Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why haven't the Miami Dolphins re-signed Jason Taylor?

Unfortunately, this piece does not succeed in answering the question posed in its headline.

I cannot answer that question because I don't have an answer. Because, no matter how many times and no matter how long I've tried to answer that question, I cannot make sense of the Dolphins' actions—or lack thereof—in this case.

As you well know by now, Dolphins' free-agent outside linebacker Jason Taylor has visited the New York Jets and is currently mulling over a contract offer, with sources saying a deal is 'close.'

Meanwhile, the Dolphins seem to think they're one of the cool kids in school, and view Taylor as a last-resort date for the dance only if no one else works out.

It is a stance I simply cannot comprehend, even from a purely football standpoint rather than a sentimental one.

Sure, it would be nice for the Dolphins to re-sign Taylor because of how long he's played for the team and what he's meant to the team's fans.

It would be nice to sign him because he's a positive member of the Miami community, a great veteran leader for the team's younger players.

It would be nice to sign him simply because seeing him in a Jets uniform, playing against the Dolphins twice a year, and likely playing well, would be one of the most nausea-inducing scenes I've ever witnessed.

But forget all that.

The Dolphins shouldn't re-sign Taylor because of his intangible contributions to his teammates, community impact, or the fans' sentimental value.

The Dolphins should re-sign Jason Taylor because it simply makes sense from a football standpoint.

Still got it

Last season at the age of 34, Taylor recorded 42 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception in 16 games for the Dolphins.

One football metric website ranks him as the eighth 3-4 outside linebacker in all of football last season. He ranked 12th at his position as a pass rusher, fourth against the run, and seventh in coverage.

In short, he was highly effective in all facets of the game, and thus is someone the Dolphins could greatly use in their linebacker corps, regardless of any history with the franchise.

Current depth

With Taylor a free agent and Joey Porter now in Arizona, the Dolphins' are lacking even one proven starting outside linebacker.

Currently topping the depth chart are Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake. Anderson has been a solid situational rusher since signing with the Dolphins in 2008, while Wake shined at times as a rookie in 2009 after dominating two seasons in the Canadian Football League.

Dare I say, however, that neither player is ready to start for the Dolphins full-time. Neither has the experience or track record to indicate they can handle such a significant role, and neither is good enough the run to avoid creating a huge liability on defense.

Beyond Anderson and Wake the Dolphins have Brian Johnston, who was out of the league in 2009; Erik Walden, who has been limited exclusively to special teams in two career seasons; and restricted free agent Quentin Moses, who has been a major disappointment in the NFL since being drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Obviously, if Anderson and Wake aren't ready for the big time, neither are any of those players. Sure, guys can suddenly come out of of nowhere to be impact players, but it's rare and certainly can't be counted on heading into a season.

Even having Taylor starting on one side and having the rest of those guys compete for time in a rotation on the other side isn't really enough, but it's certainly better than what the team currently has projected.

I'm also not of the belief that Taylor's presence would hinder the development or block any of the team's younger prospects from playing time. It's highly unlikely the team finds two young, long-term starters ready to play full-time in 2010, and there's no reason Taylor has to be an every-down player through 2011.

The draft

It's quite possible—almost inevitable—that the Dolphins will use a high pick in this month's draft to select a pass-rushing linebacker.

Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland have a history of drafting linebackers early, and guys like Texas' Sergio Kindle, Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, and South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul will all be under consideration by the Dolphins' front office with the No. 12 pick.

Should the Dolphins not go linebacker in the first round, they will almost certainly address the position in the second or third round, which will also place great expectations on the rookie.

But even if the Dolphins do draft a linebacker high, it doesn't automatically solve all the team's problems. The team will still need a starter at the other outside spot. Furthermore, the rookie could hold out, get hurt, develop slower than expected, or simply bust outright.

Even with a top rookie added to the mix, the Dolphins still have a spot and the need for someone of Taylor's ability. One could also argue that Taylor's presence as an experienced and veteran pass rusher could only help the development of a young player.

Money matters

Even with the New England Patriots interested in his services last offseason, Taylor told his agent to get a deal done with Miami regardless of the money.

Although Taylor is obviously being more heavily pursued and could get more money on the market this offseason a productive 2009 campaign, I still find it hard to believe it would take outrageous money for him to re-sign with the Dolphins.

Taylor obviously wants to play in Miami above all else, and a two-year contract worth $4 or $5 million would be reasonable and could probably get a deal done. I'm not even sure the Dolphins would have to be the highest bidder to land Taylor, so long as their offer was at least competitive.

I understand the reluctance to give a player at Taylor's age a multi-year contract, but the facts are that he is still effective, it would almost certainly be a below-market deal for a player of his caliber, and the absence of a salary cap would make it easy to get out of if things didn't work out.

This is the team that gave contracts of $6.25 million to Josh McCown, $13 million to Ernest Wilford, $13.8 million to Channing Crowder, $14 million to Reggie Torbor, $25 million to Justin Smiley, $27.5 million to Gibril Wilson.

No, not all of those players will receiver the total values of their contracts. But for example, Gibril Wilson did make over $10.5 million with the Dolphins last season, or roughly seven times what Jason Taylor made.

Parcells has thrown money around in obviously questionable situations since he arrived in Miami, yet you're telling me the Dolphins can't give a couple million to a quality player, long-time Dolphin, and future Hall of Famer who plays a need position?

Give me a break.

An act of betrayal?

There is a contingent of Dolphins fans out there that will feel signing with the Jets to be an unforgivable act on Taylor's part.

This is obviously a ridiculous stance to take.

Not only has Taylor spent almost his entire career with the team as it toiled in mediocrity and bounced from head coach to head coach, but he's been one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL for most of his career and has given Dolphins fans some of the best memories of the team they'll ever have.

Taylor is not contemplating signing with the Jets because it's the ideal situation for him. He'd rather play in Miami in 2010, even though New York has a much better defense and offers a better chance at a Super Bowl ring within the next two years that will likely be Taylor's last.

If Taylor signs with the Jets, it will be because Miami forced his hand and gave him no choice but to explore other options.

Taylor has every right to continue his playing career and try to get a Super Bowl ring, and he owes the Dolphins and their fans absolutely nothing. If Miami refuses to be loyal to him, why should Taylor remain loyal to the Dolphins?

Conclusion

While the Dolphins sit idly by, the New York Jets are in hot pursuit of Taylor, despite not having nearly the need for him that Miami does.

Not only did the Jets' defense rank first in the league (Miami ranked 22nd) and carry them to the AFC Championship game with a rookie quarterback, but they already have two players—Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas—that are more talented and experienced of the Dolphins' current outside linebackers.

The Jets want to sign Taylor even though they can only sign one unrestricted free agent at the moment because of final-eight rules, and they had to wait to even have the ability to sign one until the Cardinals inked free-agent placekicker Jay Feely.

And yet the Dolphins do nothing. They string Taylor along with generic compliments about his 2009 play and the promise that maybe, after the draft, they might consider talking to him about re-signing.

The franchise's unfortunate treatment of one of the Dolphins' greats, while definitely the case, is not the primary issue.

There is no other linebacker on the free-agent market or available via trade that could bring the production and talent Taylor would. There is no rookie in this year's draft class that will be effective or reliable enough out of the gate to make Taylor not worth having.

There simply are not two starting-caliber outside linebackers to be had if one of them isn't Jason Taylor. No matter how you look at it, the Dolphins would be a better team with Jason Taylor in 2010.

Whether you look at it from a sentimental standpoint, a financial one, or a football one, re-signing Taylor is simply a good idea. It's time the Dolphins' front office realized that and make the obvious decision to make this team better.


How do you feel about the way the Dolphins have approached re-signing Taylor? Share your thoughts on the forum here!