Tony Sparano, Miami Dolphins head coach, finally made himself available
to the press at the NFL Annual Meeting in Palm
Beach, FL. He took questions for a little more than an
hour during breakfast on Tuesday.
Sparano touched on a wide
variety of subjects, including the Dolphins’ quarterback situation, his
projected starters on the offensive line, Jason Taylor, and the NFL Draft.
On the QB situation, the
biggest issue to be addressed this offseason, Sparano said the Dolphins helped
themselves with the Josh McCown signing. The coach was more than willing to
look past the fact that the guy has been ditched by three teams and hasn’t been
able to get his passer rating north of 75 in a six year career.
"Josh has some great
characteristics you don't always see when you're out there just watching
through the naked eye," Sparano said.
Fair enough. Just know that
when a team believes they’ve helped themselves by signing a quarterback of
McCown’s caliber, well, it doesn’t speak highly of the overall state of things
at the position.
Sparano was quite complimentary
of John Beck’s first-in, last-out work ethic. The guy seems to be doing
everything he can to prove his worth. To try and help him along, Sparano
disclosed that quarterback coach David Lee has been trying to cure Beck of some
bad habits, such as a low release point which led to many of his passes being
knocked down. They were also trying to find a way to “slow the game down” for
Changing a quarterback’s
throwing motion is always a tricky thing, with the impact on accuracy
uncertain. As for slowing the game down for Beck, I’m not exactly sure what
this means. Last September, did Beck confess to me that the biggest adjustment
he is trying to make as a pro is learning to read defenses at NFL speed.
Understanding that Beck is
still a work in process, it doesn’t appear that Sparano is sold on him yet as
the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future. And while Sparano is content in
allowing McCown and Beck to compete, he must know that few would seriously consider
McCown to be a legitimate starter in the NFL, one that you would build a young
This puts the Dolphins in a very
difficult spot leading up to the April 26 NFL Draft. They’d like to address
other needs without having to burn another high pick on a quarterback,
especially with other premier players available at positions of need. Yet it
seems they may not have a choice.
See, Bill Parcells and pals
know they have to get their quarterback situation fixed for any of the
rebuilding to matter. There is no higher priority, they know they won’t win
until they solve this problem, and they know this is their best chance to fix
They also know that the
draft is their best option, and Sparano did share two things that were very
The first was that he,
Parcells, and GM Jeff Ireland all agree that they must get an impact player
with their first round pick (#1 overall). This sounds like a no-brainer, but would
seem to disqualify anyone who couldn’t come in and be a full time starter right
The second was that he felt
there were some quarterbacks in the draft that were capable of starting in the
NFL as a rookie, and that with a young team this was not necessarily a bad
“I think there are some guys
that have the ability to come in and start," Sparano said. "Certainly
in our situation, when you're a young team, putting a young quarterback out
there is not a bad thing in those situations. You get some questions answered
early, one way or the other."
Add to this comment
Sparano’s take on the current, brutal state of his offensive line and you begin
to get a fuller sense of the dilemma the Dolphins are facing.
Sparano ticked off the names
of the players who are currently slotted in as starters along the offensive
line. Vernon Carey is, for now, slotted in at LT (but could be moved back to
RT). Drew Mormino, who spent all of 2007 on injured reserve, is at LG. Rookie
sensation Samson Satele is at Center, with the newly signed Justin Smiley at
RG. Sparano didn’t have anyone slotted at RT, a “hole” he confessed they
haven’t yet solved.
So, what to do? The Dolphins
could approach this question in one of three ways.
First, they could draft a
quarterback with their first overall pick (Boston College’s Matt Ryan) and use
one of their two second round picks on a next-tier OT in what is a tackle-deep
Second, they could draft Michigan
OT Jake Long first overall and take a quarterback with their first pick in the
second round (32nd overall). Michigan’s
Chad Henne, Delaware’s Joe Flacco, and Louisville’s Brian Brohm
are options after Ryan who seem most ready to play right away.
Thirdly, they could begin
negotiations with Ryan, Jake Long, and Virginia DE Chris Long, the third
possibility for the top overall pick. Lowest contract gets the brass ring.
Chris Long is still the
safest play, a move that would make sense in many ways. But Sparano’s comments
about Jason Taylor and other free agent signings on the defensive line leave
one to wonder whether or not drafting Chris Long is as high a need at this
Sparano firmly sees Taylor as being a Dolphin
in 2008. The Dolphins plan to line him up at OLB, and employ him in much the
same way that Nick Saban did when Taylor
earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.
It makes sense for the
Dolphins to keep him if the best offer is reportedly a third rounder because Taylor would be worth more
to the Dolphins as a Dolphin. This could be true even through the final year of
his contract in 2009 ($8 million base salary, not exactly the kind of money
someone leaves on the table to pursue a career in show business a year early).
So which way will the
As I’ve said in past years,
predicting the draft is like predicting the weather. You think it is going to
be sunny and warm and, suddenly, it ends up being rainy and cold.
Given Sparano’s comments,
one could conclude that the biggest bang for the buck, literally, would be Jake
Long. He’d start from Day One and, with Carey, would give the Dolphins their
best tackle tandem since Richmond Webb and Ron Heller (1995).
That’s a pretty good outcome
that everyone would feel good about. Again, the rub is that this is a tackle-deep
draft. If the Dolphins are comfortable with a next tier OT, their strategy can
change. Matt Ryan could be the top overall pick if they believe he would be
better than Beck. Otherwise, it seems likely that it’s a Long all the way.
For those of you who favor
trading down, don’t hold your breath. Dolphins Managing Partner Wayne Huizenga
all but declared this option dead. Simply put, no one’s interested.