Joe Philbin’s decision to divest himself of troubled players like Brandon Marshall, Vontae Davis and Chad Johnson may have placed Miami on shaky ground when building the roster. Athletes at this level have plenty of documented issues, but many times those same players have game changing talent. The value placed on character could be critical to the Dolphins finally making it back to the top of the NFL.
Can the Dolphins afford to cast aside troubled children to fit the Philbin mold? What value do Dolphin fans place on character? Is the Miami criterion too strict? Will it lead to an unremarkable roster? How does it affect free agency and the draft? These are the questions that will shape the future in Miami.
Looking at the dismissed players can define a set of values deemed unwanted on the roster. A “me first” attitude is at the top of the list. The one trait all three players shared was a complete self-centric view of life. This trait often leads to off-the-field issues as well as problems with teammates in the locker room, on the practice field and during games.
These behaviors frequently interconnect and create a personality profile. “Me first” in a personal relationship outside of football causes issues when the other person in the relationship does not agree. It becomes a test of wills leading to high profile altercations unrelated to football. When the volatile mixture of alcohol or drugs is introduced, better judgment is impaired and only bad things will happen in “me first” relationships. The second important value trait would then be sobriety.
Sobriety is not easy in the NFL for many players. The temptation is too great to use performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to gain an edge. The league will allow players to take shots of Toradol to be able to tolerate the pain of playing the game, while drug testing for other substances. The expectation to play with pain, is the rite of passage in the NFL. Pain meds are acceptable in the locker room, but mix those same pain meds with alcohol at a club and foolish decisions are certain to follow. Staying away from the clubs during the season and certainly before practice days, eliminates potential issues. So a third criterion would be to avoid being a celebrity. With all the temptations, it can only lead to trouble.
The old adage, “nothing good happens after midnight,” isn’t only true for NFL players; it is true for everyone. As the night wears on the folks with better sense have gone home and police are well aware. Even though the NFL provides free taxi service to any player at any time, some will still choose to get behind the wheel. Obviously, they know calling a taxi at two o’clock in the morning through team sources will mean the team knows someone has been a bad boy. Which leads to the next criterion, beware the witching hour. Getting off the streets before midnight is a simple way to avoid trouble with the law.
These are the four traits Joe Philbin would like to avoid.
1. Me first attitude
2. Alcohol and drug abuse
3. Celebrity football players
4. After midnight
These traits must be measured against the questions asked above:
What value do Dolphin fans place on character?
The majority of Dolphin fans had grown tired of Brandon Marshall’s me-first antics. There were whispers that Marshall had more than a little to do with Chad Henne never gaining the confidence to break out as an NFL QB. The other side of that coin would be, if Henne could not handle Marshall’s harassment in the huddle, he would probably not make it in the NFL anyway. Having experienced the volatile mixture of Marshall and Henne, it was probably an easy decision to trade Marshall, even if doing so left Miami without a top-flight receiver.
This exemplifies the proper sequence, rookie Ryan Tannehill should gain control of the team and be comfortable in that role prior to being asked to handle a personality like Brandon Marshall. In other words, an established leader like Tom Brady can handle a me-first personality, but placing that burden on a young QB is adding to an already pressure packed position. Bill Parcells is known for preaching that QB toughness is garnered by placing those players in difficult situations, but Parcells truly only ever groomed one decent QB, Phil Simms. Has anyone ever heard Simms speak to or be seen around Parcells? Simms was the exception, not the rule. Parcells built a philosophy based on an anomaly and that is why he was unable to duplicate it.
Is the Miami criterion too strict?
Vontae Davis obviously had issues with alcohol and perhaps other substances the public is unaware of. Davis did not perform well in practice because he was often hung over from partying the night before. Joe Philbin comes off as a very up-front type of coach, a player’s coach who will say what needs to be said. By doing this, Philbin does not keep players guessing what he is thinking and does not have to remain aloof because what he thinks is unclear. Therefore, it is logical from the outside, to assume Philbin told Davis exactly what was expected of him and what Joe thought was unacceptable. Clearly, Vontae did not take heed to what Philbin expected.
Anyone who has ever stepped in a football locker room knows this is a land of Alpha Males dominated by “A” personalities. Coaches walk a fine line when they are considered player friendly because player friendly is often misconstrued as a sign of weakness. In a locker room, a coach must remain the one voice and when he speaks the players must listen. If a player breaks this rule and is allowed to get away with it, as Miami fans saw with Cam Cameron, the hierarchy of the locker room is broken. Davis did not listen and if the situation had not been resolved, Philbin could have lost the locker room. This means the strictness, the code, must not be broken or it will lead to 1-15 seasons. Losing Davis hurt the Dolphins in the short term, but keeping him would have been far worse in the long term.
Will it lead to an unremarkable roster?
Having a celebrity like Chad Johnson can add a name, but does not make a roster more valuable. Johnson falls into a category where his presence in the locker room was not conflicting with his coach, but once out the door the team was no longer as important as his own celebrity. Jason Taylor was a celebrity in Miami but not for the wrong reason. This is a criterion where Philbin must not allow his small town nature to dictate his roster. Michael Jordan was a celebrity but he was also the greatest basketball player of all time. Payton Manning and Tom Brady are celebrities, but they would be welcome in Miami.
This rule cannot be cut and dry, Miami needs the face of a player as the signature of the team. The problem is when the wrong player becomes the face of the franchise, as was the case with Chad Johnson. When Johnson’s antics become how the football world views the Dolphins, serious issues will soon follow, as they did before Johnson’s release. The perception of Chad Johnson could easily become the perception of the Miami Dolphins. There is a fine line when dealing with celebrity players and the line is drawn by one rule of thumb, the team must be more important to the player than stardom. In the case of Chad Johnson, the team came second or more specifically, Johnson’s value to the team was not great enough to tolerate his celebrity.
How does it affect free agency and the draft?
In review of the three questions already asked and by relating them to actual players, the value of having values is clear. Over the long term, adhering to the values will create a harmonious team from which stars will rise. The effect of not following the values leads to poor long-term personnel decisions. Knowing Brandon Marshall is a borderline personality but trading two 2nd round picks for him, led to dumping him for two 3rd round picks. Drafting Vontae Davis in the first round when he slipped in the draft due to maturity concerns led to dumping him for a 2nd round pick.
The net value was a loss for both players. When considering a player like Percy Harvin, take a look at the mistakes already made and resist the temptation to allow talent to override values. Following the value rules when dealing with players could mean a player like Ray Lewis is left on the table, but players like Lewis are few and far between. Lewis would not be considered a problem child now and he was not considered one when he was drafted. Lewis is an exception, just like Simms was an exception and exceptions should be treated with flexibility but should never be the principles that create strategic rules.
When strategic personnel rules are guided by values there is a greater chance for success in the long term. When these rules are disregarded it rarely leads to a good end. This can easily be seen when a team Like the Philadelphia Eagles dismisses its values and brings in players that do not fit the mold in the quest for a Super Bowl. The coach is fired, there is no longer a structure in the locker room and the team is in total disarray.
Patience Dolphin fans... It takes time to build from the bottom into champions. It starts with placing the proper value on values.