To Keep, or Not to Keep?

Ladies and Gentlemen. We bring you deep passages from the memoirs of Tony Nicoletti.

I noticed that there was some discussion after my last blog, (Fear Not Dolphin Fans. The Miami Dolphins Will Rise Again!) regarding all the quality players that Joe Philbin has let go of, during his first few years with the Miami Dolphins. While none of us necessarily agree with all the moves that were made, you do have to give him credit for being decisive and holding to a specific vision of what he is trying to accomplish in Miami.

Who's to to say that Joe Philbins, (previous GM, Jeff Ireland) or current GM Dennis Hickey's personnel decisions were bad moves. Especially, those that involved players who were a cancer to the team. Being the new head coach with the Dolphins, Joe Philbin inherited a bunch of leftovers from the, "Tony Sparano" era in 2012. The wholesale housecleaning was going to have to be done sooner or later. Fortunately, it happened sooner.

A change of scenery can be a wake up call for marginal players and some of them wisely, got their act together for their new ball clubs. Their new Coaches/GM's knew of what kind of baggage they were getting with these players. It was already determined that their skill set is needed and welcomed, despite some of their negative traits. However, specific ground rules and incentives are put in place to encourage these players to make the best of their new opportunity, thus taking some of the gamble out of recruiting them. And many of these players also came to realize that this is or may be their last chance and if they screw up they could very will be out of the NFL, altogether. That is why it is not uncommon for these players to prosper with their new team.

We all know that there will always be, "divas" and, "me first" type players in the game. It's part of their competitive nature. I believe the better coaches find ways to incorporate these talented yet, troublesome players into their game plan. They have the ability to determine if the gifts, talents and upside these players bring to the table are worth being patient and working around their eccentricities.

Trouble makers, questionable character on and off the field and all the things that undermine and detract from the goals that a coach is trying to establish with his team, can not be tolerated. And unfortunately, when a coach first takes over a franchise, these are things that he has to assess and weed out quickly. In many instances, he doesn't have the time to sit down with each and every player to make that determination. Especially during the off season when he is trying to familiarize himself with his new surroundings, assemble a coaching staff and get every one on the same page. And then there is the fact that they may have as many as 90+ players at some point, all trying out for the team.

An astute coach can ascertain whether divas are for real or just full of themselves. If they are being selfish in their demands to be a bigger part of the game plan or if there is a possibility they really can contribute more, (if given the chance). They can also tell if it is frustration that causes a player to complain and act out in ways that are unbecoming to a team, and when it is necessary to discipline them or just let them blow off some steam.

Case in point: Mike Wallace.

He is not so much the diva that many top wide receivers are. He tries to put on airs that he is a team player. He has a good work ethic and no, "off the field" issues. He hasn't been as spectacular catching the deep ball as he was with the Steelers. (Catching only about 25% of the long passes that were thrown his way last season). He is not known for being a receiver that will go up and fight for the ball. (Although in 2014, he has shown that he is willing to be aggressive and fight for extra yardage after the catch). It's not certain what really took place in that final game when he was benched in the second half because he supposedly, quit on the team.

To Wallace's credit, he's been successful in his new role and has contributed greatly to this offense. He has demonstrated a willingness to adapt and has proven that he is not just a one trick pony, only capable of using his speed to get down the field to catch balls. But is his performance worth all those millions? His production certainly cannot easily be replaced, on the cheap. And Miami does need to recoup some cap space to bring in some free agent help. (Which makes him a potential target, being the highest paid player on the Dolphin roster). Of course, all of this may be a moot issue if Joe Philbin decides to let him go because of his disenchantment with how he is being utilized and occasional complaints to that end.

If Philbin and Hickey decide not to keep him, a trade is not likely to happen since his contract will come at too high a price for even the most desperate of teams to pick up. Chances are, Miami would wind up having to eat a big chunk of change and dead cap money if they let him go. But one has to wonder if he, (and players like Jared Odrick, who has also let his feelings be known as well) will be on the roster this season.

But as coach Philbin's tenure moves forward and hopefully, draws closer to molding the team into what he feels will be a competitive ball club, an occasion may arise where he has to make a tough decision on a difficult player, again. To summarily dismiss good, talented players is a waste of resources. Especially with a seasoned coach. It's one thing to draw the line and set an example for the rest of the team as to what will be acceptable behavior. But over time, these problems should diminish as the front office, coaching staff and players become better aware of what type of personnel and atmosphere he is trying to cultivate. I would like to think a coach should evolve enough to learn from his past mistakes with the many players that have come and gone.

It's easy in hindsight, to say that Philbin never should have let go of this or that player because they are now model citizens with their new team and/or went on to become great players. We should actually be happy for these reformed players. I mean, isn't it better to know that the players that were given a chance on the Dolphin roster at any given time, did have the potential to eventually play for another franchise? What would it say about the Dolphin recruiting department if a majority of it's choices were found to be unsuitable and could not make it in the NFL at all?

Selecting football players is a crap shoot. Sometimes a team has to sift through some crap to find a jewel and this Miami Dolphin's front office and coaching staff have uncovered a number of gems over the years. Players that do not necessarily fit the typical physical tangibles that are usually associated with a given position. They may lack size or speed but their willingness to work hard, study and prepare, more than compensates for any deficiencies they may have. (Charles Clay comes to mind). He is not the big bodied Tight End target that all coaches covet, but still manages to win his match ups and when healthy, is a defensive coordinators nightmare.

The Dolphins are not opposed to beating the bushes to find players through unconventional means. Cameron Wake, whom we acquired from the CFL is one such example. We have several players from small, obscure colleges that have shown tremendous promise and upside. Like Walt Aikens and Terrence Fede. And let's not forget the injured players that came to the Dolphins whom have become important fixtures on this team. We took a chance on Brent Grimes who was recovering from a serious injury, and on an injury prone Brandon Albert. Both of them are excellent players. (Hopefully, Albert will be again, after his return from major knee surgery).

So you see, Coaches and General Managers are constantly taking chances and gambling with players. Forever searching for the right personnel to fit their schemes, attitude and team identity. Every franchise has allowed a fair share of talented players to slip through their grasp. It is futile for head coaches and general managers to lament and second guess their decisions when they let these players go. All they can do is learn form their experiences, forge ahead and continue their quest to build the best roster they can. It's the nature of the game and how dynasties are made.

As fans, we don't get to see what is actually going on behind closed doors. We only see players come and go. Some of whom, do well with other teams. (Which can be a little puzzling and disconcerting). Rest assured, there are reasons why teams lets go of what appear to be, "good players".

There are instances where some teams have no choice. Cap space limitations or positions that they are well stocked in, force them to release these surplus players so they can free up roster and cap space to pursue other players that they need. Perhaps a new coach or coaching staff has been brought in with a different system which may require them to cut players that do not fit or cannot adapt to these new systems and schemes. It doesn't always mean that these free agents are flawed in some way and unworthy of a roster spot with their previous team.. You need to make room to bring in and develop new players. Sometimes it means getting rid of decent players, as well.

As I write this blog today, I am relieved to see an article claiming that Mike Wallace has been able to sit down with Dennis Hickey to discuss his future with the team. I'm glad that they are trying to work out their differences. I also saw a story about Jared Odrick. The Dolphins have approached him to negotiate a new contract to avoid losing him to free agency.

Could it be that Joe Philbin has finally reached the point in his coaching career with the Dolphins, where he is able and willing to deal with outspoken, problematic players instead of arbitrarily sending them down the road? It's about time.This is definitely a step in the right direction. I'm hoping the Miami Dolphins are able free up the cap space to secure the free agent/draft picks they need to make a push for the playoffs in 2015.

Only then can the question be answered: To Keep, or Not to Keep. Lets hope Joe Philbin and company are keepers!

Go Dolphins!