Miami Dolphins: Why They Have Struggled Since Dan Marino's Retirement

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Miami Dolphins: Why They Have Struggled Since Dan Marino's Retirement
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

Since the beginning of the post-Marino era, the Miami Dolphins have struggled.

Since Dan Marino retired after the 1999 season, Miami has made the playoffs just three times, finished with six losing records, and started 15 different quarterbacks.

Eleven seasons later, the 'Fins still haven’t found a franchise quarterback, or even a consistent, dependable one. Chad Henne was supposed to be the guy, but his 13-14 record keeps me skeptical of how well he will play next season, whenever that will be.

One single decision by Miami’s front office during the 2006 offseason changed the course of NFL history. Two star quarterbacks were on the free agent/trade market, both coming off serious injuries. The Dolphins decided to acquire the player who’d torn three knee ligaments instead of the one recovering from a torn labrum in his shoulder.

Daunte Culpeper moved to Miami and promptly disappointed every Miami fan. His 1-3 record after four games would be all his injured knee would produce for the Dolphins. Culpeper is now a member of the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League.

That other quarterback the Dolphins passed over? The one with the shoulder injury? He went to New Orleans, won a Super Bowl and is now an elite NFL quarterback.

His name is Drew Brees.

Who should Miami have chosen with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft?

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The Dolphins have only used four draft picks on quarterbacks since Marino retired: Josh Heupel (who?) in the sixth round in 2001, John Beck (no better than a career backup) in the second round in 2007, Chad Henne in the second round in 2008, and Pat White in the second round in 2009. White now plays minor league baseball.

The Dolphins’ worst recent draft decision, however, was the ninth pick in the 2007 draft. Miami went with Ted Ginn Jr., a speedy, unproven receiver unworthy of being a top 10 pick, over a desperately needed quarterback.

Brady Quinn was selected 22nd, and Kevin Kolb was picked early in the second round. Stellar defensive players were also taken after Ginn, like LB Patrick Willis and CB Darrelle Revis.

It’s easy to look back and question the decisions; hindsight is 20/20. But when you have to start nine different quarterbacks from 2004-07, a quarterback should be No. 1 priority.

The Dolphins have been led by five different head coaches since Marino’s retirement. In 2008, Miami hired Tony Sparano to improve on the Dolphins’ 1-15 record. Along with new GM Jeff Ireland and Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells, the new coach nearly ended the post-Marino hangover.

As a Dolphins fan, when I found out that Miami had signed Chad Pennington in August 2008, I wasn’t happy. This was the guy I’d hated since 2002, when he became the starter for the New York Jets. Not only are the Jets division rivals, but during the mid-2000’s, New York had beaten Miami nine times in five straight seasons. This was also the guy known for his weak arm and injury-prone shoulder. This pickup made no sense to me.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I was never so glad to be so wrong.

Pennington guided the Dolphins to an improbable AFC East Division Championship and 11-5 record, clinched by the Week 17 win over the Jets, in his old stadium. It was the best moment for a Dolphins fan in years. Though Miami lost in the first round of the post-season, it was the biggest win-loss turnaround in just one year.

It seemed, though, Miami had finally found an adequate replacement for Marino, even if he was 32 years old. The injuries, weak arm, and former career in New York were forgotten. 

Then we remembered.

Pennington lost his first two games of 2009, then injured his shoulder again in the third game. Henne took over, Pennington was placed on the IR, and Tyler Thigpen was signed.

Pennington went from hero to zero as Henne seemed to improve throughout the season. He was young, promising, and had a rocket for an arm. Everyone forgot the veteran with proven results and injury bug.

Henne was incredibly inconsistent in 2010. Some games he played well, in others he looked like he’d never thrown a football. In week 10, Miami went with Pennington for the start.

One play into the game, again Pennington suffered a serious shoulder injury. Henne started 14 games that season, threw 15 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and the Dolphins finished with their second consecutive 7-9 record.

Marc Serota/Getty Images

Pennington’s story is unfinished. After tearing his ACL playing basketball this spring, he will work as an analyst for Fox Sports during the 2011 season. It’s possible he’ll come back in 2012, but I don’t see that as a good choice. He can’t even get through the offseason without a serious injury.

That’s where the Dolphins stand at quarterback. For the past eleven years, it’s been nothing but question marks. If we’re not asking, “Why didn’t they get a good quarterback in the offseason?”, it’s, “Why’d they start him?”

Brees was the answer; instead Miami went with a mobile quarterback with a torn-up knee. It made too much sense to draft Quinn or Kolb; instead we drafted the Washington Redskins’ current backup.

Pennington was the perfect fit. His shoulder just couldn’t hold up. Now here’s to hoping Henne will get over last year’s funk. And that the lockout ends.

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