Monday, April 23, 2012

Dolphins release former second-rounder Phillip Merling

Despite being re-signed to a one-year contract as a restricted free agent just two weeks ago, former second-round defensive lineman Phillip Merling was released by the Dolphins on Monday after four seasons with the team.

Originally a second-round pick (32nd overall) out of Clemson in 2008, Merling appeared in 47 games for the Dolphins but started only seven of them, totaling 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.

Aside from being outplayed and overshadowed by Kendall Langford, who was chosen a round after him in 2008, Merling also dealt with issues off the field ranging from an arrest for aggravated battery against his pregnant girlfriend in May of 2010 (though the charges were later dropped) to a torn Achilles' tendon suffered later that same offseason.

The injury seemed to sap some of Merling's athleticism and he returned to the field bigger and less agile than before. It also caused him to spend much of the 2010 season on the non-football injury list, which prevented him from earning an accrued season and eventually caused him to be a restricted, rather than unrestricted, free agent in the 2012 offseason.

However, it seems the Dolphins were merely hoping to net a draft pick when they tendered the now 27-year-old Merling a contract this offseason. The team found no one willing to sign Merling to an offer sheet and give up a second-round pick for his serves, and he signed the Dolphins' tender on April 11 (though it was originally reported back in March).

Merling's release saves the Dolphins the full $1.26 million against their 2012 salary cap, as none of the contract was guaranteed. The team also doesn't lose much in the way of defensive tackle depth, as the position remains stacked with Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Jared Odrick and Tony McDaniel all currently under contract.

However, it's natural to reflect on the Dolphins' recent draft struggles when you see the departure of Merling, especially when it comes to second-round picks. Since Jeff Ireland arrived along with Bill Parcells in 2008, the team has only produced one respectable starter (cornerback Sean Smith) in the second round, and even he has been wildly inconsistent.

Quarterback Pat White (2009) remains one of the worst draft picks in franchise history and certainly the worst of the Parcells era in Miami. Chad Henne (2008) failed to pan out as a starting quarterback and is now with the Jaguars, while Koa Misi (2010) has offered next to nothing as a pass rusher and was arrested for battery last month. The jury is still out in 2011 second-rounder Daniel Thomas and I personally have high hopes for him, but he totaled just 581 rushing yards while missing time with nagging hamstring injuries.

While finding a franchise quarterback would solve all of the Dolphins' problems, it's clear that Ireland needs to do a better job of scouting draft prospects and using his high selections more wisely, or he's not going to be around for much longer.

Check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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