How much patience will owner Stephen Ross (center) have with GM Jeff Ireland (left) and HC Joe Philbin (right)?
The people who could feel the impact the most, though, are general manager Jeff Ireland, head coach Joe Philbin and the Dolphins coaching staff.
Where ever the bar was set for this team, it just got moved up a rung.
The NFL's investigation will determine how much the Dolphins could and should have done to prevent the situation, but the fact remains: the picture being painted represents a locker room rift. If the Dolphins stumble down the stretch, the overriding narrative across the NFL will surely be that the distraction of this situation served as the catalyst, kickstarting a downward spiral that could have been prevented.
Expectations were much higher for the Dolphins in some circles than others, but a trip to the playoffs was only hoped—never assumed—for these Dolphins.
At 4-4, the Dolphins are still on schedule for a better finish than last year's record. The brass could probably have skated by this year, even finishing at .500; they may have spent a lot of money this offseason, but what was the precedent for the early returns on an offseason spending spree? Where is the long history of teams that have spent a lot of money in the offseason and gone on to win the Super Bowl?
The answer to that question (there isn't one) may have been enough to spare this regime for another year.
On top of their locker room problems, though, let's not forget the coaching staff has come under scrutiny throughout the first half of the season for several missteps in on-field decision making.
They have struggled to stay committed to the running game, and they have failed to adjust when teams have started figuring them out.
Philbin had several lapses in judgment when it came to game and clock management.
This is the image that should be permanently embedded in the brain of Dolphins fans from their loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
With over a minute to go in the game, trailing by three with one time-out remaining, and marching a drive that was well into Ravens territory, Philbin told quarterback Ryan Tannehill to hurry to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball and stop the clock.
That's not the only example.
|Drive||Score||Yards||Time rec'd||Time poss.||Run||Pass||How given up|
NFL game book
The Dolphins rushed 23 times for 118 yards in the first three quarters against the Buffalo Bills, and were winning 21-17 when they suddenly got away from the running game, running the ball twice for two yards the rest of the way out.
Similar things happened against the New England Patriots, with the Dolphins running the ball 22 times for 103 yards in the first half on their way to a 17-3 lead, followed by nine times for 53 yards in the second half on their way to a 27-17 loss.
These are coaching issues that were prevalent before the Incognito-Martin story became a national headline. To say that this issue is the only blemish on their resumé would be misguided, to say the least.
The worst symptom of a failing system is a team divided. The problem with this situation is that, at its very core, it breeds a divide in the locker room. Although it's being reported by NFL Network's Albert Breer that a large majority of the team is on Incognito's side in this mess, I do find it odd, though, that no one has said "we'd like both of them to come back soon."
The best way they can show their togetherness, now, is to win as many games as possible from here on out to save their coaches and general manager from a one-way ticket out of Miami.
There's no magic number of wins this team must hit in order to save everyone's job, but a disappointing finish might be enough to push this regime out of SunLife Stadium.
|10||at Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0-8|
|11||vs. San Diego Chargers||4-4|
|12||vs. Carolina Panthers||5-3|
|13||at New York Jets||5-4|
|14||at Pittsburgh Steelers||2-6|
|15||vs. New England Patriots||7-2|
|16||at Buffalo Bills||3-6|
|17||vs. New York Jets||5-4|
Fortunately for the Dolphins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are next up on the schedule, which could give the Dolphins two consecutive wins after dropping four straight. They also only have four games left against opponents that currently have a winning record.
One person who seems to be avoiding much criticism in this fiasco is Ireland, the GM who had a hand in bringing these players into the locker room. He has been the subject of protests outside the stadium, and even a flying message above SunLife Stadium in the last game of the 2011 season.
His drafts have produced 15 current starters on the roster, which has been the basis for some support from the media, but in his five years as GM, his teams have produced a 31-41 record.
Who should be the first to go if the Dolphins miss the playoffs?
Make no mistake; by nature of it being a locker room problem, this already traces back to the Dolphins brass. The more details that trace back to them, though, the more doubt surrounds their future.
That holds even truer if the team doesn't start seeing positive results on the field.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.