ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins decided to bring back 35-year-old free-agent nose tackle Jason Ferguson despite an impending eight-game suspension to start the season because they view him as a scarce commodity. Ferguson also is rehabbing from a season-ending quadriceps injury.
Nose tackles of Ferguson's quality are so integral to a 3-4 defense that head coach Tony Sparano suggested the Dolphins had no choice.
"Obviously, Jason has the suspension. We're not happy with that, but at the end of the day, it's something that we have to deal with," Sparano said Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings. Sparano took part in an AFC coaches' media breakfast, his first interview in nearly three months.
"When Jason got hurt [in November 2009], our tongue would've been hanging out to find a player like Jason Ferguson sitting out there at that time. We couldn't find a player like that. To have the ability to have a player like that when he comes back off a suspension, I think is a positive thing for us."
Ferguson was suspended for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. It's his second suspension, the previous one coming with the New York Jets.
Who will handle the job until then?
Paul Soliai started four games at nose tackle after Ferguson suffered a torn quadriceps, but the Dolphins could draft a nose tackle next month. They own the 12th overall selection. Tennessee's Dan Williams should be on the board then.
"I think that none of these signings will stop us from going out into the draft and potentially signing the better players," Sparano said. "Of course, Jason, I love him to death, but he's not a young guy. I would say that all these positions are positions we'd consider addressing in the draft."
I asked Sparano if it sends a mixed message to his team that a defensive captain was re-signed despite multiple violations.
"He's been suspended one time since he's been here with us as a captain," Sparano said. "But I would say to you that ... to send a mixed message? I don't think it sends a good message. I really don't. But I know this player. I know Jason Ferguson pretty well.
"I think that the guy made a mistake. But at the end of this, the middle of last season we really would've been looking long and hard to find a player like Jason Ferguson when he got hurt and we couldn't. ... When the suspension is over, we'll see where we are during the course of the season and where we are at that point. It may possibly be a great move."