by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
The last major player of the Dave Wannstedt Era finally ushered himself out.
Good thing. Otherwise, Nick Saban would have done it for him.
As a scout and researcher, ex-Dolphin General Manager Rick Spielman has few peers. His attention to detail and his capacity for work have earned him praise and respect throughout the NFL. He knows how to properly run a personnel department and he does it as well as anyone in the business.
During Spielman’s tenure, the Dolphin personnel department was improved in many ways, including the addition of more scouts, more comprehensive college and pro personnel reporting, and rapid information sharing at the point of need.
Unfortunately, all of the above is for naught if the due diligence cannot be consistently converted into sound decisions. In this regard, Spielman was a failure in Miami.
In 2004, the price of this failure was paid for with a 4-12 record.
4-12 is what happens when a team doesn’t have the talent to win.
That is why Nick Saban is now the head coach and Spielman and Wannstedt are elsewhere.
Certainly, Wannstedt bears his share of the blame for the Dolphin train wreck. But it was Spielman who was the chief personnel man during Wannstedt’s tenure. It was Spielman who recommended the players to Wannstedt, or picked them himself.
In the end, Rick Spielman leaves Miami with mixed feelings and mixed results.
Perhaps nothing doomed Spielman more than his penchant for trading away valuable draft picks and failing to secure fair compensation for key players lost to free agency.
In the case of free agency, two glaring examples come to mind. Both situations punched damaging holes in Spielman’s credibility in the eyes of the players and the fans.
The first is the lamentable trade of DE Adewale Ogunleye to the Chicago Bears for less than fair market value (WR Marty Booker and a 2005 third round pick).
No disrespect towards Booker, a fine player in his own right, but Spielman’s portrayal of him as equal to first round compensation (which the Dolphins were entitled to) was a ludicrous boast that no one who truly knows football believed.
Spielman’s pick to replace Ogunleye? Chidi Ahanotu, a player who ended up quitting the team in October.
The second was the decision to allow RT Todd Wade to walk away in free agency (Texans).
Not placing a franchise tag on Wade was a foolish move. Not only did the Dolphins downgrade themselves at the position, they failed to gain any compensation for Wade (the team’s second round pick in 2000).
Further, it forced them to sign free agents (John St. Clair and Damion McIntosh) and spend high draft picks (Vernon Carey, more on him later) to shore up the position.
At the end of the day, it was all in vain. The Dolphins lost big.
In the case of trading draft picks away, the list of mistakes is long and ugly.
Two of the more questionable moves were the trades for QB A.J. Feeley (2005 second round pick) and RB Lamar Gordon (2005 third round pick).
Nothing against Feeley or Gordon, Spielman simply and badly overpaid.
At least Feeley has good upside and figures to stick around for a while. Gordon was a bust in Mike Martz’s system and is far from a sure bet to make the 2005 roster, especially if Ricky Williams returns.
Saban’s trade of Patrick Surtain to the Kansas City Chiefs was made, in part, to compensate for the loss of the second rounder.
Of course few will soon forget Spielman’s notorious mismanagement of the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
Though he’d never admit it if he did, Saban might have actually laughed at how his old buddy Bill Belichick helped sucker Spielman into surrendering a fourth round pick to move up one lousy spot to select Carey.
At first the move was somewhat understandable. Tackle was a real need position and the 2004 Draft was shallow in terms of first round quality offensive lineman.
Unfortunately, Carey hasn’t made a meaningful contribution on the field. To say that Carey is a “bust” at this point is unfair, though the situation has clearly been a major disappointment.
Meanwhile, the guy who Spielman should have picked, DT Vince Wilfork, is playing quality football for…you got it… Belichick.
With the retirement of Tim Bowens and the uncertain status of Larry Chester, the Dolphins sure could have benefited from Wilfork’s services.
As for trades for players who made zero contribution in 2004, Saban continues to try and salvage value.
David Boston (from San Diego for a 2005 sixth round selection and CB Jamar Fletcher) never made it out of training camp. Boston, a proven injury and behavioral risk, not surprisingly ended up hurt and, later, in trouble with the law.
In Ricky Williams’s case, the cost to the team was significantly higher…two first round draft picks plus an exchange of fourth rounders for a guy who played just two seasons, quit on a third, and is not a sure bet to be a Dolphin beyond 2005 (provided he returns to the team).
There are still more examples to cite, like questionable free agent signings (e.g. Derrius Thompson), re-signings (Jay Fiedler), and Spielman’s poor track record of success in the upper rounds of the draft.
You get the idea.
Spielman never did. Rather, he was mystified how others couldn’t see the brilliance of his decisions. In his own world, he was a genius.
Objectively, Spielman does deserve credit for finding some very good players, many in later rounds.
Wade was a second rounder as was Chris Chambers. Seth McKinney was a decent third round pick, as was Travis Minor. Randy McMichael and Will Poole were terrific finds in the fourth round. Up and comers Tony Bua (fifth round) and Rex Hadnot (sixth round) appear to be real steals as is seventh rounder Derrick Pope.
There were also some good trades, the best example of which was the deal for LB Junior Seau (2004 fifth rounder). Seau has since won the team’s leadership award two years running, an honor voted on by the players.
Spielman is also to be commended for his professionalism in helping Saban prepare for the draft and free agency. It could not have been easy for Spielman to continue to work under such uncertain circumstances. By all accounts, he did a good job supporting Saban’s agenda.
Perhaps Spielman hoped to convince Saban to keep him in some major capacity, just as he did in 2004 when he persuaded owner H. Wayne Huizenga to name him GM over a slew of outsiders, including newly minted GM Randy Mueller.
Spielman never had a chance. Mueller’s arrival is a stark reminder that things are indeed different in Miami.
More of the same is a thing of the past. So, now, is Spielman.