Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Miami Dolphins end-of-season news and notes

The NFL Playoffs have yet to get underway, but the Miami Dolphins' season is already over and the offseason is in full swing. Already, the team is looking for its next head coach, preparing for the draft (more on that later), and likely looking to add some names to the offseason roster.

Head coaching search(es)?

The search for the next head coach is well undeway, as the team has already interviewed interim head coach Todd Bowles and high-profile candidate Jeff Fisher. The team has also arranged an interview with Jets special teams coordinator Dave Toub and has expressed interest in Jets' defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

It's hard to get a feel for just what direction the Dolphins will go, as there is a major difference between a 17-year veteran like Fisher and a special teams guy like Toub whose longest professional stint was as a college strength and conditioning coach.

But perhaps that can be explained by this article, which indicates the franchise is conducting two separate coaching searches. Owner Stephen M. Ross' buddy and former Chiefs president Carl Peterson has reportedly reached out to ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and is spearheading the courtship of Fisher. Meanwhile, current Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland is the one talking to Bowles, Pettine, Toub, and others.

So just what exactly is going on here? It's obvious Ireland wants a younger head coach that will allow him to retain power over personnel (and his job), which is understandable. But in that case, why is Ross allowing Peterson to pursue Fisher? Would Fisher be okay reporting to Ireland? Would Fisher's arrival mean Peterson officially comes aboard as team president, and if so, does that mean Ireland is out?

Initially, I thought Ireland was simply conducting a search of all kinds of candidates. But if Ireland is running his own search and if Ross is planning to eventually replace him if Peterson can land Fisher, then what the hell is Ireland still doing here? I'm not that big a fan of Ireland's, but I am okay with him keeping his job for another year or two to prove himself and if he's going to do that job he should be secure in it. Did Ross learn nothing from the Jim Harbaugh debacle last year?

Just when I thought Ross had made the wise decision to become more of a hands-off owner and let his general manager work, he does something like this to make me think he truly has no idea what he's doing.

My initial feeling is that Fisher will pass on the Dolphins' job and then perhaps Ireland will stay and choose his own man, but we've already been through this before with Tony Sparano not having the full backing of his superiors, and he was a dead man walking in 2011. If Ireland becomes the same thing in 2012, then how long is it going to take to turn this franchise around?

2012 NFL Draft order updated

With the season over for the 20 non-playoff teams of the NFL, the 2012 NFL Draft order of the top 20 is now set. It looks like this:
  1. Indianapolis (2-14)
  2. St. Louis (2-14)
  3. Minnesota (3-13)
  4. Cleveland (4-12)
  5. Tampa Bay (4-12)
  6. Washington (5-11)
  7. Jacksonville (5-11)
  8. Miami (6-10)*
  9. Carolina (6-10)*
  10. Buffalo (6-10)
  11. Kansas City (7-9)*
  12. Seattle (7-9)*
  13. Arizona (8-8)
  14. Dallas (8-8)
  15. Philadelphia (8-8)
  16. New York Jets (8-8)
  17. Cincinnati - from Oakland (8-8)
  18. San Diego (8-8)
  19. Chicago (8-8)
  20. Tennessee (9-7)

*subject to coin flip

The Dolphins will hold either the eighth or the ninth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, depending on a coin flip that will take place at the NFL Scouting Combine in February to break the tie. The Panthers and Dolphins have exact same record and strengths of schedule, and because they are in different conferences, the next tiebreaker is the coin flip. (The order will flip-flop in the following rounds, so the winner of the flip will pick earlier in Rounds 1, 3, 5, 7; the loser in Rounds 2, 4, 6.)

It will certainly be interesting to see what the Dolphins do with their first-round pick and if they try to move up to land a quarterback like Baylor's Robert Griffin III. The Dolphins will have to watch Cleveland (No. 4) and Washington (No. 6), but they'll have potential trade partners in St. Louis (No. 2) and Minnesota (No.3), who are likely committed to their current former first-round quarterbacks in Sam Bradford and Christian Ponder, respectively.

The Dolphins, who finished the season on a 6-3 run, still have solid draft position and will certainly have their shot at some elite college talent. The question is whether they stand pat, move up, or move down if their quarterback options become limited at No. 8 or 9.

Dolphins' 2012 opponents finalized

Also finalized at the conclusion of the 2011 regular season is the Dolphins' slate of opponents for next season. The formula for the Dolphins' 16-game NFL schedule is:
  • 6 games inside the division (3 home, 3 away)
  • 4 games against another AFC division (2 home, 2 away)
  • 4 games against an NFC division (2 home, 2 away)
  • 2 games against the same-finishing teams from the remains two AFC divisions
In 2012, the Dolphins will have their usual home and away games against the Bills, Patriots, and Jets. They will also face the AFC South and NFC West, hosting Jacksonville, Tennessee, Seattle and St. Louis while visiting Houston, Indianapolis, Arizona, and San Francisco. Finally, they'll face the third-place teams from the AFC North and AFC west, visiting Cincinnati and hosting the Raiders.

While the schedule doesn't seem particularly difficult, it does appear brutal from a quality of opponents perspective. I think it'll be difficult for the Dolphins to drum up fan interest in a home slate that includes the Jaguars, Titans, Seahawks and Rams, which makes the need for an exciting quarterback (RG3?) and a good team that much more important.

Practice squad contracts expire

As always, the contracts of the Miami Dolphins' practice squad players expired at the conclusion of the team's season. All practice squad contracts league-wide are one year in length.

Finishing the season on the Dolphins' practice squad were:
  • NT Isaako Aaitui (UNLV)
  • CB Vince Agnew (Central Michigan)
  • QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson (Sacramento State)
  • CB Marcus Brown (Arkansas State)
  • OLB Jonathan Freeny (Rutgers)
  • WR Chris Hogan (Monmouth)
  • RB Ian Johnson (Boise State)
  • SS Anderson Russell (Ohio State)
The Dolphins promoted quarterback Pat Devlin and running back Richard Medlin to the active roster during the final few weeks of the season, so both are under contract for 2012.

As for these other eight guys above, they are now free agents and able to sign future contracts with any team, counting toward the 80-man offseason roster. (Teams in the playoffs can still sign players to future contracts now, although they won't join the team until the offseason.)

I would imagine most or all of the eight players that finished the year on Miami's practice squad will be re-signed by the Dolphins in the coming days. Most teams re-sign their own practice squad players with the intention of bringing them to offseason workouts and potentially training camp.

Of the eight, I don't really see any that will have an easy time making the Dolphins' roster in 2012, however. All eight are very borderline NFL talents and a long way from making a real impact. At best you might get a special-teamer or two out of the group, but a diamond in the rough is always unlikely.

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