Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chad Henne Time

The sabbatical is over! Past Interference is back and the 2011 football season is here.

For a moment during the preseason it appeared quite likely that Kyle Orton would the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback for 2011. If the crowd chanting “We Want Orton” while watching Chad Henne struggle during a training camp scrimmage was a representative sample, then the team’s ultimate decision not to trade for and sign Orton disappointed the majority of Dolphin fans. But not me. It would have been a terrible mistake. Past Interference does not have a short memory. How many times does Miami have to import other team’s jetsam before fans stop clamoring for the same mistakes to be repeated ad infinitum? Must I list them again? Fiedler, Feeley, Frerotte, Lucas, Lemon, Culpepper, Harrington, Thigpen. You want any of those guys back? I didn’t think so. So enough already. Yes, the one exception was Chad Pennington who, when healthy and playing the best ball of his career, actually proved capable of leading the Dolphins to the playoffs. However, the result of that one playoff game demonstrated precisely the limits of how far Pennington’s arm could take a team and his unfortunate fragility meant that 2008, fun as it was, was nothing more than a fluke, a one-shot deal, rather than something to build on. Orton may be an upgrade over Henne. He probably is. But he’s not taking Miami to the playoffs. He’s not good enough and, in his 7th season, it’s unlikely he’s going to get better. He is what he is. So if the Super Bowl is the goal (and it’s supposed to be) why would Miami want him? No, we sink or swim with Henne in 2011. If he doesn’t improve, if he can’t develop, then the team almost certainly pulls the plug on not just the Henne experiment, but on the whole Parcells regime. Stephen Ross will blow the whole thing up and start over in 2012. Signing Orton accomplishes nothing but maybe improving the team’s chances of winning another game or two while undermining Henne’s confidence. At least give him the chance to prove he can be better than a Kyle Orton. Odds are he won’t be but at least the potential still exists. For all the criticism of Henne, all the shots he’s taken, the most important thing people need to remember is this: he’s started exactly 30 games in his career. Two seasons, that’s it. Mark Sanchez has started 31 and Jet fans aren’t down on him are they even though his career stats to date are extremely comparable to Henne’s. People still expect Sanchez to improve. So cut Henne a little slack. Yes, he ain’t Dan Marino. He didn’t enter the league fully formed and demonstrate greatness from the get-go. But nobody else has either. We might not see anything like that ever again (I hope you appreciated it). Even some of the all-time greats struggled in the early years of their career. The Henne Haters’ homework this week should be to check out the stats for the formative years of Terry Bradshaw, Troy Aikman, or Drew Brees sometime. Then try Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, and our own Hall-of-Famer Bob Griese. And that’s just off the top of my head.

However Henne’s Dolphins career turns out, the fact that the organization drafted and a commitment to him at least demonstrates a long overdue recognition that trying to find a starting QB on the cheap ain’t gonna work. It never has for this team. Free agent QB’s haven’t worked. Trading away lower round picks for QB’s hasn’t worked. You want to win, you pick the right guy and draft him. Period. Now Henne might not be the right guy. Generally (not always), you get your guy in the first round. Second round QB’s like Henne hardly ever pan out. And if this doesn’t, I fully expect Miami to take a first-round QB next year. But just think about the first round QB’s conspicuously not taken despite the team’s desperate need for young quarterback talent. Brees in 2001. Rodgers in 2005. The last two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. Did you see the passing duel they just put on in the NFL opener two days ago? Either one could be helming the Fins right now. Instead, this team’s whacked out priorities have seen them spending top picks on running backs instead. Two for Ricky Williams! A number two overall pick for Ronnie Brown (when Rodgers was available)! And with both of them in the backfield at the same time Miami can’t even play .500 football.

Williams and Brown have now departed without having helped the team to get any closer to the promised land. Despite occasional moments of brilliance from both men it cannot be said the number one picks invested in them paid off. If you’re counting that’s three first round picks spent on running backs in the last decade, none on QB’s. The 60’s and 70’s are over and hopefully the organization finally realizes the need to stop overspending to build a running game when the key to victory in today’s NFL is an effective passing game. Now Orton would not have been that expensive, Denver supposedly wanted a 3d-round pick. But recall how Dave Wannstedt kept frittering away 2d and 3d-round picks in panicky attempts to keep his job and avoid the rebuilding process. Those picks are still valuable if the person using them knows what they’re doing on draft day. Plus, Orton wanted a long-term contract. The absolute last thing this team needs is to commit that kind of money to a stop-gap solution. If a new regime does take over in 2012, then the new boss is going to need that money to sign his quarterback of the future, whomever that may be. No, better to sink or swim with Henne in 2011. It’s all on his shoulders. If he can’t become one of the league’s better quarterbacks then so be it. The team will have to move on. But Henne’s saying all the right things. Sparano’s saying all the right things. Brandon Marshall’s saying all the right things. Henne’s looked solid in preseason. All his receivers are back. He’s got another target in Reggie Bush. The opportunity is there. Let’s see if Henne's the future.