Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinel is reporting this morning that the Dolphins’ plans are to release 32-year old cornerback Will Allen once teams are officially allowed to cut ties with veterans next month.
Allen was placed on injured reserve early in the year after he underwent a knee scope to help alleviate pain in his knee as he attempted to return from a torn ACL. From the outside looking in, it certainly appeared to be a premature move on the Dolphins part, as Jeff Ireland churned the roster by bringing in roster fringe lineman and wasn't willing to wait for the outstanding depth Allen would have brought to the cornerback position.
In his five years with the Dolphins, Allen arguably established himself as one of the most underrated cornerbacks in football, but the combination of his age, durability, the emergence of Vontae Davis and Sean Smith, and the fact that he’s owed $5.5 million in 2011, the third most of any Dolphin, makes this an almost compulsory move. Hopefully, by avoiding handing that big of a check to Allen, the Dolphins can put that extra cash to good use in free agency.
Dolphins’ general manager Jeff Ireland was back at it again yesterday at the Senior Bowl. In the same manner he praised Gibril Wilson and endorsed the pedestrian receiving core last offseason, Ireland had nothing but good things to say about Chad Henne and talked like he’s still not willing give up on him as the future of the franchise.
"He's shown some aggressive tendencies, he's shown some exciting throws," Ireland said. "He's got all the ability in the world. We've just got to put a plan together and an offensive philosophy that fits Chad Henne, and I think we'll do that." He did, however, make it known that the Dolphins would "evaluate what’s out there like we do every position in free agency and the draft.”
Reading too heavily into Ireland’s comments would be foolish considering that this regime tends to say one thing and do another and that teams generally like to throw smokescreens out there in the early stages of the offseason. It’s not like Ireland would tip his hand if he had a plan in place to acquire another quarterback either via a trade, free agency, or the draft. Having said that, though, we can ponder whether or not there is still any hope for Chad Henne as a starter in this league.
Even if the Dolphins are intent on finding a new potential franchise quarterback, there’s no guarantee that Chad Henne won’t, at the very least, retain his starting job to begin the season. If they choose to address the situation in the draft, rookies usually need at least one season of developmental time. There are obviously the exceptions like Sam Bradford, but there isn’t a quarterback in this year’s draft that appears half as NFL ready as Bradford was. If the Dolphins choose to bring in a veteran, there isn’t one attainable quarterback in this league that Chad Henne can’t at least compete with.
So while I agree with many fans that it’s time for the Dolphins to stop investing in Chad Henne like a franchise quarterback and that it’s time for Jeff Ireland to scour the land for the next potential long term solution, it’s likely more than a probability that the Dolphins won’t find a reliable quarterback this offseason and Chad Henne will take that first snap in early September. That may not be what the majority of fans want to hear, but sometimes the truth is discouraging. But if it indeed plays out that way, will all hope be lost for the 2011 season?
Personally, I find it hard to believe that the light bulb will ever turn on in Henne’s head if it hasn’t already. But if somehow season three as the starter is the year the game finally slows down for Henne and he lives up to the potential that comes with having a rocket for an arm, he wouldn’t be in uncharted waters. Most elite quarterbacks in this league, or even solid starters for that matter, reveal the type of player they’re going to be by their second season under center. Looking at the curious case of Drew Brees’ rocky start in San Diego, though, we see some striking similarities with Henne’s first three seasons in Miami.
In the weeks leading up to free agency and the draft, I thought I would highlight two or three quarterbacks per week that could potentially fill the Dolphins’ void at the game’s most crucial position this offseason. While finding a franchise quarterback has to be priority number one for Jeff Ireland and company, these guys are attainable for a reason.
Sure, there’s potential there in many of these cases, but none of these quarterbacks that are scheduled to hit the open market, expected to last halfway through the first round of the draft, or that have underwhelmed enough for their current team to mull over trade talks, come without plenty of risks and cons.
Look no further than Michael Vick, though, to find a player that many teams passed on, including the Dolphins, but now is fresh off an MVP caliber season with the Eagles. And sense we are on the topic of Vick, we might as well kickoff this series with a guy, in Vince Young, who currently has the same sort of character concerns Vick had, but also possesses the elite athletic ability that could entice a team like the Dolphins to roll the dice.
Status: Impending free agent
Career Stats: 57.9 comp. %, 8,098 yards, 42 TD’s 42 INT’s, 1,380 rushing yards, 5.2 ypc, 12 TD’s
Pros: Vince Young would instantly give a stagnant Dolphins offense big play capability. His scrambling ability is second only to the one and only Michael Vick. He isn’t going to put up the dazzling rushing stats Vick does, but he’s going to keep plays alive and keep defenses on their toes, as they are forced to respect both his arm and his legs.
That extra element Young brings to the table could be just the spark the Dolphins’ offense so desperately needs. Young also possesses some effortless arm strength on deep balls and is fresh off of his best statistical passing season to date. Young only saw eight starts in 2010, but finished the year with a 98.6 quarterback rating and a 10 to 3 touchdown to interception ratio. On top of that, Young has earned the reputation as a winner with a 30-17 career record as a starter.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Young wouldn’t be a considerable risk for the Dolphins, as opposed to some of the other options out there. They wouldn’t have to concede anything in a trade or invest their first round pick for Young’s services. On the surface, Vince Young appears to be a low risk, high reward option for the Dolphins.
According to the team’s official website, the Miami Dolphins have signed General Manager Jeff Ireland to a multi-year contract extension. The press release doesn’t state the particulars of the deal, but Ireland is now assumed to be under contract through at least the 2013 season, with his old deal expiring at the conclusion of 2012.
"I appreciate the support of the entire Dolphin organization, from Steve Ross all the way down, and I'm going to continue to work as hard as I can with Steve, Tony Sparano, and the rest of the team to bring the Dolphins back to their long-time position as one of the elite teams in the NFL," said Ireland in the team’s press release. "We have a young and talented nucleus to build on, and as we continue to add quality players through all the means available to us, we will give our fans the type of team they deserve."
“The decision to extend Jeff’s contract as our General Manager was an easy one," said Dolphins’ owner Steve Ross. "The young talent that Jeff has assembled during his three years with the Dolphins has made a profound impact on our franchise’s recovery from the 1-15 season of 2007. Jeff has my full support moving forward as we pursue our goals to build the best and brightest front office in the National Football League and ultimately to win a Super Bowl Championship for all of South Florida and Dolphin fans around the world.”
Ireland’s extension now gives this current regime much needed stability as the long, treacherous offseason gears up for full swing. With the way the 2010 season ended, the fate of both Ireland and Sparano was hanging in the balance. At least now, Stephen Ross and the Dolphins appear committed to the direction this team is headed. Hopefully, that will boost morale at team headquarters and give everyone from top to bottom a little more confidence as crucial player evaluation kicks off.
As for whether or not this ultimately benefits the Dolphins, the jury is still out. Ireland has shaken this fan base’s trust with ethical dilemmas like inapt interview questions and awkward coaching searches, and has seen his fair share of hits and misses in the draft and free agency. But we still aren’t entirely sure exactly how much control he’s had in previous offseasons. We were all under the impression that Bill Parcells had the final say in every draft selection, free agent signing, and trade. Well Ireland’s time has come. Maybe he hasn’t always handled himself like a professional, but if he can consistently make sound personnel decisions for this franchise, the winning that follows will cure all.
The choice may be much to the dismay of many fans, but nevertheless, the Dolphins have found their offensive coordinator in Brian Daboll. With that, all major coaching positions are virtually set in stone for the 2011 season. That means it’s finally time to move on from what has mostly been two weeks of sheer speculation and drama, and turn our attention to the Dolphins’ roster. Before we begin prepping for free agency and the draft, though, determining what the Dolphins’ biggest needs are heading into the offseason is the next line of action.
1. Quarterback: There’s no question that the inconsistent, sometimes erratic play of Chad Henne separated the Dolphins from being a playoff caliber football team in 2010. Having said that, though, there’s a big difference between identifying that a need at the quarterback position exist and actually finding a franchise quarterback. After all, it’s not like franchise QB’s will be just floating around on the free agency market and no sure thing at the game’s most important position is going to still be around when the Dolphins are on the clock with the 15th overall selection in the draft. I’m not saying that the Dolphins won’t find their quarterback of the future this offseason, but I am saying that it’s going to be considerably easier said than done.
Fans have to realize that there is no guarantee that Chad Henne won’t be given another opportunity to start next season. At the very least, he’s likely going to be involved in an open competition to start training camp with a rookie or run of the mill veteran. But the front office has to at least bring in competition for Henne, because they would be foolish to keep investing in him like he’s the quarterback of the future. I’m not willing to say that Henne can’t keep the seat warm temporarily until a rookie develops or until the Dolphins find their franchise quarterback in the 2012 offseason, but if this football team is going to emerge as a perennial Super Bowl contender anytime soon, Henne likely won’t be the guy under center.
2. Center/Left Guard: I list both positions here because this area of need all depends on what the Dolphins’ plans are for Richie Incognito. Incognito was off and on the one bright spot on what was a putrid interior offensive line. He manned left guard for most of the season, but was given the opportunity to play center against the Bears in Week 11 and against the Lions in Week 16. He proved to be an upgrade over Joe Berger as the Dolphins’ interior O-line produced considerably more push for the running game. But will that be enough to give Incognito the keys to the starting center spot in 2011? Personally, I think Incognito has the potential to flourish at center given a whole offseason and training camp of preparation time, but if the Dolphins decide to bring him back as a left guard, center instantly would become this football team’s second biggest area of need.
3. Running Back: It’s no secret that both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown's contracts are up and that all indications are pointing to both being in another uniform next season. Before Ricky’s recent tantrum to a Miami radio station, in which he bashed Tony Sparano, I would have been in favor of the Dolphins bringing him back for one more season simply because it’s going to be difficult to find two starting caliber backs in one offseason. But Ricky burned all bridges on his way out of Miami and Ronnie Brown just hasn’t earned the right to be paid like a Pro Bowl caliber back when he’s only got one 1,000 yard season under his belt and is one of the most injury prone players in football. That means the Dolphins will likely be forced to pursue two running backs this offseason, either via free agency or the draft. Unless of course, the Dolphins plan on utilizing more of a featured back system in 2011 or look for in house options like Lex Hilliard or Kory Sheets to step up into essentially a co-starting role.
NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi is reporting that the Miami Dolphins will name former Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to the same position. For those fans that were eager for a big name hire that rivaled the Mike Nolan acquisition at defensive coordinator a year ago, Daboll will surely disappoint.
Looking at the last two seasons of his resume alone, one could even make the case that Daboll may not even be an upgrade over Dan Henning. Over the past two years, Daboll’s offense in Cleveland was less productive than Henning’s in Miami. In 2010 the Browns ranked 31st in points per game with a measly 16.9 average, trailing the Dolphins’ 17.1 points per game total that finished the year 30th overall. Despite all of Chad Henne’s struggles, the Dolphins were also significantly more productive through the air with 220.4 passing yards per game (16th) which trumped the Browns’ 186.8 yard average (29th). Quite the contrast to the type of hire we all expected after Stephen Ross’ comments suggested that he wanted a creative, innovator type play-caller that would air the ball out early and often.
But before we judge Daboll on paper alone, in all fairness he didn’t exactly have much to work with in Cleveland. For all the complaining we do about Chad Henne, the Browns’ quarterback situation was one of the worst in the entire league as Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace struggled heavily early on and rookie Colt McCoy was injured just when he began to show some promise. The Browns also didn’t see a wide receiver surpass the 500 yards receiving mark, which is unheard of in today’s NFL.
If there is any upside to this hire at all, it’s Daboll’s credentials before the last two seasons he spent in Cleveland. Daboll served as a defensive assistant (2000-2001) and wide receivers coach (2002-2006) in New England, meaning he was a part of Bill Belichick’s coaching staff during the Patriots’ three Super Bowl run. After the 2006 season he was hired as the Jets’ quarterback coach where he stayed until Mangini brought him along to Cleveland. So at the very least Daboll brings experience coaching in the division and has been a part of a winning culture. Still though, this hire doesn’t look very promising on paper, and Daboll will have plenty to prove in order to win over the fan base.
With Tony Sparano now under contract through the 2013 season and the player personnel phase of the offseason still being several weeks away, the most pressing need in Dolphin land nowadays is the hunt for an offensive coordinator. Because the Dolphins are young and promising on the defensive side of the ball, expect this to be the first of many posts focused squarely on improving the Dolphins’ anemic offense.
A new coordinator calling the shots certainly doesn’t guarantee that the offense will even come close to turning the corner, but any change will be embraced as refreshing after the Dan Henning debacle we were all forced to witness this season. Sure, it’s hard to point the finger exclusively at Henning, especially considering some of the dumbfounding decisions Chad Henne made in his second season as the starter and the fact that the front office blew up the interior offensive line from a year ago, which in turn forced Henning to abandon a non-existent running game more often than not.
So a new face up in the booth certainly isn’t going to upgrade the Dolphins’ offense to respectability overnight. After all, great players are usually the ones who tend to make offensive coordinators look like geniuses. Something the Dolphins have very few of on the offensive side of the football.
Fans were quick to praise Dan Henning when the Chad Pennington led Dolphins took the AFC East in 2008. Did Henning have a fine season calling the shots? Sure he did. But it wouldn’t have happened without the stability Pennington brought to the position week in and week out. Having said all of that, I’m as ecstatic as the next guy that Dan Henning walked away following the disastrous year that is still fresh in all of our minds.
The fact of the matter is, while Pennington made Henning look smart in 08’, he was also the perfect fit for the style of offense Henning likes to run. A ball-control, low-risk style of play was just what those 08’ Dolphins needed and it fit Pennington’s mistake-free way’s like a glove. When you play that style of football, though, your margin for error isn’t much.
The Dolphins weren’t a very talented team back when Henning first took over and that style of play was the ideal fit because it kept them in most games. They would compete with playoff caliber tams but also come right down to the wire with some of the league’s bottom feeders. That’s great when all the bounces go your way. But in 2010, when it seemed like the Dolphins just couldn’t get a break, that small margin for error ultimately doomed their season.
Now, Stephen Ross is calling for an offensive coordinator who is going to come in with an aggressive mindset. Not a guy who is going to play not to lose, but a guy who wants to score early and often. A lot easier said than done for a Dolphins’ offense without a franchise quarterback, a decent interior offensive line, or a promising young running back. But the first step in righting the ship is finding a play-caller, so that’s where we begin.