Given how poorly the 2013 season went for cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one would think that the 30-year-old would want to bury the past in as deep a hole as possible.
Instead, Finnegan has decided to not only dredge up the past but beat one of his old coaches (and teams) over the head with it, and the hole being dug is now for Finnegan himself.
Finnegan struggled through by far the worst season of his eight-year NFL career with the St. Louis Rams in 2013. When asked about those struggles by Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, Finnegan laid the blame at the feet of former Rams defensive coordinator Tim Walton, calling Walton's system "atrocious:"
From the game plan to technique to fundamentals, they weren’t in line with a defensive coordinator who knew what he was doing. He was a great defensive backs coach, but when you're in over your head, it's kind of tough... Here coaches know to play guys to their strengths. I wish I had been here a long time ago. [Coordinator Kevin] Coyle is so good at dissecting offenses.
This isn't exactly a surprise. Finnegan has never been shy about speaking his mind, nor has he shown much concern for winning popularity contests. Finnegan is an annual entrant on lists of the NFL's "dirtiest" players, and he flatly told Mike Garafalo of USA Today back in 2012 that "I'm not likeable."
Then, of course, there was this little incident.
It also isn't surprising that Finnegan's comments didn't go over so well in St. Louis, with some stating that the blame for Finnegan's 2013 lies squarely with him, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk:
A source with knowledge of the team’s thinking tells PFT that the problem with Finnegan had far less to do with the coaching or the schemes and far more to do with Finnegan.
Some believe the Rams actually played better without Finnegan, who eventually landed on injured reserve in November with a fracture of the orbital bone. We’re told that Finnegan initially tried to play with the injury and that, as he struggled, the injury became a crutch.
So he decided to have surgery, and the team placed him on IR. And, per the source, Finnegan never actually had surgery.
Then things got a little weird, even for Finnegan. According to Florio, Finnegan called him, both to berate Florio for how he framed Finnegan's statement and to issue what may or may not have been a veiled threat:
Finnegan accused me of expressing an opinion that he can’t get along with coaches. I tried to explain to Finnegan that it’s not my opinion, and that the information came from a source in position to appropriately have that opinion.
Finnegan didn’t accept that explanation, questioning my “morals” and “backbone” before adding that if/when we meet, the conversation will be more interesting.
Granted, imagining a re-enactment of the Johnson vs. Finnegan dust-up with Florio playing Johnson's part may be amusing (for everyone but Florio), but this whole exchange presents one very large, very obvious question.
What was Finnegan thinking? How does any of this in any way help Finnegan's chances of getting his NFL career back on track with the Dolphins?
Let's assume, for argument's sake, that Walton's scheme and Finnegan's injuries were both factors in last year's production dip. If that's the case, then isn't Finnegan better served poring over a playbook or working with trainers than throwing a former coach under the bus?
And make no mistake, behind closed doors Finnegan's statements probably didn't go over any better with his new coaches than with his old ones.
It's an completely unnecessary distraction. Also, coaches are a fraternity of sorts, and if that's how Finnegan treats his old coaches, what does it say about his respect for his new ones?
More importantly, even if game-planning and injuries did affect Finnegan in 2013, it still doesn't tell the whole story of just how bad Finnegan was last year:
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Finnegan allowed 76.5 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2013 to be completed. It was the fifth-highest percentage in the league.
Quarterbacks throwing at Finnegan a year ago posted a passer rating of 136.0, third highest in the NFL.
He was out of position. He took bad angles. He was beaten deep. Simply put, Finnegan was awful.
He wasn't appreciably better in 2012, ranking 86th among NFL cornerbacks at PFF.
|Cortland Finnegan Career Stats|
|*Per Pro Football Focus|
Now is it possible that a healthy Cortland Finnegan could regain the form that saw him rank second at the position at PFF in 2011 (or at least come relatively close)? Yes, at least to an extent. Finnegan isn't that old, and prior to last year injuries hadn't been a major concern with him.
However, it is worth pointing out that Finnegan has cracked PFF's top 20 cornerbacks only twice in seven years.
That should be Finnegan's one and only focus right now. Doing anything and everything to get back to being the player Finnegan was when he was with the Tennessee Titans. Not gumflapping at one reporter and then puffing out his chest at another when he didn't like the direction the story went.
Finnegan could have easily answered that question from Jackson with a canned cliche. "I'm not worried about the past. I'm just looking forward to my future with the Miami Dolphins," or something to that effect.
But he didn't, because that's not what Cortland Finnegan does.
The thing is, Finnegan's nonsense was a lot easier to tolerate when he was playing at a Pro Bowl level.
If he isn't able to get back there, the Dolphins may find themselves in the same position that first the Titans and then the Rams did.
Wondering if Finnegan is worth the grief.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.
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