The Miami Dolphin QB Enigma

The feel-good victory against the rival Jets gave Miami Dolphin fans a reason to smile at the end of another less then mediocre season that left more questions than answers. There are indications the QB situation may be in better hands with Matt Moore as Chad Henne tests the free agent market, but the book on Moore remains incomplete. With the dismissal of Tony Sparano, Miami opens another off-season in search of a head coach as the cycle of instability persists. Until Miami is able to find that illusive franchise QB, the calliope music will continue on the coaching carousel.

A brief review demonstrates how the symbiotic coach - QB relationship leads to a continuous search for both in Miami.

Wannstedt – Fiedler, Feeley, Rosenfels
Jay Fiedler was a game manager for a bruising power running team that featured Ricky Williams at his NFL best. When Ricky unexpectedly quit after a failed drug test in 2004, Wannstedt’s resignation soon followed. Williams’ 775 carries in two seasons under Wannstedt made up for Fiedler’s impotence, once Ricky left the building, Fiedler could not carry the team.

Saban – Frerotte, Culpepper, Harrington
Saint Nick knew the importance of the QB position in the NFL, but he made a critical mistake in choosing Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees. The error chased Saban back to the college ranks and left Miami in complete disarray.

Cameron – Green, Lemon, Beck
Poor Cam never had a chance; the 2007 season was already falling apart when Trent Green went down with a concussion in week 5 and never played another down in the NFL. Lemon and Beck were over-matched as only a last minute score against the Ravens kept Miami from ending the season winless. Cameron was fired when Bill Parcells took the reigns.

Sparano – Pennington, Henne, Moore
Sparano was probably undone by the Wildcat offense that produced an 11-5 season but proved untenable in the NFL. With a shot at choosing franchise QB Matt Ryan, Parcells went with OT Jake Long. Chad Henne was chosen late in the 2nd round and free agent Chad Pennington came from the Jets. Pennington’s injury history came back to haunt him and Sparano was stuck with a rookie QB who could never quite make the leap to affective starter in the NFL.

4 coaches and 12 QBs later, leadership still does not seem to understand the importance of a 1st round QB not drafted in 29 years. The rookie salary cap has changed the NFL landscape forever. Consider these numbers…

Mark Sanchez--------------$14.75 million dollars
Sam Bradford--------------$12.6 million dollars
Matt Stafford---------------$12 million dollars
Matt Ryan------------------$11.25 million dollars
Cam Newton---------------$4 million dollars
Tim Tebow----------------$4 million dollars
Blaine Gabbert------------$3 million dollars
Jake Locker----------------$2.3 million dollars
Christian Ponder----------$1.85 million dollars

The rookie cap has cut QB salaries to a 3rd of their previous value, which will allow teams to draft rookie QBs even if they picked one the season before. Teams that would normally not draft another QB will be jumping in early and often. Teams in the middle of the draft will be left out in the cold or will be forced to mortgage the future in order to move up in the draft.

Navigating these new waters will be key to how a team like Miami shapes its future. Drafting and carrying multiple QBs will no longer drain precious salary cap space and will lead teams to approaching the draft much differently than in years past. For Miami, it creates a landmine, because if the Dolphins choose to move up and get in position to draft Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin they will have to spend as many as 3 1st round picks.

Given that number as an indication of the value, teams drafting high would be foolish not to select the QBs and force other teams into a bidding war, even if they have a promising QB under contract. It has never been more important to be a loser in the NFL. The value of a franchise QB has shifted from a salary cap hit, to a draft day bonanza.

The NFL head coaching profession just got a lot harder. A good coach without a franchise QB can win 8 or more games, but rarely win consistently to keep his job. It’s no secret, since the rules have been softened to produce higher scoring games, a franchise QB is the difference between winning and losing. The next coach in Miami will be at the mercy of a front office that has not respected the value of the most pivotal position on the football field.

Matt Moore has potential and could turn out to be special, but negating the QB position with Chad Henne sent Tony Sparano packing and negating it again will leave the next coach in a similar position. Matt Flynn played one great game for Green Bay and won a national championship with LSU, he should be the premium of the free agent QBs on the market this year. Miami must realize, high profile coaches know they will only be as good as the man behind the center.

It’s a story that hasn’t changed since Dan Marino retired and won’t change until the QB dilemma has been solved regardless of who the coach is. The coach is no longer the main driving force in the NFL, it is the QB, solve the QB problem and a genius will suddenly be coaching the Dolphins. The price will be high, but the empty seats in the stadium are the price of neglect. Miami has no choice but to take the hit and pay the price or continue and slow slide into the basement of the NFL.