AFC East: Wayne Huizenga

Dolphins regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
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NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 22
Preseason Power Ranking: 11

[+] Enlarge Chad Henne
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyChad Henne had a disappointing season in his second year as Miami's starter.
Biggest surprise: The Dolphins seemed to have all the parts in place for a vibrant and diverse offensive attack. They traded for prolific receiver Brandon Marshall. They've fielded a quality offensive line since they drafted left tackle Jake Long. They had a capable backfield tandem Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. The team harbored high expectations for second-year starting quarterback Chad Henne. And they stunk. Miami ranked 30th in points, 21st in total offense, 21st in rushing offense and 16th in passing offense. Henne was benched at one point. The Wildcat became a farce because defenses figured it out. The interior O-line, tinkered with for three years, fell apart.

Biggest disappointment: The Dolphins started the season with a pair of road games and won them both. At 2-0 and with all eight home games to go, they bolted to a gargantuan head start in the playoff race. Since the NFL went to its current playoff format 20 years ago, only nine teams had done that. Six went to the playoffs. Four won their division. The Dolphins went 6-2 on the road. Had they split their home games, they would have gone 10-6. If the New York Jets were one of those home victories, then the Dolphins might have gotten into the playoffs. Alas, the Dolphins posted a shameful 1-7 home record, losing in Sun Life Stadium to the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

Biggest need: The Dolphins crave offensive help. The defense did just fine under new coordinator Mike Nolan, ranking sixth in total defense, seventh in run defense and eighth in pass defense. The Dolphins probably will be looking for a new offensive coordinator with Dan Henning reportedly about to retire. They'll also be in the market for a running back. Brown and Williams are free agents. Williams recently made comments that strongly indicated he will be gone. Interior O-line reinforcements are a necessity. But there's still a major problem at quarterback. The Dolphins know what a reliable quarterback could mean. Chad Pennington parachuted into training camp in 2008 and guided them from a 1-15 season to the AFC East title. If the Dolphins can stomach bringing in another quarterback -- they've had 15 starters since Dan Marino retired -- then a steady free agent probably is the best way to pull the offense together.

Team MVP: Cameron Wake, outside linebacker. The Canadian Football League import broke out in his second NFL season. He recorded 14 sacks to rank third in the league.

Pivotal moment: Sept. 7 was a symbolic date for the Dolphins. Just five days before opening day, the Dolphins made a bizarrely timed announcement that Bill Parcells was stepping down as football operations vice president to become a mere "consultant." The Dolphins gave off the vibe of an adrift franchise from that moment on -- and played like it. Parcells packed up his office shortly thereafter, leaving general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano to fend for themselves. Parcells hired them while working for previous owner Wayne Huizenga. But with Parcells on a golf course or at the race track, jobs seemed increasingly tenuous under current owner Stephen Ross, and the uninspiring product on the field didn't measure up either.

With jobs at stake, Dolphins are no-shows

January, 2, 2011
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With head coach Tony Sparano's job in the balance, the Miami Dolphins came up small Sunday in Gillette Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe Miami Dolphins won one home game this season under embattled head coach Tony Sparano.
The hodgepodge New England Patriots rested their top two wide receivers and best pass-rushers and shuffled backups in and out of the game throughout. Yet they still dominated the Dolphins 38-7.

The Patriots were up 38-0 with almost seven minutes left in the third quarter. The Dolphins avoided getting skunked when Davone Bess scored with 2:17 to play.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who publicly declared before the season that his team was Super Bowl bound, must be embarrassed.

Ross didn't attend the game and reportedly was out of the country. Sparano, his staff and his players should pray that wherever Ross was they don't show NFL games on television.

The Dolphins were 6-5 and still had hope after Thanksgiving. They lost four of their last five games. The Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions beat them in Sun Life Stadium before the preseason-mode Patriots gave the Dolphins a clear idea how far behind they are in the AFC East.

The Dolphins went 1-7 at home this season, tying their worst record in club history. The only other time they were so bad at home was when they went 1-15 the year before Sparano and general manager Jeff Ireland arrived.

Ross didn't hire them. Former football operations boss Bill Parcells did with former owner Wayne Huizenga's consent. Huizenga sold the team shortly thereafter. Parcells supposedly still is with the Dolphins as a consultant, but he cleaned out his office months ago.

Ross put an emphasis on making Sun Life Stadium an entertainment destination from the moment he took over the Dolphins. One measly victory in an arena that was half-full toward the end of the season is unacceptable. And if Sparano can't motivate his players to play with any kind of edge, then how can Ross expect fans to respond at the box office?

The Patriots had nothing to play for Sunday other than tuning up for the postseason. It was like an exhibition for them.

But with jobs on the line, the Dolphins didn't show up.

Miami's offense, defense and special teams were equally disgusting. They gave up big plays all over the field. Their breakdowns were both strategic and mental. Tackling was poor. They committed bad penalties.

Chad Henne threw an interception on the opening drive and had a 29.2 passer rating in the first half. Dan Carpenter missed another field goal, this one from 40 yards. Ricky Williams fumbled, and Ronnie Brown ran six times for 14 yards in what might be the last games as Dolphins for the backfield mates.

Miami went into Week 17 with the third-ranked defense. Even with Wes Welker and Deion Branch not on the field, Tom Brady completed 10 of 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

The Dolphins' secondary also got torched by the immortal combo of Brian Hoyer to Brandon Tate for a 42-yard touchdown in the third quarter. One play before the bomb, the Dolphins' defensive line encroached on fourth-and-1.

The Patriots gained 502 yards -- that doesn't include Julian Edelman's 94-yard punt return for a touchdown -- and had the ball for over 36 minutes.

A call from the governor might not even save Sparano after a performance like that, and he has a direct line to Tallahassee. Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll's mother is Florida's new lieutenant governor.

When Ross gets around to examining what transpired Sunday in Gillette Stadium, it very well could be a lethal inspection.

Is Bill Parcells already mulling next team?

September, 30, 2010
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Bill Parcells has been a media hermit since he took over the Miami Dolphins in December 2007.

He sat down for an introductory news conference and reluctantly met with reporters at an endorsement obligation for Gatorade. That was all we've heard aside from an extemporaneous comment here or there about his love for horse racing or some historical football perspective.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesBill Parcells' contract with the Dolphins runs through 2011, but a clause in that contract allows him to leave at any time.
So it was pretty big news that Parcells was on a conference call Thursday with New York Giants reporters to talk about being inducted in their Ring of Honor at the new Meadowlands stadium.

For the first time, reporters had the chance to ask him about his future. The Dolphins announced a few days before their season opener Parcells had stepped down as executive vice president and turned over football operations to general manager Jeff Ireland.

Parcells has stayed on as a consultant. But what's next?

"Well, that is a good question," Parcells replied. "I am not a sit-around-the-fireplace guy. I don't know. I am not certain about it. We will see what happens when the time comes.

"I know I want to do something even if it is not day-to-day or something like that, I know I want to do something. I don't like sitting around. I like to get up and go do something. We will figure it out when the time comes."

Parcells' comments are ominous given his history as a restless football soul and the fact he can walk away from his Dolphins contract with full pay whenever the mood strikes him.

His contract with the Dolphins runs through 2011. When new owner Stephen Ross bought the team from Wayne Huizenga, Parcells negotiated a clause that will allow him to leave at any time, collect every last cent and not be prevented from working for another team.

Under Ross, the Dolphins have turned into a glitzy operation that embraces celebrity and the South Florida lifestyle as much as it does touchdowns. Ross has sold pieces of the team to Fergie, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony and Serena and Venus Williams. Jimmy Buffet got involved in a deal with the Dolphins last year that included stadium naming rights.

For Sunday night's home opener, the Dolphins rolled out an orange carpet for a slew of celebrities to walk past the paparazzi: Jennifer Lopez (Anthony's wife), Kim Kardashian, Enrique Iglesias, T-Pain, Anna Kournikova, Tara Reid and Helio Castroneves among them. attendees who avoided the orange carpet included Tiger Woods, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, who, coincidentally, was the subject of a story for which Parcells once actually called me back.

As much as Parcells isn't a fan of the media, I'm sure even he rolled his eyes when he learned the Dolphins converted their press box into a nightclub-style suite.

Parcells is a football man. I'm sure he'd love to work for an organization that makes football the only priority and doesn't still consider Tara Reid a star.

Video: Bill Parcells triggers transition

September, 8, 2010
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video
As much as Bill Parcells has cycled through interior offensive linemen since he took over the Miami Dolphins' football operations in late 2007, I suppose it's fitting ESPN's John Clayton would call Parcells' decision to reduce his role a "changing of the guard."

Clayton takes a look at what general manager Jeff Ireland's increased responsibilities will mean for the Dolphins.

AFC East not immune to blackouts

September, 3, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham


Wayne Huizenga saw it coming.

Fifteen months ago, I spoke with him at a community event in Coconut Creek, Fla. He still owned the Miami Dolphins then and was stressed about how the economy was going to impact ticket sales in 2008.

It was only June, and his sales staff was meeting resistance from the club's most loyal customers.

Feedback suggested it wasn't the club's 1-15 record that was creating uneasiness at the box office.

"You have some people who say 'I'm really excited, but I can't afford it,' " Huizenga said at the time.

Huizenga saw it was time to get out for various reasons and sold his beloved team to Stephen Ross. At least part of the reason was Huizenga didn't like what he recognized as a developing trend of people not buying tickets to watch games in person because of the economy.

ESPN's "Outside the Lines" will air a report on the NFL's growing blackout problems Thursday afternoon.

USA Today this week published a blackout forecast for all 32 teams.

A reminder of how blackouts work: Teams have until 72 hours before kickoff to sell out their home games. Sometimes an extension is granted. If they don't sell every seat, then the game cannot be shown within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.

In the AFC East, the New England Patriots won't have anything to worry about. They've already sold out all eight home games. The New York Jets and Dolphins expect to sell out their home schedule, but Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene told USA Today there were no guarantees.

The Buffalo Bills need to sell out only seven games because they exported one of their home dates to the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Bills reportedly have sold 55,000 season tickets, a figure that rates with what they drew during their Super Bowl years. Ralph Wilson Stadium seats 73,079.

Many of those tickets were purchased in the euphoric stage after the Bills signed receiver Terrell Owens. Thursday night's preseason finale against the Detroit Lions will be blacked out.

As mentioned in an earlier post on Forbes team valuations, average ticket prices for each AFC East club: Patriots $118; Jets $87; Dolphins $66; Bills $51.

Half of AFC East's owners not coming

March, 23, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DANA POINT, Calif. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross won't be in attendance when the rest of his NFL colleagues gather for their annual meeting at the St. Regis Hotel.

Ross, who assumed control of the club in January when he purchased all but 5 percent from Wayne Huizenga, remained on the East Coast because he's sick.

That means half of the AFC East owners won't attend -- the rookie and the Hall of Famer. Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson didn't make the cross-country trip because he recently suffered a shoulder injury at home.

Dolphins spokesman Harvey Greene said he didn't know the extent of Ross' illness or whether Ross was at his home in Manhattan or Palm Beach, Fla.

If the Dolphins need to vote on any league matters this week, president Bryan Wiedmeier will fill in for Ross. Bills chief operating officer, Russ Brandon, will represent Wilson.

Patriots are AFC East's best in the business

March, 10, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

NFC South helmsman Pat Yasinskas uncovered an elaborate franchise analysis from bizjournals.com.

The parent company for Sports Business Journal, Sports Business Daily and Street and Smith's Sports Group ranked the 122 big-four sports clubs to determine which are the best and worst at achieving the ultimate combination of winning and making money during the 2008 calendar year.

Half of a team's score was determined by its level of success on the field, court or ice. Bizjournals' formula considered each franchise's win-loss record, average margin of victory (or defeat), and playoff results.

The other half was determined by a team's relative success in business. The formula analyzed average home attendance, the percentage of available seats sold for home games, and the increase (or decline) in a franchise's value from 2007 to 2008. The latter was based on annual estimates published by Forbes magazine.

The Boston Celtics finished first. The Detroit Lions finished dead last.

AFC East teams fared decently. Three finished above the median. You'd probably be surprised which one came in last.

The New England Patriots were 14th overall and second in the NFL behind the New York Giants. Even though the Patriots failed to make the playoffs with an 11-5 record, they sold out every game. Bizjournals estimated their franchise value increased by 10 percent.

The New York Jets came in 22nd overall and sixth in the NFL. Teams in between the Patriots and Jets were the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. That made the Jets the highest-ranking non-playoff team on the list. Bizjournals noted the Jets played before almost 98 percent capacity crowds and estimated the franchise increased in value by 21 percent. All of those Brett Favre jerseys probably helped a ton.

One would assume the small-market Buffalo Bills would rank last among AFC East teams, but they didn't. They ranked 66th overall and 21st in the NFL. Bizjournals put Ralph Wilson Stadium attendance at 96.5 percent and estimated the franchise value went up eight percent. It's uncertain how bizjournals factored the Bills' $78 million deal to move eight games to Toronto through 2012.

Perhaps reflective of why Wayne Huizenga unloaded 95 percent of his beloved Miami Dolphins to Stephen Ross, the club came in 78th overall, but 27th in the NFL despite winning the division championship. Bizjournals estimated the franchise increased in value by 11 percent, but Dolphin Stadium was filled only to 86.7 percent capacity.

Hot Button: AFC East

February, 15, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The top issues facing each team in the division:

Buffalo Bills

Primary issue: The Bills had the weakest pass rush for an NFL team that wasn't an out-and-out doormat. They recorded 24 sacks all season. Only the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs had fewer.

 
  Brendan Maloney/US Presswire
  If available, Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo would fit in nicely with the Bills.

A significant problem was the loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel for all but the first five games because of a foot injury. But he managed only one sack when he was available. The Bills haven't gotten anything out of John McCargo, a defensive tackle they traded up to draft 26th overall three years ago. He has started zero times and has notched 2.5 sacks.

The Bills lost defensive line coach Bill Kollar, who accepted a promotion to be Houston Texans' assistant head coach. Fired Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders has replaced him.

Solution: If Schobel recovers and Sanders can figure out a way to unlock the lackadaisical McCargo, then the Bills' defensive line might spring back nicely. The Bills hold the 11th overall draft choice, and top-rated pass rushers Brian Orakpo of Texas and Everette Brown of Florida State could be available.

Hot Button Archive
Kuharsky: AFC South
Yasinskas: NFC South
Seifert: NFC North
Walker: AFC North
Sando: NFC West
Williamson: AFC West
Graham: AFC East
Mosley: NFC East

Secondary concern: The Bills need to build some goodwill between themselves and their fans. Given the dreadful economy and the team's recent past, even the most ardent Bills supporter has plenty of reasons not to buy tickets. The Bills haven't made the playoffs in nine years. Fans are down on management's decision to stick with head coach Dick Jauron.

Solution: As much as Bills fans despised former general manager Tom Donahoe, they have to admit he knew how to get them excited with high-profile offseason moves such as the Drew Bledsoe acquisition and the first-round Willis McGahee gamble. Would it kill the Bills to provide a little excitement this spring?


Miami Dolphins

 
  Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
  California center Alex Mack could help solidify the Dolphins' offensive line.

Primary issue: Miami's interior offensive line was a major source of frustration throughout the season.

At first, the Dolphins weren't happy with the depth, routinely circulating street free agents through the roster. Rookie Donald Thomas won the starting right guard job but suffered a season-ending foot injury on opening day. Left guard Justin Smiley, their top offseason free-agent acquisition, played well but went down with a gruesome leg injury in Week 13. The front office has decided center Samson Satele isn't sturdy enough to handle 3-4 nose tackles.

The Dolphins went into 2008 excited about their running-back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, but their inability to run inside limited offensive options and forced the Dolphins to try the exotic Wildcat offense, which put two tackles on the same side of the line.

Right tackle Vernon Carey is a free agent. If the Dolphins re-sign him, there's talk of switching him to guard.

Solution: The Dolphins are searching for a center to anchor their offensive line. Free agency is an option, but drafting a center such as Alex Mack of California or Max Unger of Oregon creates a tantalizing proposition of a formidable line that can stay together for years. Satele could shift to guard and provide depth. Thomas will be back. No. 1 draft pick Jake Long went to the Pro Bowl.

Secondary concern: As ownership switched from Wayne Huizenga to Stephen Ross, football operations chief Bill Parcells renegotiated his four-year contract to include a permanent walkout clause with full pay. Parcells can leave whenever he desires for any reason he wants.

Solution: Leave him alone, Steve.


New England Patriots

Primary issue: The three biggest concerns for the Patriots this offseason are Tom Brady's ACL, Tom Brady's MCL and Tom Brady's knee infections.

 
  Greg M. Cooper/US PRESSWIRE
  The Patriots have $29 million in salary-cap dollars tied up between Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.

Much of the Patriots' offseason -- and beyond -- hinges on Mr. Everything's status for 2009 because roughly $29 million in salary-cap dollars are tied up between him and his insurance policy, Matt Cassel.

That massive allocation will affect how flexible the Patriots can be when it comes to signing free agents or hammering out extensions to players they want to keep around.

Solution: The Patriots must clear Cassel's one-year, $14.65 million guaranteed contract off the books by trading him, but they might not be able to do so. They need to make sure Brady is healthy enough first, and they might not know for months.

Secondary concern: Brain drain hasn't been a problem for the Patriots yet, but recurring defections could catch up to them eventually. Vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli is the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the Denver Broncos' head coach. Other respected assistants have shuffled about.

Solution: Head coach Bill Belichick has to maintain his remarkable knack for finding and nurturing football minds who always seem to thrive in the Patriots' already-established culture.


New York Jets

 
  Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
  Kellen Clemens, right, will be one candidate to replace Brett Favre as the Jets' quarterback.
Primary issue: The chief concern evolved a little on Wednesday, shifting from "How long will the Jets have to wait on Brett Favre?" to "How will the Jets replace Brett Favre?"

Management insists it's focusing on the three candidates already on the Jets' roster. But Kellen Clemens has made only eight starts, most of them frightful. Brett Ratliff and Erik Ainge have combined for zero NFL game snaps.

The Jets are downplaying their interest in locating another candidate through free agency or the draft, but banging those drums so soon would be demoralizing to the three hopefuls and possibly short-circuit a budding competition.

Solution: Rookie head coach Rex Ryan is a defensive mastermind, which means this mostly will be Brian Schottenheimer's problem to solve. Ryan said he wants to run an all-weather offense, which emphasizes the run. That should help alleviate pressure on a young quarterback.

Secondary concern: Despite star cornerback Darrelle Revis and impressive safety Kerry Rhodes, the Jets were miserable in defending the pass last season. They ranked 29th in pass defense, allowing 234.5 yards a game. Opponents completed 64.3 percent of their passes and threw for 23 touchdowns.

Solution: The Jets desperately need an effective cornerback to start opposite Revis. Getting sixth-overall draft pick Vernon Gholston playing like the pass rusher they thought he was at Ohio State wouldn't hurt either.

Parcells' clause grows from 30 days to forever

February, 6, 2009
2/06/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

  Parcells

All of those Dolfans who breathed a sigh of relief last week when Bill Parcells declared he would return next year probably will be a little more anxious to learn he now can leave with full pay whenever he wants.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Friday afternoon that before former Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga surrendered control of the team last month, he adjusted a clause that allows Parcells to step down at any time as Dolphins football operations boss and collect the full worth of his four-year, $12 million contract.

The new walkout clause comes without restrictions. Parcells simply could retire and get paid. He also could leave Miami to take a coaching or front-office job with another NFL team, and the Dolphins would receive zero financial or draft compensation.

The clause essentially puts the Dolphins under contract to Parcells, not the other way around.

For the next three years potentially, Dolfans will have to endure hearing Parcells' name mentioned for every major coaching or football operations job around the league.

The latest Parcells drama began last month. Mortensen reported the future Hall of Famer had a 30-day window to take the money and run if Huizenga were to relinquish control. Parcells' contract specified he would answer to Huizenga only.

Real estate magnate Stephen Ross purchased an additional 45 percent of the team and Dolphin Stadium, giving him 95 percent ownership.

Around the AFC East: Huizenga's big profit

January, 27, 2009
1/27/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins

 Buffalo Bills

New England Patriots

New York Jets

  • Brian Costello of the New York Post relays a report from Sports Illustrated's Peter King that Brett Favre is "done."

Parcells declares intention to remain with Fins

January, 24, 2009
1/24/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

The reporters who cover the Miami Dolphins had to love reading the New York Post and New York Daily News on Saturday.

The Miami media can't get Dolphins football operations boss Bill Parcells to share insight on even the most minor Dolphins topic, let alone provide any definitive answers about whether or not he will remain with the team.

Parcells has spoken to Dolphins reporters twice that we know of: at his introductory news conference in December 2007 and at a contractualy obligated promotional event for Gatorade in June 2008. The latter was for three local print reporters. Radio and TV outlets were shut out.

But Parcells had no trouble getting chatty with Gary Myers of the Daily News and Steve Serby of the Post.

After parrying with three Dolphins reporters this week at the Senior Bowl about his future with the Dolphins, Parcells gave Myers the most insightful comments yet about his future with the Dolphins.

A clause in Parcells' four-year contract gives him a 30-day window to leave the team with his money paid in full and with no restrictions on joining another NFL team if Wayne Huizenga were to sell the team. Stephen Ross took over on Tuesday.

"My intention is to do what I've been doing," Parcells said. "I think we will have ample time to figure each other out. I'm very optimistic. I've had two or three meetings with Steve Ross, and he seems to be a guy who wants to do things the right way. There will be a period of adjustment. He's got to find out about the business. We are going to try and make things work. I'm not doing this forever."

Parcells also told Myers that he had a meeting with Ross on Friday and that general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Tony Sparano attended.

Serby's column dealt exclusively with Parcells' opinion of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.

"In our organization, we don't have anybody that's not a football guy," Parcells said. "We want football guys with us. That's what he is. That's why I thought he'd be a good fit here."

Parcells hasn't said that much on the record about his own head coach in eight months. And a lot has happened in eight months.

Parcells interviewed Ryan last year for the Dolphins' head-coaching vacancy. The job eventually went to Sparano, who essentially was handpicked from Parcells' last staff in Dallas. But Ryan made a big impression.

"I saw myself," Parcells said. "That's what I was. I could see it.

"I've been in this business a long time now. Some guys are football guys. Some guys are in the football business, but they're not football guys. They act like their job says football but they're in it for a paycheck.

"This guy's a football guy, and I could smell that.

"He didn't talk about whether he's gonna get two cars or one car, or am I gonna do a TV show? ... 'Can I get players and are we gonna be able to win?' I just liked him because I just sensed what he represented and what he wanted to accomplish."

On Parcells, new Fins owner shouldn't assume

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Although we haven't heard officially from Bill Parcells yet, the Miami Dolphins' new owner on Tuesday declared Parcells will remain with the team after helping them pull off one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history.

Billionaire real-estate developer Stephen Ross declared Parcells will remain with the club despite a walk-out clause that would allow the football operations boss to leave with full pay in the event Wayne Huizenga no longer ran the team.

 
  Marc Serota/Getty Images
  New Dolphins owner Stephen Ross might want to hold off before declaring that Bill Parcells will be hanging around.
Ross on Tuesday finalized his purchase of an additional 45 percent of the team and Dolphin Stadium, leaving Huizenga only 5 percent.

Parcells, who has three years left on a contract worth reportedly $12 million, has 30 days to take the money and run. The clause also allows him to work for another NFL team without compensation to the Dolphins.

"Parcells is in charge, and he is staying," Ross said on a conference call with local media. "We're very fortunate to have someone like Bill Parcells, who I think people have to recognize as probably the best football mind in America.

"I'm very, very happy to have him, needless to say. As everyone has expressed with all the concerns, 'Is he leaving, or is he not leaving?' He's staying, and I'm fortunate to have him."

But Parcells wasn't nearly as definitive Tuesday when speaking casually with three Dolphins reporters in Mobile, Ala., where he is attending the Senior Bowl with general manager Jeff Ireland, head coach Tony Sparano and other Miami scouts.

Parcells refused to state unequivocally he would be back, striking a "You never know" posture.

Ross indicated at several points during the conference call he and Parcells still are getting to know each other, and sounded as though he was operating on assumptions, which can be dangerous when dealing with Parcells.

Ross was asked when Parcells expressly told him he will be back, and Ross' response indicated that conversation hasn't taken place.

"I've been talking to him for some time," Ross said. "I didn't say 'Give me a commitment.' In the conversations it just came out that we were building a relationship.

"I didn't have to say 'Are you staying?' I just wanted to make sure he was happy and [show him] what kind of person I was, and I got to get a better feel for him as a person. I think we are comfortable with that."

Ross "thinks" they're comfortable.

On a follow-up question, a reporter pointedly asked Ross "do you feel it's 100 percent [Parcells] will be back?"

"Yes," Ross replied.

But Parcells has a history of leading teams to believe he's in place only to pull an about face and join another team.

Atlanta Flacons owner Arthur Blank would have said he was 100 percent sure Parcells was joining their front office in December 2007.

Parcells led Blank and the public to believe he would be the Falcons' vice president of football operations. Blank thought both sides had agreed to terms. Parcells signed with the Dolphins two days later.

Or maybe Ross should ask Tampa Bay Buccaneers owners Hugh Culverhouse and the Glazer family how safe it is to operate on assumptions with Parcells.

He toyed with the Buccaneers in 1991 and 2002, enticing them to believe he would be their head coach. The latter instance reportedly led the Buccaneers to fire head coach Tony Dungy to make way. Parcells went to the Dallas Cowboys instead.

Parcells has been declining all on-the-record interview requests, even though he spent a little courtesy time with reporters in Mobile.

The fact Parcells is in Mobile has led to speculation he's there to be seen by the other 31 NFL clubs. He has a known dislike for attending events like the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine, and didn't go last year even though the Dolphins held the No. 1 overall pick.

Maybe as important as scouting draft prospects, the days leading up to the Senior Bowl are like a job fair for coaches, scouts and other football operations people.

"I think deep down in his heart, he still wants to coach," Miami linebacker Akin Ayodele, who also played for Parcells in Dallas, told the Palm Beach Post a few days before this year's playoffs began.

"He can still coach. He goes around, especially the last few weeks, and talks to guys, tells them what they're doing wrong and what they need to do. You come in Wednesday, and he's already watched film and telling you what to expect."

The Dolphins went from 1-15 to AFC East champions in a magical 2008 campaign.

Why would Parcells want to leave?

A significant reason he joined the Dolphins was because of his long friendship with Huizenga. Parcells was comfortable with the business arrangement and new he had full control of football decisions. Huizenga rarely let money affect decisions when there was an opportunity to improve the team.

Parcells' contract specified he would answer only to Huizenga and included a clause that would give Parcells a 30-day window to walk away with his contract paid in full. 

Ross, when asked early in the conference call whether Parcells and the club were renegotiating his contract, said, "There is nothing to renegotiate." When asked again at the end of the conference call, Ross said, "Not at this point."

There were reports in early January that longtime Ross associate and former Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson would be joining the Dolphins in some capacity. Peterson was Ross' guest and wore a Dolphins lapel pin at their first-round payoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Peterson eventually denied the rumors, and Ross dismissed them Tuesday.

"Carl happened to be there that weekend vacationing, and I invited him to the game," Ross said. "I think everyone knew at that point that I wasn't going to hire Carl Peterson and [he] wasn't going to be part of the Miami Dolphins. I know what I was thinking, and it was never a consideration."

But here's a piece of advice for Mr. Ross: Keep Peterson's number handy, at least for the next 29 days.

Around the AFC East: Dolphins sale looming

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
10:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Miami Dolphins

Buffalo Bills
  • Buffalo News columnist Jerry Sullivan writes Bills "fans have been reduced to mournful observers, tormented by reminders of what they've missing."

New England Patriots

Behind the scenes, Parcells pulls Dolphins' strings

December, 31, 2008
12/31/08
3:15
PM ET
 
 Doug Murray/Icon SMI
 Under the Parcells regime, the Dolphins became the first team ever to go from winning a single game one year to being playoff-bound the next.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

DAVIE, Fla. -- The process began two days after Christmas 2007. A cataclysmic event took place at the Miami Dolphins facility. An observer arrived. He might as well have worn a black cloak and had a sickle in his grip.

He stood there, arms folded mostly, and watched from the sideline, taking mental notes that would decide the fate of dozens and alter the course of a franchise hurtling into NFL oblivion.

"I think the air in the practice field got a little thin," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said.

Bill Parcells had arrived to straighten out a team headed toward 1-15. He didn't say much on the field that day. He exchanged quick pleasantries with head coach Cam Cameron, spoke to a couple of trainers.

But the process had begun -- quietly, icily.

"Guys were nervous out there," Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter said.

Several Dolphins confessed they barked out their calls louder, ran faster and tackled harder under Parcells' surveillance.

A few veterans scoffed at the difference, claiming that if their teammates were playing harder just because Parcells was there, then they must not have been giving their all before.

Yet that, in fact, was the case, whether they wanted to admit it or not. Parcells' mere presence, forged by Super Bowls and high-profile turnarounds, whacked the Dolphins in their earholes.

He has remained virtually silent while overseeing the greatest single-season upgrade in NFL history.

On Sunday, one year and one day after Parcells first emerged onto the Dolphins practice field, they defeated the New York Jets at the Meadowlands to claim the AFC East championship.

As unfathomable as it seemed when Parcells agreed to renovate the dilapidated franchise, the Dolphins will host a playoff game next Sunday when they meet the Baltimore Ravens.

(Read full post)

AFC East team evaluations

December, 30, 2008
12/30/08
2:40
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
Miami Dolphins (11-5)
Not even Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga thought they could accomplish anything close to an AFC East championship. Huizenga admitted Sunday he thought a .500 record was something to aspire to after they went 1-15 last year. His team will host a playoff game Sunday. The Dolphins pulled off the greatest turnaround in NFL history. Bill Parcells' arrival as football operations boss begat head coach Tony Sparano and quarterback Chad Pennington eventually dropped into their laps. That, plus linebacker Joey Porter's revival, turned them into a force. Grade: A

Biggest surprise: Porter was viewed as the biggest bust of the 2007 free agency class. The Dolphins landed him with a five-year, $32 million contract with $20 million in guarantees. He answered with 5.5 sacks, giving him 12.5 in his previous two seasons. But Porter thrived under new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni and generated defensive player of the year buzz for much of the season. Porter finished with 17.5 sacks, most in the AFC and second to DeMarcus Ware for the NFL title.

Biggest disappointment: The Dolphins made Ernest Wilford one of their first free-agent signings for four years, $13 million with almost half of that guaranteed. He finished the regular season with three catches for 25 yards and was a healthy scratch for nine games. The only reason he played in his last five games was because top receiver Greg Camarillo suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 12. For the critical season finale, Wilford was in street clothes again.

Biggest need: A big receiver with yards-after-catch ability would be nice. The Dolphins' game-day receiving corps is comprised of undrafted overachievers and one drafted player (Ted Ginn) many are still wondering about.

Biggest innovation: While several organizations will look upon the Dolphins for inspiration when it comes to rebuilding, many teams already have swiped their Wildcat offense and implemented it. The Dolphins caught the NFL's attention with the gadget offense in Week 3, and it became all the rage.

New England Patriots (11-5)
To finish 11-5 was nothing short of spectacular given the series of injuries that befell the Patriots from the start. To not make the playoffs was a wicked fate. The Patriots were overshadowed in the AFC East by the Dolphins' amazing U-turn and the Jets' appalling collapse. But coach Bill Belichick somehow kept winning with his patchwork roster and unheralded quarterback.

Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury on opening day, spurring predictions of a Patriots collapse. However, Matt Cassel dropped his clipboard and executed the offense. Rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo emerged as a stud. Second-year safety Brandon Meriweather helped Patriots Nation get over the loss of Rodney Harrison. Undrafted rookie BenJarvus Green-Ellis contributed to victories. It didn't seem to matter who the Patriots inserted. They just won. Grade: A

Biggest surprise: For the Patriots, for the NFL, for the universe, Cassel is the obvious choice. He looked awful in training camp, and if not for a rookie being the Patriots' next best option, Cassel might not have made the roster. When Cassel stepped in for Brady, even casual fans learned he hadn't started a game since high school. Everybody snickered when Belichick declared his confidence in Cassel, who now has won 10 NFL starts and might become a free agent if the Patriots don't put the franchise tag on him.

Biggest disappointment: Benjamin Watson, a first-round pick in 2004, never factored in the Patriots' offense. He finished with 22 catches, his lowest output since he played one game his rookie season. Watson gained 209 yards and scored two touchdowns. He caught two passes over the final four games.

Biggest need: Tedy Bruschi is nearing the end of the line. The veteran inside linebacker finished the season with a knee injury. The options behind him were Junior Seau, signed late in the season out of desperation, and undrafted rookie Gary Guyton.

Shoulder shrug: There wasn't much more the Patriots could have done. Every one of their five losses was legit. They were beaten by the two best teams in the AFC (Colts, Steelers) and two other playoff teams (split with Dolphins, Chargers) and New York when the Jets were playing like world
beaters.

New York Jets (9-7)
Although the Bills' scalding start and frigid finish would give the Jets competition, Gang Green proved to be the AFC's biggest tease. They had so much momentum. They looked so impressive in knocking off the Patriots and Titans on the road in consecutive weeks. Brett Favre and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seemed to have melded and found their happy place. Favre was making throws. Thomas Jones was dominant on the ground. All of those big-ticket offseason acquisitions were paying off.

Then -- poof! -- those Jets vanished, never to return. The Jets should have lost each of the last five games. Had backup quarterback J.P. Losman not fumbled away a probable Bills victory, the Jets would have finished with a .500 record. Grade: B-

Biggest surprise: The Jets' reluctance to pound the ball when Favre began to flounder defied logic. Thomas Jones had one of the greatest seasons in Jets history with 1,312 rushing yards and 15 combined touchdowns. The offensive line was built to run.

Jones had 30 attempts in the sudden-death victory over the Patriots and 27 attempts to help his team beat the Titans. Over the last five games he carried 16, 10, 20, 16 and 10 times. And if his number was called because defenses were keying on him, then Favre's season-ending slump becomes even more unforgivable.

Biggest disappointment: When the Jets needed him most, Favre was horrible over the final five games. He threw two touchdown passes and nine interceptions. He was uninspiring at best. With the season and his career possibly on the line Sunday against the Dolphins, his pregame pep talk essentially was "Meh ... Let's go see what happens."

Biggest need: Regardless of what the MRI reveals about Favre's arm or what he decides about retirement, the Jets must address football's most important position. Owner Woody Johnson and general manager Mike Tannenbaum said at Monday's news conference they want Favre back, but even if they can convince him to return, they need a backup plan because he can't be relied upon.

Kellen Clemens showed little when given the opportunity to supplant Chad Pennington in 2007 and couldn't win the job in training camp even though the Jets didn't want Pennington to be their quarterback.

Most thrilling player: Win or lose, Leon Washington sure was fun to watch. Whether he was running, catching or returning, he was electric. He rushed for 448 rushing yards, a 5.9-yard average and six touchdowns, including runs of 47, 60 and 61 yards. He had 47 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 94-yard kick return for a score and was almost as sensational fielding punts.

Buffalo Bills (7-9)
What do the Bills have to show for all the early season buzz they created? Nothing, not even a modest improvement from last year's record. Three straight seasons of 7-9 are what the Bills have provided. One win shy of average -- good enough to stay out of the top 10 if the NFL draft order yet still losers.

Meanwhile, the rest of the AFC East has retooled itself and lapped the stagnant Bills, who have gone nine straight seasons without a playoff game. The Dolphins went from 1-15 to division champs. The Jets went from four wins to nine and went into the final week with a shot at the postseason. The Patriots went 11-5 while grooming new stars. The Bills remain on the treadmill of mediocrity. Grade: D+

Biggest surprise: While the Patriots could go four deep at running back and still have a player who could rush for 100 yards, Fred Jackson was all the Bills had behind workhorse Marshawn Lynch. Many observers found that disconcerting until Jackson, who three years ago was playing in the United Indoor Football League, emerged as a viable weapon. He ran 131 times for 571 yards and three touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 317 yards.

Biggest disappointment: After the Bills opened their season 5-1, all they needed to do to make the playoffs was go a tad better than .500 over their final 10 games. A 6-4 record -- with even a couple victories over the Patriots or Dolphins -- would've put them at 11-5, perhaps knocked the other AFC East teams down a peg and given them tiebreakers. Instead they went 0-6 against the division.

Biggest need: The Bills are desperate for depth. They were lauded for their balanced roster at the start of the season -- a team with no superstars who could win with offense, defense or special teams any given week. But an injury here and an injury there and the Bills seemed overwhelmed. Their starters were above average, but most backups were a huge drop in talent. Some blamed the Bills slump on the temporary loss of No. 2 receiver Josh Reed. Now, that's a bad sign.

Didn't get any better than this: Bills linebacker Kawika Mitchell came up with a crucial interception of Philip Rivers to seal a Week 7 victory over the Chargers. The Bills raised their record to 5-1 and were capturing their fans' imagination. That was Oct. 19. There has been little to cheer about since.

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