The moves made today say a lot about the state of this Dolphins franchise. This a franchise in a perilous state of uncertainty. Three years ago Bill Parcells came in and took over a struggling team. Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland were his disciples, they were tasked with changing the organizational philosophy to match the lofty Parcellsian ideals about how football should be played and won.
For the last three years we’ve heard that it wasn’t going to be an overnight change, it was going to be a process. The Dolphins had to embrace the cut-throat logic of the NFL personnel game and say goodbye to the sentimentality that had let a beloved defense age and atrophy to a near-disgraceful state. We were told that the Dolphins had to get younger, they had to look to the future and they had to build from the ground up. It all sounds a lot like campaign rhetoric, but we ate it all up in light of a 1-15 debacle. And the results were good, so we’ve bought in and believed that this was a front office that was virtuously and diligently going to build a winner the right way, from the ground up, by developing players and keeping in mind the big picture.
Today’s moves stand in stark contrast to those “organizational philosophies.” Today the Dolphins pulled the plug on Jason Allen. Two-time Pro-Bowler Al Harris became available. 35 year-old Al Harris that just last year tore his ACL, his LCL, his iliotibal band, fibular collateral ligament, and lateral hamstring and spent the first half of this season on the Packers’ PUP list, but was once highly heralded put in a work-out for the Dolphins this morning at 7 AM. And in the thirty minutes or so that he worked out apparently the Dolphins saw enough to pull the plug on a former first-rounder that had supposedly developed in the three years they’d been coaching him.
Then they benched Chad Henne. They let the guy go into his second year as a starter and face an absolutely grueling schedule. If you listen to Ricky Williams they didn’t take the hand-cuffs off. He couldn’t even audible at the line. They hung him out to dry. But they did it under the guise that they were bringing him along slowly. They asked him to go into Cincinnati, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Green Bay and Baltimore, none of which are especially inviting for opposing quarterbacks, and win. They didn’t bother with balance or giving him the benefit of a running game, just had him throw. It wasn’t any easier at home. The Patriots, Jets and Steelers are three of the top teams in the league. Going into the year fans said 4-4 through the first 8 games would put the Dolphins in position to make the playoffs. Chad Henne took the Dolphins 4-4. And then they benched him.
Right or wrong, whether or not these moves work out, these moves smack of desperation. These moves tell you a lot of things, but most importantly though, they tell you that Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland are scared for their jobs. Over the course of seemingly a single off-day, things snapped. This organization no longer seems like one on a strong path, committed to a strong core set of beliefs and principles. It seems like things in Miami just hit the fan.
I don’t know what sent things over the top. But in a single day Miami changed from the philosophy of developing young players and committing to building the right way. The same philosophy that lead the Dolphins to cut veterans like Charles Grant in training camp, that lead them not to even offer a minimum contract to Jason Taylor, they tossed it out on its ear. Today they jumped at the chance to bring in a 35 year-old.
They dumped their development project quarterback in favor of a player that had delivered results before, but has a declining ceiling in terms of his potential. In all likelihood, the personnel decisions made today will make the Dolphins better off in the interim. Chad Pennington is better-suited for the über-conservative Dan Henning offense. And you can buy into the party-line again if you want to. You can believe that Pennington’s decision-making or the fact he’s more likely to hit Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess in stride are the reasons that he’s in as the starter now.
But make no mistake about it, Tony Sparano or Jeff Ireland, one or both got the feeling that their jobs may be on the line here this year, and they crapped the bed. Something happened that made them disregard the organizational program that the Dolphins have abided by for the past three years and make two knee-jerk moves aimed at righting the ship. Right now the men running the Dolphins look far from confident, you can tell it by their words and their actions.
Listen to Chad Pennington when he says he could derive a sense of urgency from Tony Sparano’s request to meet with him earlier than planned this morning. Look at the nature of the 7 AM workout for Harris, just a day after he cleared waivers, as soon as possible. This is a team that has seemingly had a four year plan since Bill Parcells signed up. That was three years ago, and maybe we should have been more skeptical when Parcells left. The story that it was part of the plan for him to leave all along meshed well at the time, but beneath the surface were murmurs that something greater was amiss.
Maybe Ireland and Sparano realized why Parcells jumped ship. Maybe they realized the philosophy all of this rebuilding had been based on doesn’t work in the NFL anymore. Maybe they realized Stephen Ross isn’t going to be as patient as they’d hoped. But something happened that caused them to deviate from the plan. Something made Tony Sparano feel like he didn’t have the luxury to find out what he had in Chad Henne over the last eight games of the season. He’d gotten through the thick of it, he was approaching the soft part of the schedule, things probably were going to improve, but something spooked Sparano and caused him to pull the plug and go back to the known quantity, back to Pennington. Pennington isn’t the long-term solution, he’ll be a 35 year-old free agent next year. This was the year to find out whether Chad Henne was the guy.
The knock on this offense all year has been that it’s played like it’s scared. Today Tony Sparano played scared. The moves today speak volumes, they say future be damned, we need to win now. Something is amiss in Miami, the all-powerful “plan” that the Dolphins have abided by for the past three years went out the window with the baby and the bath water.