Miami Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano has stated publicly that the team will design its defensive system around the players he has.
It's obvious, however, that some strategic personnel decisions are being made that will impact who those players will be.
With the news Thursday of Zach Thomas being released, the Dolphins will obviously not design their defensive scheme around him.
Thomas was scheduled to be paid $5.65 million in 2008 ($7.897 million against the cap), but questions about his health and the fact that he'll be 35 by the start of the season made it clear that he wasn't going to be one of the cornerstones of the new defense.
Regardless, saying goodbye to Thomas makes this a sad time for Dolphins fans. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that the NFL is a business first and beloved but aging superstars are eventually sent packing. (Think Joe Montana in a Chiefs uniform, Franco Harris as a Seahawk, and Joe Willie Namath hobbling around as a Ram.) In that regard, Thomas joins a distinguished list of NFL greats who end up leaving their normal settings before they -- or their fans -- are ready.
While there has been wild speculation (by me, for example) about the future of Pro Bowler Jason Taylor in Miami, the truth is that his contract makes him tough to move. Signed through 2009, Taylor is scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2008 ($10 million against the cap) and $8 million in '09 ($10.5 million cap hit). So unless some NFL team is in dire need of an undersized, 34-year-old defensive end coming off of a foot injury—and is willing to take on his contract—it looks as if Taylor will be in Miami for at least one more year.
But the injury to Taylor's left plantar fascia is the type of soft-tissue injury that can take much longer to heal in a veteran than it might in a younger player. And it has yet to be seen how this injury will affect Taylor's speed, both rushing the passer and dropping into coverage.
Because of that, the coaching staff won't know what Taylor's expected level of production will be until the team starts workouts later this spring. With so many personnel decisions to make between now and April 26, it would be an awfully big risk to assume Taylor will be a building block for the future. And there just aren't a lot of foundation-type players left on the Dolphins' rapidly shrinking roster.
So despite Sparano's public statement to the contrary, it seems the Dolphins will be bringing in defensive players who will fit into their intended defensive scheme, rather than the other way around.