Friday, July 18, 2008

The Miami Dolphins and Their Quarterbacks, Part One

The Miami Dolphins, one of the NFL’s most successful franchises, become the NFL’s worst team, became the NFL’s worst team last year. The Dolphins were one play away from the worst season any NFL team has ever had. How did that happen? Well, it took years to turn a playoff team into a hollow shell, an embarrassment of a team utterly devoid of talent on both sides of the ball. Bad draft picks. Bad trades. Bad decisions. No one move alone could be responsible for the team’s embarrassing state, it’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts here, but one draft pick encapsulates all of this team’s questionable personnel moves this decade. In 2001, the Miami Dolphins used their 6th-round pick to select Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel. Heupel was your classic example of a college QB surrounded by superior personnel who leads his team to a national title, but is not any kind of NFL prospect due to limited athletic ability. In Heupel’s case, his arm strength and mobility weren’t NFL caliber (hence his lasting to the 6th round). Not only did Heupel fail to make the team, but it turned out he had a wrist injury when drafted and Miami actually filed a grievance to try to get some of their money back. Anyway, Heupel never caught on with Miami or any other team and was quickly out of football. Whatever. Heupel only cost the team the 6th round pick. It’s the symbolism that matters here. Josh remains the ONLY QB drafted by Miami between the years 2000 and 2005. That’s right. For the six years following the retirement of Dan Marino, the greatest player in franchise history, Miami’s brain trust chose not to expend a single valuable draft pick on finding his successor. Not only did that decision prove disastrous on its face, it ran contrary to the quarterback philosophy the team had followed successfully for three decades.

If you look at the quarterback moves made by the Miami Dolphins from 1967 through the end of Don Shula’s reign as the Dolphins’ head man, you would have to say the team followed a simple consistent three-pronged strategy for dealing with the quarterback position:

1) Use a top pick to draft a franchise QB;
2) Have an experienced backup ready at all times;
3) When it’s time, groom a QB of the future.

That plan, whether put into practice by design or accident, worked. Coincidence or not, once the team departed from that plan in this decade they began to fall apart.

1 comment:

Hal said...

I would disagree that Heupel was surrounded with fantastic talent in 2000: only two other Sooners were even drafted in 2001. I think the injury was a much bigger factor in his NFL failure. He might have eventually made it as a player in the NFL if he'd come in healthy.
Still though, when you have Drew Brees dropped into your lap, it is a no-brainer; no way should you wait and gamble on a 6th rounder. Even worse than that, Wanny had numerous opportunities to upgrade that off-season, as both Trent Green and Brad Johnson were available, but Wanny "didn't want to possibly create a QB controversy" (supposedly he blamed his Chicago failure on that).