.)
Where I depart from the Dolphins way of handling players that seem to be, well, a little different is in their breaking ties with players such as Karlos Dansby, Vontae Davis, and others because those players don't seem to toe the expected line exactly as the team wants or have maturity issues.
So Dansby talked a lot. He was open. He had thoughts he shared and didn't always agree with Joe Philbin. That got him in trouble a couple of times with the coach. And coincidently or not, he was cut soon afterward.
So Vontae was immature. So he went to the bathroom a lot one practice, which freaked Philbin out. No, he wasn't perfect, but he was also 23-years-old so there was so much room for growth. Yet coincidently or not, he was traded.
And I would say excluding players that don't strictly fall in line with a rigid definition of what is acceptable is not sound player personnel policy. Players are people. They have minds of their own. A great organization can find the most talented of those and get those individuals to fit in cohesively while still keeping their individuality.
I'm not sure the Dolphins allow for that as well as other teams. The team's reputation among some agents is it does not.
And that reputation wasn't helped when Dennis Hickey was asked at the Indianapolis Combine last week whether Philbin would rather not have outspoken players on his team.
“I think Joe is a principled leader and I know he cares for his players," Hickey said. "Puts them in a great plan and works together with them. Our goal is to get better and that’s what we’re going to do."
Yeah, that's not a denial or even a pushback on the idea that Philbin is unbending about players.
Why is this important? Well, unless Philbin is moving the line on what he deems acceptable behavior by players, the Dolphins in a few weeks will make personnel decisions that include his thinking on what kind of player profile is acceptable.
It will matter in who is coming and who might be going.
And what does that mean in a tangible sense?
Well, aside from the fact he is going to be extremely expensive, I believe it means Ndamukong Suh -- he of the sometimes questionable tactics and on-field approach -- is not a fit for the Dolphins. He simply isn't a fall in line kind of guy.
It means Antonio Cromartie, who has worn out his welcome on a couple of teams despite being a highly productive cornerback, probably isn't a fit for the Dolphins in free agency. He simply isn't a fall in line guy.
(Mike Tannenbaum's influence may shift Miami's course on this one).
It means Mike Wallace, who has complained openly to coaches about how often he gets the ball, is on the cusp of wearing out his welcome in Miami. He has tried publicly to put a good face on things. He works hard. But he isn't always a fall in line guy.
It means Jared Odrick, clearly talented and proficient at his defensive tackle position, may be judged by other means when the team decides whether he's worth a certain amount of money to retain in free agency or not. Why? He did yell at Philbin on the sideline last year -- which got him a talking-to from the coach.
The point is all teams judge off-field and character issues. It must be done in today's NFL moreso than in the past because those issues now determine actual games played on the field more than in the past. So the Dolphins are no different than any other team in that regard.
But it seems the Dolphins take extra steps to make sure the players on their roster fall in line more strictly.
Don't say the wrong thing.
Don't complain publicly.
Don't act out.
Don't have an opinion.
Don't be immature -- even if you're only 23.
Indeed, don't have a personality that doesn't mesh with your coach's personality.
This is dangerous. This sets limits on the Dolphins that other teams may not necessarily have. And with free agency and the draft looming, this doesn't put the Dolphins in the best position to compete for talent against teams not encumbered by such strict limits.