The Miami Dolphins have two games left on their schedule and outside of a few players who will use it to audition for a roster spot next season, and possibly Tony Sparano for his job next year, the games are meaningless.
They represent no shot at the playoffs but one loss puts the Phins back to below .500 for the 5th time in 7 seasons. Unacceptable. However you can never blame the current for the former, so in Sparano’s case it would be his second sub .500 season after taking over a major rebuilding project.
While the debate and speculation rage as to whether or not Sparano will be back next season, there are a handful of players that will possibly be playing elsewhere next season as well.
Topping that list is starting running back, Ronnie Brown.
Ronnie is in the final weeks of his contract and it’s unclear at this point if he will find himself wearing the Dolphins uniforms next season. A second overall pick by Nick Saban in 2005, Brown has been an up and down tailback who has battled inconsistency and injury. Still, he is a local fan favorite and an integral part of the Miami community. Back in week 2 of the 2010 season I spoke Ronnie regarding his contract, he said then that the team had made no approach regarding a new deal and that it really wasn’t an issue. He almost seemed resigned to leaving the team after the season.
You can listen to that interview here.
Brown is an exciting player but most of his production and his lone Pro-Bowl birth came at the expense of the Wild Cat. He tends to dance too much in the back-field. Dolphins fans lost Jason Taylor two seasons ago to Washington and last year to the Jets so losing Ronnie Brown for the community won’t be that traumatic. But he has been a face around the franchise for the last six years. His enigmatic smile and team first mentality has made him a locker-room leader.
Brown is a lot like Ricky Williams in terms of his leadership, he leads by example instead of with his voice. He is quiet and just tries to do his job. Unfortunately, doing his job is what may actually cost him his in Miami after the season. There is a possibility that the team may try and “tag” him and then trade him to a team of their choice so that Ronnie doesn’t go to a rival.
The issue with Ronnie is simple, his injury history and production do not match what his salary requirements may be.
Ricky Williams – Williams is coming to the end of his long Miami Dolphins tenure with a new agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and no Bill Parcells. A mentor of sorts who was able to bring Williams back into the fold and out of league trouble. Williams has yet to say he wants to continue playing football and at the age of 34, he may very well be done. However, Williams is still a serviceable back with less wear on his body from his, dare I say it, couple of seasons out of football.
Williams may only be looking for a one or two year deal and if that is the case, the Dolphins would likely pursue him. He would be a veteran leader behind their starter who could start in a pinch if need be. While fans clamor for Williams to start over Ronnie Brown, it’s only because they prefer him to Ronnie Brown at this stage in the season.
Patrick Cobbs - Cobbs is said to be Tony Sparano’s favorite on the team. A hard working versatile runner who contributes anywhere he is asked. Yet, he is still mostly a third down back and is not built for a full-time role. His contract is up like the other two runners but I believe that if Sparano and company are still managing the roster next season, Cobbs will be here. Not because Sparano likes him, but because Cobbs is an individual who can help the team in multiple areas, albeit in a non-starting capacity.
Tyler Thigpen – The Dolphins never really got an opportunity to see what Tyler Thigpen could or couldn’t do. His lone start was against Chicago and was a complete disaster. The debate still rages on whether that game was his fault or Dan Hennings but most believe it was the latter. Thigpen is quick on his feet but is not a prototypical gunslinger. He is erratic at times as evidenced more by his full season starting stint in KC rather than his tenure in Miami.
Where Thigpen is good is coming off the bench. His energy level is out of this world and he is one of those few QB’s that can make a game change late if the team needs it. But starting material is something that he may not be and in a contract year it will be hard to justify signing him to a longer deal. He may get a back-ups contract but Thigpen may decide to test the waters elsewhere with many teams looking to go the rookie route and may need someone who can bridge that gap. It really depends on how the Dolphins value his services compared to what Thigpen values himself.
Chad Pennington – Pennington is a free agent but he says he is 50/50 on retiring from the game. The Dolphins or anyone else for that matter would not be playing smart football by bringing him in next season. Even as an emergency three QB. Still, he is a valuable coaching QB who doesn’t seem to want to coach at this level.
Richie Incognito – Incognito had a quiet year in 2010 which is a good thing considering the baggage he brought with him to Miami. Unfortunately he had a quiet year on the Oline as well. Incognito did enough to stay on the field as a starter but that also could be because the line was so banged up. He will be a free agent once again this off-season and it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins pay him to add depth to a unit in desperate need of just that.
Paul Soliai - If anyone said at the start of last season that Soliai would be looking at a long term deal everyone would have laughed. Soliai is the one laughing now. A key part of the Dolphins emergent run stopping front four, Soliai has turned from anticipated roster casualty into one of the Dolphins top free agent priorities. It’s reported that Soliai is going to want a big chunk of change this off-season and Miami may not pony up the dough. Recently it was also reported that behind the scenes there are some teams quietly looking at Soliai as a match in their system. Either way, the Dolphins have a huge choice to make here as the team may have found it’s future NT without having to go to the draft to get them.
Tony McDaniel - McDaniel has been a pleasant surprise on the field this year and the Dolphins have got the production from him they expected when they brought him to Miami last season. His contributions to the defensive line are unquestionable, but there is no mistake, McDaniel is a depth player. His value to the team will come in how he values himself vs. how the Dolphins value him vs. how others in the league do. While that is the main part of any free agency period, for depth players it’s more important as their host teams usually won’t value them as much as their agents believe they should be.
The Rest - The Dolphins will have a few more players mixed into their free agent pending list and those players represent the depth of the roster. Some are the results of Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano’s constant lower end turnover they go through every training camp and first month of the season. These players will come cheap but will cost the team more than they did this year. These will be the guys that get a mention in the local paper but make little noise. The full list is not available officially.
As the season winds down the real questions start with the running back situation and the back-up QB situation with Paul Soliai thrown in for good measure. What the Dolphins intend to do may or may not be what they really do. What do know is that with two weeks left in the season, some of these players, possibly including all three of Miami’s top backs, may not be in Miami to open the 2011 season.