Reporting Tim Kephart
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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – One thing that winning teams in the National Football League have is consistency at most levels of the organization. The main thing the Miami Dolphins have over the last decade at every level has been inconsistency.
Since 2001, the Dolphins have gone through head coaches faster than some people go through tennis shoes. Over the past decade, the team has had seven different head coaches: Dave Wannstedt, Jim Bates, Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Todd Bowles, and Joe Philbin.
During the last decade, the Dolphins have also had a rotating door at the quarterback position. Among the players who have lined up under center for the Dolphins since Dan Marino left: Jay Fiedler, Ray Lucas, Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, John Beck, and Chad Henne.
But the problems with the Dolphins run so much deeper than just the obvious problems at quarterback and head coach. From the salary cap to the NFL draft to simple trades, the Dolphins seem to always find a way to mess something up.
Miami’s salary cap problems start with the contracts for left tackle Jake Long and linebacker Karlos Dansby. The duo, arguably the team’s best players on each side of the ball, both have contracts well in excess of $10 million per year.
Specifically, Dansby’s contract will count $11.325 million against the 2012 salary cap, while Long’s contract will have him counting $12.8 million against the cap.
But Miami’s problems with the cap go deeper than just the contracts of Dansby and Long. In fact, the cap costs of Miami’s ten most expensive players represent more than 50 percent of the actual cap costs for the Dolphins in 2012.
The problem is, of the Dolphins high-priced players, the next two who have produced at high-level for the Dolphins in recent years has been running back Reggie Bush and Yeremiah Bell.
Past those two, who coincidentally are the next two highest paid players on the team, the top team paid players for the Dolphins is largely a group of average to decent NFL players. The list includes quarterback Matt Moore, Anthony Fasano, Tony McDaniel, and Richie Incognito.
It’s not unusual for the best players to eat up the most cap room on a team, but the problem for Miami doesn’t seem to be as much cap based as it does talent evaluation.
Miami has traded away or used seven different draft picks over the last 10 years to try to deal with the quarterback problem. But, none of those picks have been in the first round of the NFL draft. The highest round Miami has selected a quarterback has been the second round: John Beck and Chad Henne.
The Dolphins traded away a second round pick for A.J. Feeley and Daunte Culpepper. None of those second round quarterbacks valued as second round picks are still with the franchise or made any significant contribution to advancing the Dolphins.
The Fins gave up two first round picks for Ricky Williams, traded away Wes Welker to the New England Patriots for a second and seventh round pick, according to SI.com’s Peter King, and traded away two second-round picks on Brandon Marshall.
The Dolphins haven’t taken a quarterback in the first round of the draft since Dan Marino. During the time since then, the Fins have taken the following players in the first round of the NFL draft: Jamar Fletcher, Vernon Carey, Ronnie Brown, Jason Allen, Ted Ginn, Jr., Jake Long, Vontae Davis, Jared Odrick, and Mike Pouncey.
Pouncey, Davis, and Long were inserted from day one as starters, while Odrick looks to increase his playing time in 2012 now that the Fins have lost Kendall Langford to the St. Louis Rams. But the rest of the players on that list, outside of possibly Vernon Carey, have been average at best NFL players.
While the first round is usually hard to miss on as a drafter, unless you land Akili Smith or Ryan Leaf, the next rounds separate the good teams from the also-rans.
In 2008, the Dolphins selected Phillip Merling ahead of players like Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Shonn Green, and DeSean Jackson. Chad Henne and Kendall Langford were both taken ahead of Jamaal Charles or Jermichael Finley.
In 2009, the Dolphins decided to try and corner the market on the single-wing offense and selected quarterback Pat White in the second round. He’s not even in professional football anymore. It was the fourth year in a row the Fins took a quarterback in the second round.
Even the first round pick in 2009 was questionable. Vontae Davis has turned into a good starting NFL cornerback, but the player selected just after Davis…Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr.
In 2010, the Dolphins picked Koa Misi just two picks ahead of Rob Gronkowski. The Fins traded away two second-round picks to acquire Brandon Marshall, who the team just gave away to the Chicago Bears for two third-round picks.
Even dating back to 2005, the Dolphins chose Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers or DeMarcus Ware. In 2006, the Fins chose Jason Allen over Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, DeAngelo Williams, and Nick Mangold.
Now, the Dolphins have swung hard in free agency and been rebuffed by career back-up quarterback Matt Flynn who said the vibe in the building in Seattle was better than Miami’s; and by Peyton Manning, who never seriously considered playing for the Fins.
Much of the Fins problems can be tied to the team’s current management, led by general manager Jeff Ireland. The former Cowboys staffer made his name in the NFL through two infamous incidents that scarred the Dolphins organization.
Ireland’s first major dustup came during the draft interview process. The Fins were considering selecting wide receiver Dez Bryant out of Oklahoma State. Ireland proceeded to ask Bryant if his mother was a prostitute.
Ireland would be publicly shamed into apologizing to Bryant, but not too long after that, Ireland decided to cut his coach off at the knees.
Owner Stephen Ross became infatuated with signing Jim Harbaugh to be the team’s new head coach. So he packed up the private jet, brought Ireland along, and tried to sign Harbaugh while then-head coach Tony Sparano was still on staff.
Harbaugh rebuffed the advances of Ross and Ireland and Sparano ended up with the last laugh by getting a bigger contract that still had to be paid after the team finally fired him with three games to go in the 2011 season.
All of it has damaged not only the credibility of Ireland, but also the Fins franchise as a whole. The Dolphins were so desperate to sell tickets in 2011 that they honored the University of Florida to try and get Gators fans into the seats to get a sellout.
Based on fan apathy towards the Fins so far in the 2012 offseason, the 2012 season could be even uglier than 2011 when the Fins at one point were 0-7 and fans were all-in on the “Suck for Luck” campaign.
The Dolphins were at one time the pride of South Florida sports. But, with the ascension of the Big Three of the Miami Heat, the big signings and new stadium of the Miami Marlins, and the rapid improvement of the Florida Panthers; the Fins are now the fourth best pro franchise in South Florida.
And if the Miami Hurricanes improve much next season, the Fins could become the second-class citizen in their own home stadium.
It’s been more than a decade of misery for the Fins that unfortunately shows no signs of letting up. The Dolphins have several draft picks to try to remedy the situation, at least to a degree. But given their recent past, the team hasn’t inspired much hope in the fan base.
Until the Fins front office can finally right the ship, the only way to see the Fins may be to go to a game because the way the team is going right now; it might be a long time before the team is seen on television in Miami again.