Seven drafts and only seven players left.
To fully understand the state of the 2008—2009 Miami Dolphins one must have a good idea of how they inherited this situation.
Starting with the ushering in of the Dave Wannstedt era, in the 2000 season, the Miami Dolphins began the slow decline amongst NFL franchises. While this decline may not have been quite as evident in the Win—Loss column of your local sports page, it was happening.
Some argue that a premier Quarterback is the basis for a great NFL team. I argue, however, that depth is most valuable asset/resource in the League today. Depth allows a contending team to tread water when the starting left tackle is out with an injury for four to six weeks. Depth allows teams to incorporate special packages on offense with both of the teams' running backs on the field at once. Having a deep team also pushes starters to perform at the highest level so that they can fend off challenges from aspiring backups. This...the Miami Dolphins have none of.
Look at the 2000 NFL draft all the way up until the 2006 NFL draft. These drafts should provide much of the core of many NFL teams today. One assumes with seven drafts all seven aspects of a team could be recognized: Offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, quarterback, running back, receivers. Save special teams for another conversation. From these seven drafts the Miami Dolphins only have seven players remaining on the 2008 roster. Two of them, Derek Hagan (2006, 3R) and Jason Allen (2006,1R), are borderline starters.
Those of you who expected the triumvirate or trifecta of Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano to make quick work of turning this team into a contender need to get serious. The Dolphins have a serious talent deficit.
Miami fans should be excited with the 2008 draft class no matter what Mel Kiper, Jr. or anyone else tells you. The big three took the classic route and drafted line first and plan to build the team from the inside out.
Well, the Dolphins are 0—2. So now what?!? The injury of Donald Thomas, this year's sixth round pick and starting right guard, was a big one. Not only for this season's success, but for his development and so that the starters can begin to form a tight chemistry together.
The receivers are the weakest unit on the team. The two running backs have their own question marks respectively. And fullback saw both of its candidates from camp cut already.
On the defensive side of the ball Jason Ferguson is a stopgap until the position can be addressed in the next one or two drafts. The line-backing core needs a big middle linebacker to put Channing Crowder in a more secondary role as well as a rush linebacker to fill in for Joey Porter and his terrible contract. His agent should have won some sort of award for his 2007 off—season performance. Finally, the secondary is almost as bad as the receivers. Will Allen has been great and would be a great number two if a rookie can come in right away and start.
So what's the outlook for the 2008—2009 Miami Dolphins? I have them going 4—12. They can definitely win fewer games, but four is doable. They play some other low quality teams later in the season and should steal a game they would not be expected to win as well. Think of this as a developmental team this season. Six rookies from the past two drafts will get loads of playing time to work on their craft and the seventh, Chad Henne, looks poised to take the team over two years from now. Henne has a good arm, which will make use of Ted Ginn, Jr., if he's still around, and has the natural leadership quality that the big three are looking for.
Oddly enough the Dolphins cannot pack it up all together this year. The major reason is that they cannot afford to have the number one pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Jake Long was awarded a monster contract and if Miami wants to supplement their next two drafts through free agency they need to avoid this fate. Having a pick in the top five or six picks next year, plus a second and sixth rounder from Washington, should put them in the position to have another good draft. That extra second rounder gives Miami four picks in the top 70 or so, which is the type of roster building talent they need.
In their current situation Miami needs to be a "best player available" style of team in upcoming drafts, but look for the Dolphins to go with a rush linebacker or a shutdown cornerback if either is available at the top of the 2009 draft. After passing Vince Wilford for Vernon Carey in 2004 and Amobe Okoye for Ted Ginn, Jr. in 2007 defensive tackle remains a need, but Jason Ferguson should hold that spot down the same way Pennington will be the bridge for Henne. It's not impossible, but the Miami front office will need three more sound drafts and maybe a little luck to bring this great franchise back to annual contention.