Wednesday November 10th was a big day at the Dolphins’ complex in South Florida. Change was certainly afoot, as Miami looked to solve some of the issues that contributed to their 4-4 record.
The response: A change of starting quarterback and the release of a former first-round draft pick.
Miami Head Coach, Tony Sparano, made the call to replace third-year quarterback, Chad Henne, and cornerback Jason Allen with two veterans, Chad Pennington and Al Harris.
Ironically, it is not the quarterback change which proved to be the most surprising of the two. Chad Henne has struggled in the past two weeks, throwing four interceptions without a touchdown, as many fans were calling for Pennington to replace him.
However, Jason Allen had been the starting cornerback in Miami for the first seven weeks of the season. He has recorded a team-high three picks, and Sparano had been raving about his performances for the majority of the year.
Now, just a week after losing his starting job to Sean Smith, he has found himself without a team.
In the case of Henne, Sparano made it clear that Chad Pennington was named starter for the game against Tennessee. There is no guarantee that Henne will not return the following week, but for now Pennington is the Dolphins’ starting quarterback.
The blow to Jason Allen’s career is a lot more definitive. He is done in Miami.
Henne, however, has a way back. It is a huge blow to his career to be moved aside for another player, but fortunately Pennington's days as a pro are limited.
Pennington has had his shoulder surgically repaired twice, he is 34 years old, and he does not have a strong arm.
However, Pennington’s promotion could also be seen as an indictment of Miami’s play-calling. His arm is not strong, so Miami will not see many shots downfield. Brandon Marshall’s deep threat will not be a real danger to opponents, although Marshall was rarely used downfield anyway due to the offensive play-calling.
The veteran quarterback may have more to offer in the red-zone where Chad Henne has struggled. The Dolphins have had to settle for field goals on too many occasions this season, and perhaps Pennington’s accuracy will help Miami put up six points more often.
Regardless, it is a blow to Henne’s development and his career. Despite this, Henne can bounce back to reclaim his starting spot. After all, Pennington is not the long-term answer.
This, unfortunately, leads to more questions to be raised: Why would Miami replace a young quarterback, who is in his second year as starter, in favour of a veteran like Pennington?
In the long-term, it cannot be a good move for the Dolphins and could hurt the franchise. Henne needs to play to progress: If Miami do not play him, his career and potentially Miami’s future will suffer.
However, Miami’s current game plan appears to be focused solely on winning this season, and this new formula could also be a reason that contributed to Jason Allen’s departure.
Allen’s greatest contribution until this year was on special teams, where he was consistently a top performer. This year, his pre-season performances both in training camp and in games led him to replace Sean Smith as the starting cornerback for Miami.
He played well against Buffalo in the season-opener, despite a dropped interception which would have been a pick-six. In Minnesota, Allen picked off Brett Favre three times although one interception was negated by penalties. Against the Packers, Allen made another pick, taking his season haul to three to lead the team in interceptions.
However, things did not improve for Allen. His lack of elite speed was exposed when Mike Wallace scored a touchdown for the Steelers, and he had a nightmare against Terrell Owens in Cincinnati. He lost his starting spot to Smith in that game and ten days later is without a team.
Football is a cruel game, and Allen has felt its dark-side. Oddly enough, he would be the first to admit he never lived up to the expectations of being a first-round draft pick.
After his release, Allen tweeted his followers to say "Good morning to all! The type of day you'll have is your choice, so you choose what type of day you'll have. I'm going to have a great one", and following the news of his cut, he tweeted again, declaring "I just want to thank all of the loyal Dolphins fans for their support towards me during my yrs here. You'll are the best!!"
His attitude has never been questioned, and this is why he was such a popular player in Miami.
No doubt his personality will be missed, but so will his special teams’ play in a year when Miami have struggled so badly in that area. It is a hard decision to cut one of the game’s so-called “nice guys”, but Sparano felt like Allen would never be the player Miami needed him to be, and in that respect it is better to move on for both parties.
His replacement is the experienced Al Harris. Signed following his release from Green Bay, Harris has 21 interceptions over the course of a 13-year career.
He offers valuable leadership and experience to a young defence and will definitely aid the development of both Sean Smith and Vontae Davis at cornerback.
Harris is a short-term solution to the problem though, and it may say something about Smith’s position in the organization that Harris was even brought in. The number of plays that Harris is involved in this season may be a precursor to the future of Smith in Miami.
However, Harris is still a gamble in spite of his low pay and excellent career statistics. He is coming off a potentially career-ending injury and now has a surgically repaired knee by way of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, lateral collateral ligament, iliotibial band, fibular collateral ligament and lateral hamstring.
Whether he can remain healthy will be a big question for Miami, and there is no evidence to suggest he will be able to perform at past levels either.
Regardless, Miami believe Harris will contribute to the team, both on and off the field. His signing is another indication of Miami’s new win now, change later philosophy.
Both changes were surprising in Miami, and both could have a damaging effect in the long-term. However, while the team is winning, fans will not think about the future.
Perhaps Tony Sparano sensed an 8-8 season could result in a contract termination, but for whatever reasons he has abandoned his youth policy to focus on winning games this year.
Whether these changes will keep him in a job will not be clear until January, but until then Miami are relying heavily on two experienced players to rekindle their form of oldand prove that they can outperform the younger players on the team. If they can, then Miami may well find themselves charging towards the playoffs.