Friday, July 23, 2010

Dolphins lose Phillip Merling for season; sign DE Marques Douglas

Dolphins third-year defensive end Phillip Merling wrapped up a rocky offseason, which included an arrest for aggravated battery against his pregnant girlfriend, with a season-ending torn Achilles' tendon.

A second-round pick by the Dolphins in 2008, Merling has been a significant reserve in the team's defensive line rotation the past two seasons, but has quietly drawn criticism from the coaching staff about his lack of development.

Expected to compete with rookie first-round pick Jared Odrick for a starting job at right defensive end with Randy Starks moving to nose tackle, Merling will now miss the entire 2010 season.

Merling, who suffered the injury away from the Dolphins' facility or staff, could miss out on his entire 2010 salary if he is placed on the reserve/non-football injury list by the team.

Amid rumors the Dolphins could have an interest in first-round disappointment Marcus Spears of the Dallas Cowboys, the team instead opted to sign veteran free agent Marques Douglas.

Douglas, 33, will receive a two-year, $2.5 million contract from the Dolphins, although exact contract details are not yet known.

Background

Sign as an undrafted free agent by the Baltimore Ravens out of Howard in 1999, Douglas did not appear in a game during his first pro season. He made his NFL debut with the New Orleans Saints in 2000, but did not record any statistics.

Douglas re-joined the Ravens for four seasons beginning in 2001, going on to play 39 games (32 starts) and record 145 tackles, 12 sacks, and three forced fumbles during that span.

Douglas spent the next three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers through 2007, starting 47 of 48 possible games and totaling 190 tackles, seven sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries.

A free agent in 2008, Douglas signed a four-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, only to be traded back to the Ravens for 2009 seventh-round pick before the season began.

Released after one season in Baltimore during which he recorded 34 tackles, Douglas started 12 games the New York Jets in 2009. He contributed 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble for the NFL's best defense, while his 64 tackles ranked first on the team among defensive linemen.

Once again a free agent in 2010, Douglas was rumored to be a candidate to be re-signed by the Jets, but the team showed no interest.

While Douglas may replace Merling in terms of his role with the team, Merling has not yet been removed from the active roster, which now stands at 77.

Analysis

It's hard to really say how much the loss of Merling will impact the Dolphins, because I'm not much sure how long he would have been with the team anyway given his legal problems and the team's continued disappointment with his play over the past two seasons.

Although he was solid in rotation, he failed to establish himself as a reliable starter during his first pro seasons, being outplayed by Kendall Langford, who was drafted a round later the same year as Merling.

I don't think Merling was a bad player at all, and I'd honestly say his less significant role compared to Langford's was more a reflection of Langford than Merling.

Still, the Dolphins didn't lose a true starter here, and it's hard to see the Dolphins keeping Merling around much longer given the extremely serious nature of the charges against him. In an offseason with four Dolphins arrested, Merling's case was by far the worst of the bunch.

Rather than trade for a backup with ties to the Dolphins' staff in Marcus Spears, the Dolphins instead opted to sign a more proven, albeit older, backup with ties to the Dolphins' staff in Marques Douglas.

Not only does Douglas bring with him seven years (four with Baltimore, three with San Francisco) of experience under new Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, but he also brings seven years of experience under Rex Ryan—head coach of the division rival New York Jets.

Douglas isn't an every-down starter at this point in his carer, but he's an experienced and still-productive player with vast experience in the Dolphins' scheme.

His track record is significantly better than that of Spears, and he didn't require the team to give up any compensation to add him as Spears would have.

Merling's departure from the Dolphins' 2010 defense should open the door wide open for first-rounder Jared Odrick to get plenty of playing time (though that was never really in doubt), while Douglas is more than capable of filling the rotational role Merling has served in the past—likely better than Merling himself.

As always, you can check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these latest transactions here.


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