Joey Porter's Vision Quest

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Joey Porter's Vision Quest
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Rumor has it around the cyber-sphere that the Miami Dolphins season-ending match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow, might be the last time Joey Porter suits up for the South Florida team. More than a few precious pixels around the web have peddled the speculation—if true, it will bring to a close a three year term for Porter in Miami, that has been characterized by vicissitude and unpredictability.

The high point; a kind of “menace to society” version of Porter who was prolific in the 2008 season, where he recorded 17 1/2 sacks, many of them critically timed, and virtually all of them useful.  Porter drew double teams, terrorized ill-prepared offensive tackles, and ran his mouth off with noteworthy aplomb, all the more resonate because he backed up his taunts with aggressive physical play.

But the 2009 version of Joey Porter looks more like the 2007 version. As always, both the oral and physical motor was running—you could see those pistons furiously pumping on the field—but for the most part, Porter spun his wheels.

A knee injury has purportedly slowed him down, but Porter has been healthy enough to play most weeks.

Before the season began, I wrote a prediction in a blog that Porter would call out Mark Sanchez—a kind of rattle-the-rookie move. I was wrong, of course. It was not Sanchez that Porter taunted. Instead, he chose Tom Brady as a target, a development that Brady later announced was motivational in the Patriots' Foxboro win over Miami—a win, by the way, where Porter failed to achieve even a single tackle, let alone a sack.

The following week, Porter sat, a pseudo healthy scratch we were told, and clearly a message was in the works.

By the numbers, Porter has recorded 8 sacks and 39 tackles this season—about half the sacks he produced a year ago—even though opposing teams have had to game plan for stopping Jason Taylor, who is Porter’s bookend in the main 3-4 scheme.

Also, by the numbers, we are told, that what Porter’s salary and incentives—all in—represents just under a $5 million hit against the cap for next year ($ 4.8 million).

As Porter still has two years remaining on his contract, the question hence becomes whether the Dolphins feel the dollars asterisked beside Porter’s name represent a prudent expenditure. Or, on the other hand, whether the Dolphins feel the opportunity cost of that money is too high.

There are several mitigating factors including Porter’s age (32), the health of his knees, but also, whether the Dolphins are prepared to resign Jason Taylor.  Cutting Porter loose to the wind is one thing, but does Miami want to give up the veteran leadership and presence with both of their outside linebackers, should Taylor leave or retire.

The sudden departure of Matt Roth last month, who was instantly snapped off waivers by Cleveland and has allegedly been very productive there, is also another factor as it speaks to Miami’s inherent depth at the linebacker position. Further, the highly circumspect play of Reggie Torbor against Houston last week, and the mediocre play of Akin Adoyele all season, does not suggest a surfeit of talent in the second tier of the front seven.

Fundamentally, can the Dolphins afford to lose to Porter given the questionable strength of their linebacking corps?

Further, if the case is to be made against Porter staying in Miami because he does not represent good value to the team, one then must wonder about other big contract players on the roster whose performance has been questionable; namely Gibril Wilson, whose terrible play was punctuated last week when he dropped a beach ball interception last week that even I could have caught. And Channing Crowder, who also signed a contract extension last year, but whose play is decidedly average. The Dolphins also have Ted Ginn to consider, the team’s most notorious question mark among the salary cap considerations.

While Porter has not put up the numbers of a year ago, he certainly has not fared worse than those mentioned here in 2009.

Heading into tomorrow’s contest against the Steelers—Porter’s former team—there is time enough for Joey to make a statement about his intentions for the future and where he might want to be.  Perhaps what might serve Joey Porter best is a fresh visit to the sweat lodge, a kind of season-ending communiqué with the spiritual world; a vision quest where Joey Porter emerges with his animus renewed, and shows all of us, one more time, what the team is losing if he is not a Miami Dolphin next year.

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