NFL Nation: Stephen Ross

Vikings vs. Dolphins preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
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When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday. Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens. TV: Fox.

Two teams out of playoff contention will meet in South Florida on Sunday when the Miami Dolphins (7-7) host the Minnesota Vikings (6-8).

These are two clubs who represent the up-and-down middle class in the NFL. Despite good moments, neither team has been able to reach the consistency it takes to make the postseason.

Who will come out on top? ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and NFL Nation columnist Kevin Seifert breakdown the matchups:

Walker: Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a South Florida native with plenty of interest out of Miami. How is his development in his rookie season?

Seifert: He has really come on, via a steady ascendance that makes him without question the best of the rookie quarterbacks in 2014. The Vikings' major goal for Bridgewater's first season was to keep him from getting beat up and beat down. Coach Mike Zimmer was especially cognizant about not ruining him behind a bad offensive line or on a bad team or putting him on the field before he was ready to succeed. That's why the Vikings began the season with Matt Cassel as the starter.

Bridgewater got on the field earlier than they expected because of Cassel's Week 3 injury, and after some expected early struggles -- most notably on deep accuracy -- Bridgewater has gotten on a nice little run. The Vikings are 4-3 in his past seven starts, he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in his past three starts and thrown for at least 300 yards in his past two. Most recently, the Vikings trusted him in a pass-first game plan against the Detroit Lions' stout defense. He completed 31 of 41 passes for 315 yards, the highest completion percentage for a rookie in a game when throwing at least 40 passes in NFL history. People in South Florida know Bridgewater has a calm personality that allows him to navigate pressure situations well. The early returns are that the Vikings have found their starter for a long time to come.

The Vikings are protecting Bridgewater with three backups on their offensive line, at right tackle, right guard and left guard. Are the Dolphins still as strong up front defensively as they were earlier this season?

Walker: It's an interesting question, because a month ago I would have pegged this as a huge advantage for Miami. However, its defensive line has mostly disappeared the past several games. It has been a mystery here in Miami, because that was the strength of the team in the first half of the season. The Dolphins got zero sacks on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady last week and he put up 41 points. Before that, Miami allowed 661 rushing yards in a three-game stretch from Weeks 12-14. Teams have pretty much done what they wanted against Miami's defense, which at one point was ranked as high as No. 2 in the NFL. The Dolphins are running on fumes, and it is most evident on the defensive line. On paper, it's still an advantage for Miami, but the group must prove it on the field.

Although it doesn't always show in the standings, the Vikings are playing solid football in the past month. What's led to their recent surge?

Seifert: A few things, with Bridgewater's development being the most significant. When you're getting production from that position, everything else is a little easier. It took some time for the Vikings to recover schematically from the suspension of tailback Adrian Peterson. They've used a backfield-by-committee system, getting 538 yards from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who is now on injured reserve, and 421 yards (and seven touchdowns) from Matt Asiata. Dolphins fans can expect to see a mix of Asiata, veteran Ben Tate -- claimed off waivers from the Cleveland Browns -- and Joe Banyard. Bridgewater has benefited from the emergence of receiver Charles Johnson, who was signed off the Browns' practice squad earlier this season. Johnson has replaced the disappointing Cordarrelle Patterson in the starting lineup and has 19 receptions for 355 yards in his past five games. Finally, the Vikings' defense has begun taking the form Zimmer wanted to see when he took over the team this year. Zimmer still calls the defensive signals, and he has helped mold a pair of youngsters -- defensive end Everson Griffen (12 sacks) and cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- into frontline players. The Vikings' three losses over the past two months have all been by one score or less. Even after losing Peterson and Cassel in the first month of the season, they've got a chance to finish .500.

How should we expect the Dolphins to respond emotionally in this game? They're all but eliminated from the playoffs. Do you think they'll pack it in? Will they fight for Joe Philbin's job? Or has the decision already been made?

Walker: I will start with the last question. The decision has not been made officially on Philbin, but the gears are beginning to click in motion. The past two weeks were an eye-opener for the decision-makers in the organization. The team didn't show up in two huge games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots. Philbin now has a three-year record of 22-24 and hasn't made the playoffs. His teams play their worst football when it matters most, in key games late in the season. That's not good enough for Miami owner Stephen Ross.

The best Philbin can do is prove he can motivate the Dolphins to play well in these final two games when nothing is at stake. That will be a challenge in itself. A 9-7 season at least gives Philbin a leg to stand on, although I'm not sure that will be enough without making the playoffs. I expect Miami to play for Philbin because he is well-liked in the locker room. But if things get really difficult in this game -- like it has the past two weeks against the Patriots and Ravens -- I'm curious to see how the players respond.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask about the Peterson controversy. Has that worn off on the team, even with new details emerging?

Seifert: I think it did hang over the locker room and the coaching staff for a long time, mostly because there were several stops along the way when it seemed as if Peterson's return was imminent. There were some genuinely shocked players and coaches when the final ruling came down that Peterson would not return this year. Now, I think everyone is past it. The appeals, accusations and lawsuits are all essentially irrelevant to the Vikings' 2014 season. Peterson isn't going to be on the field this season, and he might never be in a Vikings uniform again. My perception is that most of the players and coaches who will decide the outcome of this game Sunday are well beyond worrying about it.

The Vikings are tied for sixth in the NFL with 38 sacks but Ryan Tannehill has taken the sixth-fewest sacks in the league. What has been the key for the Dolphins' pass protection, and do you think it'll hold up against the Vikings?

Walker: The numbers are a bit skewed due to a stellar first half of the season. The Dolphins' pass protection was very good when Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert was healthy and guarding Tannehill's blindside. A strong case can be made that Albert was Miami's first-half MVP. However, a season-ending knee injury to Albert exposed some holes on Miami's offensive line. Rookie Ja'Wuan James moved from right tackle to left tackle and the struggling Dallas Thomas was put at right tackle. Since Albert went down in Week 10, Miami has allowed 21 quarterback sacks in five games. That's a little more than four sacks per game. The Patriots and Ravens registered 10 combined sacks. I do expect the Vikings to get pressure on Tannehill.

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DAVIE, Fla. -- Nearly everyone on the outside in South Florida is wondering what's next with the Miami Dolphins.

Following Sunday's 41-13 loss to the New England Patriots, the Dolphins all but guaranteed they will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season. Now, the future of the coaching staff is in jeopardy.

[+] EnlargeJoe Philbin
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsHead coach Joe Philbin has a chance to improve his overall record in Miami (22-24) if the Dolphins can win out the rest of this season.
However, Dolphins (7-7) head coach Joe Philbin said Monday he is only focused on the next task at hand, which is beating the Minnesota Vikings (6-8). Meanwhile, speculation will continue to swirl whether Philbin is coaching his final two games in Miami.

"What my focus is and the team, staff is this week," Philbin said. "This is Game 15. This is the 2014 season. What happened in the past, certainly at some point in time, is relevant. But right now what's relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings. That's really all that's important to me right now."

Dolphins players defended Philbin Sunday night. The general theme was, "It's the players on the field not executing, not the fault of Philbin."

"They just beat us on the football field," Dolphins guard Mike Pouncey said. "The coaches don't do anything. There are guys out there; it's 11-on-11. The coaches have nothing to do with it."

Added Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace: "Coach Philbin is our coach and we're rocking with him no matter what. So we got a lot of things to deal with in the next two weeks. We got to stick together."

Philbin said he appreciates the players' support and isn't surprised by their reaction. However, Philbin must also be held accountable for his 22-24 record over three seasons. That record cannot all be placed on the players.

Philbin's in-game decisions have been questionable at times, particularly in close losses. The Dolphins also have started slow or, like Sunday in New England, finished slow. In their most important game of the season, they were outscored an astounding 24-0 by New England in the third quarter alone. Miami also gave up 27 unanswered points in the second half. The team rarely put 60 minutes of good football together this season.

The decision begins and ends with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who hired Philbin three years ago. According to Philbin, the pair spoke Sunday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, after the ugly loss.

"He and I talked immediately after the game," Philbin explained. "We will talk again a number of times throughout the course of the week. We were both disappointed in how the team performed in the second half."

The best thing Philbin can do is pick up two more victories to end the season at 9-7. It would be the first winning season for Miami since 2008. That would at least strengthen Philbin's case to return for a fourth season.

But after two consecutive December collapses and no playoffs in three seasons, change is definitely possible in Miami. The biggest challenge for Philbin and the Dolphins will be to ignore the outside noise.
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- We've seen this Miami Dolphins story many times before.

It starts with optimism and playoff dreams in the summer. It ends with despair and disappointment in the winter.

That despair was on players' faces following Miami's 41-13 blowout loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday. Reality set in as the Dolphins (7-7) fell to .500 and essentially out of the playoff race for the sixth consecutive season. New England, by contrast, clinched the AFC East title for the 12th time since 2000.

Enough is enough for this version of the Dolphins. This is a team that cannot win the big games. The culture of mediocrity hasn't changed since the hiring of head coach Joe Philbin in 2012, and now his status is in question: Do the Dolphins have the right coach to take them to the next level?

In coaching, you are what your record says you are. Philbin is 22-24 in three seasons -- and that simply isn't good enough. He's also 1-4 in his past five December games, his teams playing their worst football when postseason hopes hung in the balance.

This was a no-excuses year for the Dolphins, who have enough talent to make the playoffs. But they will likely be watching the postseason on television -- again.

"To be where we are at this point is tough," Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "I feel like with the guys we have in that room, the players that we have, there is no way we should be sitting where we are at right now. You know, that is frustrating for me."

Philbin, who said he's not thinking about his job security, did not coach with enough urgency in the most important game of the season. The Dolphins called a running play on third-and-6 on the opening drive. Lamar Miller gained just 3 yards, and the next play was a blocked field goal that New England returned for a touchdown.

"I think that was part of the game plan we had on third down," Philbin said, when asked about the decision. "We meet on third down every single week. We come up with plays in each down-and-distance category and that was one of the plays we came up with."

In the second quarter, the Dolphins ran on second-and-14 for no gain. That set up a third-and-14 play in which Tannehill forced an interception over the middle. Three plays later, the Patriots scored another touchdown.

The Dolphins trailed 14-13 at halftime. Guard Mike Pouncey said Philbin gave a "really good speech at halftime; guys were pumped up." Yet, his players didn't respond: New England scored a franchise-record 24 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away.

This was a game the Dolphins had to have to keep their postseason hopes alive -- and they laid an egg.

"It's very frustrating. It's disappointing more than anything, but angry," Pouncey said. "It seems like every year it falls down to the same thing. We fall short. I'm sick of it. I know everybody on this football team is sick of it."

Each player I spoke to Sunday defended his head coach. Philbin is well-liked in the locker room. That will carry some weight when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross must make his final decision.

But the biggest factor for coaches is wins and losses. Philbin does not have enough of the former and has too many of the latter.

The Dolphins will be favorites to win their final two home games against the Minnesota Vikings (6-8) and New York Jets (3-11). That would put Miami at 9-7, which is a winning season.

But it still wouldn't feel like a successful year. The Dolphins had a chance to make a statement, but instead lost three of their past four games.

"I understand the business, but to win the last two games will help not just him, it will help the whole team to go 9-7," Dolphins center Samson Satele said. "But you never know what they're thinking upstairs. You just got to control your job, do your job and play hard for the coach. Like everybody said, he's our coach and I'll give everything I can for him every play and every game."
DAVIE, Fla. -- Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross knew he was walking a fine line at the start of training camp. Ross met with the Miami media knowing questions were coming about the future of his head coach Joe Philbin, who enters a crucial third year after posting a 15-17 record his first two seasons.

It's no secret that Philbin enters this season on the hot seat. In addition to his mediocre record, Philbin has the stains of last year's bullying scandal and late-season collapse on his resume. Philbin must prove he is Miami's long-term solution or 2014 could be his final shot.

That led to the Ross carefully choosing his words when talking about his head coach.

"I'm not going to say here he has to [make the playoffs] because I can understand what the headlines are," Ross explained. "I like Joe Philbin very much. I believe the ingredients of being a winning organization is having consistency. I'm expecting Joe Philbin to be here a long time. Every year, you want to see improvement."

Make no mistake: It's playoffs or bust for many within the Dolphins' organization. Improving on last season's 8-8 record by notching nine or 10 wins would most likely lead to a postseason berth.

The Dolphins certainly have talent. There is quality depth at defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver, cornerback and quarterback. This is also a team that was just one win away from making the playoffs during the 2013 season.

Much rests on the shoulders of third-year starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is learning a new offense. Many within the Dolphins' organization believe Tannehill is due for a breakout season, and he has big goals.

"We want to play deep into January and February," Tannehill said. "And that's our goal at this point, is to go out, win the division and then play the playoffs from there. There is a big season ahead of us, and I think anything less than that is not up to our standards."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. The Dolphins are very excited about first-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. The former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback coach is bringing in many of the same principles he learned last season under Chip Kelly. The Dolphins are trying to push the tempo as much as possible and dictate to the defense. They are running a lot of motions, quick snaps and predetermined reads. It also will be Lazor's responsibility to help Tannehill take his game to the next level. Lazor did a tremendous job last year with Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. "It's my job to show them they can go faster," Lazor explained in the first week of camp. "It's my job to take them to places that maybe they didn't think they could go. Anytime you do that with a player, you see their eyes kind of widen."

2. Miami has tremendous depth on the defensive line. This should be one of deepest and most-talented areas of the team. The Dolphins have a strong group at defensive end with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, 2013 sack leader Olivier Vernon and valuable backup Derrick Shelby. They also have a good rotation at defensive tackle with Earl Mitchell, Jared Odrick and Randy Starks. Winning in the trenches on defense would go a long way towards controlling the pace of games this season.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Don WrightRyan Tannehill's development will impact whether the Dolphins make the postseason.
3. There is still optimism in Miami that Tannehill can develop into a franchise quarterback. He's 15-17 as a starter but had to deal with a lot of issues beyond his control in 2013. He had arguably the NFL's worst offensive line and little help from the running game. But 2014 also is a make-or-break year for Tannehill to prove he's the long-term solution. The waiting game is over after two seasons. Now is the time for Tannehill to reach his potential, or the Dolphins may have to go in another direction next year. Tannehill has been decent but not spectacular in training camp. As expected, there have been some growing pains learning Lazor's new offense. But quarterbacks often make a nice jump in Year 3. Improvement at quarterback is the quickest way for the Dolphins to get over the hump and end their five-year playoff drought.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Dolphins are trying something rare this season. They will have five new starters on their offensive line compared to last season. Granted, Miami's offensive line was horrendous in 2013. The Dolphins set a franchise record with 58 quarterback sacks allowed. They also were 27th in rushing. However, continuity is a major issue. Miami added new offensive tackles with Pro Bowler Branden Albert at left tackle and first-round pick Ja'Wuan James at right tackle. Currently Dallas Thomas and veteran free agent Daryn Colledge are the starting guards, but the center position remains wide open. The Dolphins lost Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey for the first 4-8 games of the regular season after hip surgery. The Dolphins tried mixing and matching at center with Nate Garner, Sam Brenner and Shelley Smith with questionable results. There were approximately a dozen bad snaps in the first week of training camp. Therefore, the Dolphins signed veteran center Samson Satele on Saturday to bring stability to the position. Satele is the early favorite to be the Week 1 starter.

2. Miami's linebacker experiment is still a work in progress. The Dolphins invested a lot of money in Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi last season, and this trio underachieved. Miami had trouble stopping the run and covering tight ends and slot receivers. The Dolphins are hoping a shake-up to move Ellerbe to outside linebacker and Misi in the middle will help this unit make more plays. The run defense has looked better so far. But we'll know more once the Dolphins face different offenses in the preseason and regular season.

3. The past two seasons the Dolphins proved they were not built to thrive in the AFC East. Miami is 4-8 against division opponents in that time -- including a 2-4 mark last season. The Dolphins have two division games to start the regular season at home against the New England Patriots in Week 1 and on the road against the Buffalo Bills in Week 2. These are two teams that have Miami's number, and the Dolphins will know right away if they will change this trend. It also doesn't help that Miami has the NFL's 12th-toughest strength of schedule. It's going to be tough for the Dolphins to get to 10 wins and make the playoffs if they can't beat the Patriots, New York Jets and Bills.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeDion Jordan
    Marc Serota/Getty ImagesDion Jordan has performed well in training camp despite a looming, four-game suspension.
    The Dolphins have an interesting dilemma with 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan. The second-year defensive end was suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on performing enhancing substances. Miami is trying to balance reps to get Jordan ready for the season as well as fellow defensive ends who will be available in the first four games of the regular season. Jordan is available to practice and play in the preseason. To his credit, Jordan hasn't gone in the tank. He's made several nice plays in camp so far, including an interception off Tannehill for a touchdown. "He's been great," Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. "Dion has done nothing but come to work every day. He's a lunch pail kind of guy as it is. There is no prima donna in Dion Jordan, from the time he came here a year ago he was out here jumping on the scout team before he was even asked to do it."
  • The biggest rookie standout so far has been second-round pick Jarvis Landry. The rookie wide receiver has displayed strong hands, solid routes and toughness. Landry is best in the slot where he can use his savvy and strong hands in traffic. He's made several of the most impressive catches so far of training camp. Landry is currently behind veteran slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Landry's also competing with Marcus Thigpen on punt returns.
  • Dolphins incumbent starting running back Lamar Miller added about five pounds of muscle and hasn't lost any explosiveness. Miller had a strong offseason to take the lead ahead of Knowshon Moreno. With Moreno injured (knee), Miller likely will be the starting tailback in Week 1 for the second year in row. The reason Miller added a few pounds was to help with strength running the ball and with pass protection, which was a weakness last season.
  • James, Miami's first-round pick is having a tough time trying to block Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake in the first week of practice. Wake is winning most of those battles and already registered several sacks against James in team drills. The Dolphins believe Wake is making James better. Wake has been helping him along with tips after practice, as well. But it will be important for James not to lose confidence early in his career.
  • Keep an eye out for rookie free-agent running back Damien Williams. With Moreno missing the first week of camp, Williams is getting quality reps and making plays in practice. Williams is quick with a nice burst to the line of scrimmage. He appears to fit in well in Miami's spread-offensive sets. Williams may have a tough time making the 53-man roster behind Miller, Moreno and Daniel Thomas. But Williams should at least be a strong candidate for the practice squad.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins took the field for the first of three practices during mandatory minicamp. It was a high-energy first session in what serves as a preview to training camp.

Here are seven observations from Tuesday's practice:
  • It was a strong day for the Dolphins' defense. Miami's defense was disruptive all practice and, by my count, recorded three interceptions and at least four would-be sacks. (The defense is not allowed to hit quarterbacks in practice.) The Dolphins' defense has been together for three seasons and has been well ahead of the offense on days practice was open to the media. “There's going to be days where one side of the ball has the upper hand,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said. “It looked like the back end and the linebackers, we were doing some good things from a coverage standpoint.”
  • Miami receiver Brandon Gibson continues to make progress from last year's season-ending patella tendon tear. Gibson participated in team drills for the first time this offseason. He still doesn't look 100 percent but is moving around relatively well. At this point Gibson looks well on pace to be ready by Week 1.
  • Dolphins cornerback Jamar Taylor had arguably his best practice of the offseason. Taylor, who got reps on the first team, recorded a sideline interception off Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Taylor also showed some athleticism by blowing up a running play. Taylor was injured must of last year but is making strong strides this offseason.
  • The Dolphins' coaching staff is putting several veterans on the maintenance program during minicamp. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and cornerback Cortland Finnegan sat out team drills Tuesday. It is unknown if that will change during the week.
  • After a plan to renovate Sun Life Stadium was passed by the Miami-Dade County Commission in a 7-4 vote, Philbin credited owner Stephen Ross. “Most important to me is it shows the commitment our owner, Stephen Ross, has to making this a world-class organization,” Philbin said.
  • Miami rookie defensive end Terrence Fede had the play of the day. Fede, who is 6-foot-4 and 277 pounds, dropped in coverage and made a leaping interception off Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore. Fede then advanced the ball about 10 yards as his defensive teammates celebrated.
  • Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan continues to flash in practice. He had another would-be sack on Tannehill coming off the corner. Jordan put on about 17 pounds of muscle since last year and looks ready to make a second-year jump after an ineffective rookie year.

Miami will continue its three-day minicamp on Wednesday morning.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL league meetings are underway Monday in the sunshine state.

Here are some Miami Dolphins-centric items that took place:
  • There was some chatter on improving locker-room culture. The Dolphins set the stage last season when the Ted Wells report pulled back the curtain on their bullying scandal involving Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Different coaches offered perspectives in Orlando. "I think coaches are held to a standard that sometimes is impossible," Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians explained Monday. "We don't see our guys until April 21st. If they're living in New Orleans or somewhere else, I don't know how we're responsible for what they do. They're men. They have families. They have children. They're responsible for their actions, not the coach."
  • Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said negotiations for stadium renovations are ongoing, and owner Stephen Ross plans to pay about $350 million of his own money into improving Sun Life Stadium. But the Dolphins are seeking property tax relief in exchange. "Miami Gardens is our neighborhood," Garfinkel explained. "We want to work with them, as well as the school board, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make this work for everybody." The Dolphins' stadium plan is in its early stages and not on the docket at this year's league meetings.
  • Garfinkel also provided an interesting tidbit: The bidding process for the 2019 Super Bowl begins in the summer. Part of the reason the Dolphins are trying to renovate Sun Life Stadium is to make Miami more attractive for future Super Bowls. The Dolphins most likely would prefer to have all the answers on renovations by the summer in order to make the strongest bid possible.
  • Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis didn't completely close the door on Incognito signing with his team. The embattled Incognito, who was the central figure in Miami's bullying scandal, told NFL.com last week that he'd love to play for the Raiders because they fit his bad-boy image. "I'd have to think about that," Davis responded Monday.
  • The Dolphins will have a full slate of media availability on Tuesday. Miami head coach Joe Philbin will speak during the AFC coaches breakfast. GM Dennis Hickey and Ross also are expected to speak to the media on Tuesday afternoon.
Crazy things often happen in the NFL. But what are the chances embattled free-agent guard Richie Incognito re-signs with the Miami Dolphins?

Zero.

Zilch.

Nada.

Incognito
Incognito told WSVN in Miami Wednesday night that returning to the Dolphins is his "No. 1 goal." He's coming off a wild offseason and is desperately looking for a job. Incognito also is na´ve to think the Dolphins would invest millions more into a player at the center of their high-profile bullying scandal.

The Dolphins are trying to move forward, not backward. Re-signing Incognito would be an awful step for the Dolphins in the wrong direction. It would create an extension of the 2013 season, when Miami had to deal with an image and public relations fiasco that Incognito helped produce.

The Dolphins traded Jonathan Martin, who was a victim of harassment by Incognito and others, for a reason. They also fired former offensive line coach Jim Turner and former head trainer Kevin O'Neill as part of the fallout. The Dolphins are trying to wash their hands completely of this ugly saga. Imagine the mixed message Miami would send by making the aforementioned changes and still rewarding Incognito with a multimillion dollar contract. That idea is too far-fetched.

There is support for Incognito in Miami’s locker room. Many Dolphins players still believe last year's bullying scandal was overblown. Perhaps that is the glimmer of hope Incognito holds onto. But until center Mike Pouncey, long-snapper John Denney or another Miami player starts making roster decisions, locker room support doesn't amount to much.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in January that he doesn't see a scenario where Martin or Incognito returns in 2014. It's coming from the very top of the organization that Incognito is not welcomed back. The Dolphins are a billion-dollar industry, and Incognito is bad for business.

For now, Incognito's primary focus should be getting his life in order. He's already had a brutal offseason that included the 144-page Ted Wells report, reportedly wrecking his Ferrari with a baseball bat and getting unspecified treatment at a mental health facility. Incognito must first prove that he's focused and able to contribute this upcoming season.

Eventually, some team may be willing to take a chance on Incognito in 2014. But that team will not be the Miami Dolphins.

Offseason Blueprint: Dolphins

March, 4, 2014
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MIAMI -- Roster development is a major topic in South Florida. The Miami Dolphins got little from their 2013 draft class, and that was one of several reasons the team missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

But who is to blame in Miami?

Was it the fault of former general manager Jeff Ireland, who picked the players? Or was it head coach Joe Philbin and his staff for failing to develop and get an immediate impact from 2013 draft picks such as Dion Jordan, cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Will Davis and offensive lineman Dallas Thomas? It’s debatable. But, clearly, Miami’s owner Stephen Ross made his choice by keeping Philbin and firing Ireland after an 8-8 season.

With Ireland out of the picture, the pressure is now on Philbin. He must develop and get the best out of his young players -- particularly a dynamic talent like Jordan. This is one issue within the bigger picture that could impact Philbin’s long-term job security.
The much-anticipated Ted Wells report is complete and so is the conclusion of one of the biggest stories in the history of the Miami Dolphins.

Martin
Now, all that is left is the fallout.

One of the biggest issues is what will the Dolphins do with Jonathan Martin? The Wells report concluded that he was constantly harassed by three teammates: Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry. Martin left the team in October and didn’t return.

A return to Miami seems highly unlikely for Martin. Here are several reasons why:
  • Dolphins owner Stephen Ross already declared publicly that he doesn’t expect Martin or Incognito to be back on the team in 2014. Incognito is a free agent, so that’s an easy decision. Martin has two years left on his rookie contract and is expected to be traded or released.
  • Miami’s locker room made it clear last season that Martin isn’t welcome. Right or wrong, many Dolphins players believed Martin could have handled the situation better by keeping it in-house. Instead, players believe he walked out on the team and partially left them to deal with a national media firestorm. There is a two-way level of trust that’s broken between Martin and the Dolphins’ locker room that would be difficult to repair.
  • Bringing Martin back would be a public relations nightmare. The Dolphins spent three months with a dark cloud hanging over the team during this bullying scandal. So much media attention and scrutiny would be on Martin returning and trying to fit in Miami’s locker room culture again in 2014. Martin is an average or below average offensive tackle. Keeping him is not worth the huge distraction for the Dolphins.

Look for the Dolphins to try to get something in return for Martin. He’s young, cheap and can play left and right tackle. Those players do not grow on trees.

But Martin certainly comes with baggage from this bullying scandal. Teams also know that Miami will probably release Martin if it can’t find a trade partner. That lowers his value.

Either way, do not expect Martin to be on the Dolphins’ roster next season.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross makes a full statement after reviewing the 144-page Ted Wells report.

Here is Ross' reaction via the Dolphins' website:
"Today, I received the final report from NFL independent counsel Ted Wells and have now reviewed it. I want to first thank Commissioner Roger Goodell for granting our request to have an independent review on this matter. I also want to thank Ted Wells and his team, who conducted a thorough, professional and objective review.

"I now have had a chance to read the report and obviously, the language that was used and the behavior as described is deeply disturbing. Although the report commended Joe Philbin's commitment to promoting integrity and accountability throughout the Dolphins organization, I told Ted Wells personally during my visit with him that we are committed to addressing the issues outlined in this report. We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another. It is important to me, important to Coach Philbin and important to the entire Dolphins organization.

"We are committed to a positive workplace environment where everyone treats each other with respect. We have reviewed our Code of Conduct and workplace policies and are making enhancements to the areas of sports psychology, human resources and player engagement functions which serve as safe outlets for any player or employee.

"When these allegations first came to light, I wanted to know what happened so we could make our organization better. I also began a deliberative and comprehensive process of determining what I could do to elevate conduct in sports, regardless of the then-unknown conclusions of Ted Wells' report.

"Three months ago, I announced the creation of a committee comprised of Coach Philbin, our CEO Tom Garfinkel, and respected former players and coaches, who would review Ted Wells' report and our current Code of Conduct and make any further recommendations. Now that the report has been made available to us, the committee can move forward and begin discussions.

"After the situation came to light, I approached the New York University School of Law and the New York University Center for Sports and Society led by Arthur Miller, as well as the Jackie Robinson Foundation on ideas to address my concerns about conduct in sports. I wanted to tackle these challenging issues head on and be a driving force for change not only with the Dolphins, but in all levels of athletics. In working with their research team and lawyers, and with the cooperation of New York University Dean of Law and former White House associate counsel Trevor Morrison in particular, we have researched, debated and consulted dozens of experts and have created a series of initiatives that we will release next week, along with a policy paper examining this issue.

"We seek to create a curriculum which emphasizes accountability and which educates athletes on a standard code of conduct, appropriate use of language, and the elimination of disrespectful and unacceptable behavior in sports, including discrimination or harassment because of race, gender or sexual orientation. We are also exploring possible legislation and a conduct pledge that would be instituted in all organized sports throughout the country to elevate the core value of respect. (I have made it clear to everyone within our organization that this situation must never happen again. We are committed to address this issue forcefully and to take a leadership role in establishing a standard that will be a benchmark in all of sports."
The Dolphins were 8-8 last season and had plenty of issues off the field. Expect many changes in 2014 to improve Miami's locker-room culture.

Ray Farmer talks Dolphins GM job

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins have a lot in common this offseason. Both teams are making changes to their internal structure and have a perception of being dysfunctional franchises.

In a surprise move, Cleveland overhauled its front office by firing general manager Mike Lombardi and phasing out CEO Joe Banner. Browns assistant general manager Ray Farmer was promoted Tuesday to general manager.

Farmer's name should be very familiar to Dolphins fans. Last month he was a favorite to get Miami's GM job. Farmer impressed Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and quickly moved to the top of the list.

However, Farmer suddenly took his name out of consideration when he was selected as a finalist. The job eventually went to Dennis Hickey, who wasn’t Miami’s top choice.

On Tuesday, Farmer briefly addressed why he backed out of the running in Miami.

“That job was not right for Ray Farmer,” he told the Cleveland media.

It is an interesting statement. Multiple GM candidates felt the same way in terms of Miami’s structure. Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots and Lake Dawson of the Tennessee Titans turned down offers from the Dolphins, mostly because they had no say on the future of head coach Joe Philbin. Both the head coach and general manager are on equal footing in Miami and will report directly to the owner.

What's interesting is Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam said Tuesday that Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine will report directly to Haslam, similar to Miami's structure. Were there other factors involved that scared Farmer away from Miami?

Farmer said he was not promised Cleveland’s GM opening when he took his name out the running in Miami. But Farmer made it clear Tuesday that he’s much more confident in the Browns’ organization than the Dolphins.

Time will tell if Farmer's inclination is correct, because both teams have issues to work through.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross laid down the gauntlet last week when he said he doesn’t anticipate embattled offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin returning to the team following last season’s high-profile bullying scandal.

Martin
Incognito’s situation is simple. He will become an unrestricted free agent in March and simply won’t be re-signed in Miami. However, Martin is under contract for two more years after becoming a second-round draft pick in 2012. Both are also awaiting the results of the Ted Wells report.

So what are Miami’s options with Martin?

The first option is to find another team to work out a trade. However, Martin’s trade value is at its lowest point. There are plenty of questions surrounding Martin. Can he handle the football culture? Where is he mentally at this stage? How bad does he want to return to football? Prospective teams must do their homework to get clarity.

But Martin is an offensive tackle who has starting experience on both sides. There aren’t many of those in the NFL. Perhaps the Dolphins could get lucky and get a late-round pick for Martin. One option that makes sense is the Indianapolis Colts, where Martin was college teammates with Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck.

However, the Colts and other teams could also wait for Miami to release Martin and not give up anything. It’s no secret Martin cannot return to Miami’s locker room after leaving the team last October. But that won’t stop the Dolphins from trying to get something for their soon-to-be former offensive tackle.

Richie Incognito: 'I need a job'

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
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Twitter can be used for a lot of things. But soon-to-be former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito used the popular social media tool Wednesday as a way to get a head start on free agency.



Incognito is an unrestricted free agent in March. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross already said he doesn’t expect Incognito or Jonathan Martin to return following their controversial bullying scandal last season. Both players will be looking for work elsewhere in 2014.

The NFL’s investigation into the matter should be completed soon and is expected to be released after the Super Bowl. Incognito’s reputation and job status with the NFL will be heavily influenced on the findings in the Ted Wells report.
DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins held their introductory news conference Tuesday evening for general manager Dennis Hickey. Unfortunately for Hickey, Miami owner Stephen Ross and embattled offensive tackle Jonathan Martin stole the show with interesting comments on what's gone wrong with the Dolphins the past few months.

But Hickey also had a lot to say in his first meeting with the media. Here were some takeaways and early impressions:

    [+] EnlargeDennis Hickey
    AP Photo/Lynne SladkyExpect Dennis Hickey's front office to tap into computer analytics as a supplemental draft tool.
  • After a highly publicized fallout between coach Joe Philbin and former general manager Jeff Ireland, Ross said it was important to find a GM who can play nice and bring everyone together. "Harmony" was a word Ross used a couple of times. It was easy to see Tuesday that Hickey is a nice guy. He was excited and did not have the domineering personality we've seen from Ireland. If Hickey can handle his scouting role well and stay in his lane, it could be a good match for what Miami currently needs.
  • Speaking of scouting, Hickey was clear that his draft philosophy is always to select the best available player over need. A lot of personnel types like to say that, but not everyone applies it. Hickey says Miami plans to rank its top 500 players and stay true to its board on draft day.
  • Hickey made a quick decision Wednesday to "part ways" with former Dolphins assistant general manager Brian Gaine. Hickey is in charge of the personnel department and it's clear he wants to bring in his own people. There is the natural link that Hickey could be interested in hiring Mark Dominik, his former boss in Tampa Bay.
  • Something under the radar that was interesting was Hickey buys into draft analytics. This is a growing fad in NFL circles where some teams are using computer metrics to help with talent evaluation. Scouts and GMs must still trust their eyes and the game tape. However, it appears Hickey and the Dolphins' front office will tap into computer analytics as a supplemental tool moving forward.

It's time for Hickey to role up his sleeves and get to work. With more than 20 restricted and unrestricted free agents, self-scouting is an immediate task on Hickey's to-do list.

DAVIE, Fla. -- On the same day the Miami Dolphins introduced their new general manager, a major issue from their recent past was brought to light when offensive tackle Jonathan Martin did an interview with NBC regarding the 2013 bullying scandal.

Martin
Martin, in an interview with Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, said he felt “trapped” by the locker-room atmosphere in Miami.

"I'm a grown man. I've been in locker rooms," Martin told NBC. "One incident doesn't bother me. It was the persistence.

"I felt trapped, like I didn't have a way to make it right. I thought it was best to remove myself from the situation."

The full interview will be released Wednesday. But here are some early thoughts on Martin’s comments and his status with the Dolphins:
  • Right or wrong, Martin’s comments won’t help him in Miami, and it could hurt his chances of latching on with another team. According to some Dolphins players I spoke to, their biggest complaint was that Martin walked out on the team. Players felt he could have handled it in a better way than exiting in the middle of the season and sparking a national controversy for the Dolphins. Martin reiterated that it was best to “remove myself from the situation.” Now other teams will have questions about Martin’s toughness and whether or not he will walk away in the future.
  • Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect either player to be back. It was an honest moment from Ross, despite the fact he tried to recant his statement soon after. Ross knows many of the details in the NFL report, which is expected to come out after the Super Bowl. The quickest way to begin moving on from the bullying scandal is not to have Martin and Incognito around the team in 2014.
  • With that in mind, Martin remains under contract for two more years. Miami either must trade or release their 2012 second-round pick. Martin’s value in the trade market is extremely low due to the bullying scandal and the fact everyone now knows Miami wants to part ways with him. It would be surprising if the Dolphins can get much -- or anything -- in return for Martin. That will be one of the early responsibilities of new Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey.
  • Overall, the sense I get from the Dolphins is they are confident they will come away from this scandal relatively unscathed. Miami head coach Joe Philbin received several strong endorsements from ownership and is safe. Offensive line coach Jim Turner remains on staff, although the Ted Wells report could impact his status. Miami already got rid of former general manager Jeff Ireland, although for different reasons. Ireland was responsible for drafting Martin in the second round in 2012 and signing Incognito in free agency in 2011.

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