On Sunday, news came out that Miami Dolphins starting nose tackle Jason Ferguson will be suspended for the first eight games of the 2010 season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
The 35-year-old veteran is not currently under contract, but has stated his desire to play a season or two more before retiring. Ferguson has also said that if he does return, it will only be to the Dolphins.
Unfortunately, the interest might not be there from both sides anymore.
Ferguson is still recovering from quadriceps surgery after suffering a season-ending injury in week 11 last year. He wasn't expected to be ready before the start of training camp anyway, but now that he's suspended for half the season his return is more questionable than ever.
The Dolphins acquired Ferguson from the Dallas Cowboys prior to the 2008 season and he went on to start all 16 games as one of the team's captions. He became one of the pillars of the defense and helped lead Miami to their first AFC East division championship in eight years with an 11-5 record.
After he was placed on I.R. in 2009, the Dolphins defense crumbled down the stretch. They lost four of the six games without him, giving up an average of 28.7 points in the loses.
It became clear that Miami didn't have a reliable option in the middle beyond Ferg. Paul Soliai, his main backup, struggled with consistency and didn't display enough to make anyone believe he's the answer for the future.
So the question must be asked what the Dolphins plan is from here. Whether or not the team decides to bring Ferguson back is irrelevant. For eight games, the team won't have a legitimate starting option at the nose regardless.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland must know how serious a problem that is. If the situation remains unfixed, the 2010 season could be over before it even begins.
The 3-4 defense begins and ends with nose tackle. If there isn't a consistent push up front, it's almost impossible to stop the run. Without pressure up the middle, the pass rush wouldn't be as effective. Without a solid pass rush, the secondary will be exposed.
It's a domino effect Miami witnessed far too well the last six games of 2009. That can't happen again.
Now that Ferguson is suspended, the Dolphins' likelihood of selecting a defensive tackle early in the Draft must have increased dramatically. Alabama's Terrance Cody and Tennessee's Dan Williams are two players Miami is believed to be interested in.
Both played for the South squad in the 2010 Senior Bowl. The Dolphins' staff were awarded the duty of coaching that team and had a first-hand look at the two massive defenders.
Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano raved about Williams throughout the week and it's expected the team will pursue him on Draft day.
Cody and Williams are expected to go off the board late in the first round, however. Miami holds the 12 pick and probably wouldn't be able to justify reaching for either player from that position. To acquire them, the Dolphins will need to either trade down from the 12th spot or trade up from the second round and hope to land an additional first round pick.
In short, it will be tricky to get their hands on either target.
That means the Dolphins will need to explore options in free agency as well.
One option is former San Diego Charger Jamal Williams who was released from the team last week. Williams played only one game in 2009 before being placed on I.R. with a season-ending triceps injury.
The 33-year-old former All-Pro had missed only nine games over the previous seven season's before the injury.
At 6'3" 348 lbs, Williams is a mammoth nose tackle that would provide a serious upgrade over anyone currently on the roster. He should be ready by the start of training camp as well.
Of the options on the free agent market, he's probably the first player Miami will target.
The Dolphins must find answers though, whether they be in the Draft or free agency. Ferguson's suspension only increased the need to do so. Going no less than eight games without him puts a lot more pressure on Miami's front office to make something happen soon.
If they don't, the 2010 campaign might be over before it even starts.