When the Miami Dolphins selected Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, it presented some uncertainty for the future of Miami's current leading ball carrier, Ronnie Brown.
Brown started all 16 games last season and has been a stalwart in the Dolphins' backfield since 2005, not to mention a key component in the team's much-heralded Wildcat offense.
But after serious knee and foot injuries cut two of those six seasons essentially in half, with Brown now 29 years old, the team has to wonder how much longer he can continue to be a productive participant.
The Dolphins drafted Daniel Thomas for a reason.
Ronnie Brown's role—if there is one for the former Auburn star in 2011—will certainly be diminished.
Three is not necessarily a crowd when you include running back Ricky Williams. But both Brown and free agent Williams are not likely to return, and there are only so many carries to go around in an NFL backfield.
What team doesn't want fresh legs?
If Brown remains in Miami, he will have to spend part of his time mentoring the rookie Thomas, just as Williams did for him in '05. It seems he's OK with that.
“I’m open to that,” Brown told The Miami Herald recently. “I think [Thomas] said he has some work to do as far as learning the running back position. It’s going to be tougher for him because of this lockout."
Ah, the lockout.
The longer this labor debacle continues, the more need the Dolphins will have for Ronnie Brown's veteran leadership. There's no question about that.
Minicamps, organized team activities, the rookie symposium—they've already been cancelled. That's not helping rookie Daniel Thomas with his acclimation to the Miami offense.
The Dolphins, and Thomas, will presumably need to lean on Brown until the rookie is comfortable with his surroundings.
That might be worth a one-year contract for Ronnie Brown.
Ronnie Brown has options.
Don't be fooled into thinking his football future is limited to South Beach.
Certainly, Brown has established himself not only in the Dolphins' backfield, but also in the Miami community—and he would be happy to keep it that way.
But loyalty from an NFL team is never guaranteed, and Brown understands the business aspect of the game.
He will do what is best for his career as he enters a delicate age range for NFL running backs. A back's shelf life is short, and given his injury history, Brown probably doesn't have a lot of years left.
He's not as fast as he used to be, and he's not as quick. But he can still play the game at a level that will appeal to a number of NFL teams.
Ronnie Brown will serve a role somewhere in 2011. That's a given. Whether it's in Miami or not is the question that still needs to be answered.