Channing Crowder was arguably one of the most polarising figures to have ever played in aqua and orange, but his detractors may well find themselves questioning the front office’s decision to release the middle linebacker after five years in South Florida.
Miami decided to part ways with the often-criticised Crowder in August, replacing him with Kevin Burnett the very same day, before Crowder announced a self-imposed exile from the NFL with his retirement (something which has since become semi-retirement; a year away from football to look after his newborn son).
The criticisms of the former Florida Gator were largely centred on his inability to make a big play. In six years with the Dolphins, he recorded just 2.5 sacks and one interception.
Burnett arrived with a reputation as a playmaking linebacker, having registered 12.5 sacks, three interceptions and six forced fumbles in the same time as Crowder. However, Miami’s defense looks to have regressed this year, following an abysmal outing against New England, and another disappointing showing against Houston on Sunday.
Those who criticised Crowder are suddenly starting to realise that his impact on the defense may have been much greater than they ever gave him credit for.
This offseason, the Dolphins improved their defensive personnel, if anything.
In fact, the only significant departure from Miami’s defense was Crowder; no other starter moved on.
He was a well-respected leader on defense, and his impact on the team around him will be difficult to recreate.
Off the field, he was well-liked, and has a reputation as a player who was fun to be around; his loss in the locker-room may have had a detrimental effect on the team’s morale.
His trash-talking may have upset some people, but Crowder motivated the players around him. The leadership has yet to be replicated this season, and Jason Taylor’s comments about a loss of belief in the locker room are a concern. Even his greatest detractors cannot argue that Crowder ever suffered from a lack of self-belief.
On the field though, he was the glue that held the defense together.
Crowder was responsible for telling the Dolphins’ defense what to expect out of the opponent’s offense. He narrowed down the offensive options, and informed his teammates what plays were likely to be run.
This helped the defense anticipate what threat they were about to face, and there is no doubt that knowledge like that can have a big impact on any defense.
Crowder’s football IQ was a huge boost for the Dolphins, and they are struggling to find a replacement capable of taking on this role. While he rarely had a big game statistically, his impact on the defense was undoubtedly a lot more than what you see on his ESPN player profile.
He was not a playmaker, but despite his technical limitations, he made the players around him better.
Young stars such as Chris Clemons benefited from his play-calling and experience, and were Crowder in the side today, it is possible that the team would have seen more from Reshad Jones, who has struggled starting at free safety in Clemons’ absence.
Additionally, some older talents such as Paul Soliai may also be experiencing a drop in form as a result.
Soliai was likely a key beneficiary from Crowder’s impact and registered his best season in the NFL as a result. Without Crowder in the side, he has struggled, and it could be a result of not being able to anticipate what the opponent is planning next.
The mental impact he had on the team was much greater than his statistical input, and it is clear that the front office underestimated this impact when they decided on his release.
However, none of this is to say the Dolphins’ defense will not improve as the season continues; there is too much talent on the roster for Miami to continue to struggle this badly.
There are, however, several problems which require solving, and although not all of them are a result of Crowder’s departure, one of them is the gaping hole left by his release.
Dansby and Crowder had great chemistry together, and this is something that Burnett has yet to establish with his partner. It would be irresponsible to suggest that two talented players like Dansby and Burnett will be unable to recreate that chemistry, but it will take time to ascertain; unfortunately for Tony Sparano and Jeff Ireland, time is not on their side.
For now, the release of Crowder has created a big problem for the Dolphins’ defense, and it is one that the Front Office will be working hard to resolve.
Perhaps the solution is a phone call to Crowder himself, but it is very hard to imagine that the Front Office would like to eat another substantial slice of humble pie, having already admitted a personnel error when they replaced Benny Sapp with Will Allen.
It is more likely that Miami look for that solution with those players currently in-house, with one of them taking on Crowder’s role, but there may be no quick fix; the job he did cannot be easily replicated.
For the foreseeable future though, Miami will have a void at linebacker as a result of the release, and Crowder will remain in his self-imposed NFL exile.
However, expect to see Crowder back in the NFL next year, and expect him to improve whatever defense he is with. It’s what he does.