Who's in charge?
The Miami Dolphins have struggled to answer that question during the offseason, stumbling over leadership decisions relating to their front office and offense. It's not a particularly promising sign for a 2004 season in which Coach Dave Wannstedt's job again will be on the line.
Wannstedt has led the Dolphins to four straight winning seasons since taking over for Jimmy Johnson in 2000. But he has only one playoff victory. The Dolphins missed the playoffs the past two seasons -- the first time they did so in consecutive seasons since 1988 and '89 -- and late-season collapses have been the norm rather than the exception.
Although there was plenty of speculation that Wannstedt would be fired at the end of last season, owner Wayne Huizenga gave him a two-year contract extension through the 2006 season. Wannstedt also surrendered control over personnel decisions, part of a front-office reorganization in which the Dolphins supposedly would bring in a general manager.
But after a wide-ranging GM search in which they were rebuffed by former Green Bay Packers general manager Ron Wolf and denied permission to interview Scott Pioli, the New England Patriots' vice president of player personnel, Huizenga settled on a new structure in which he promoted personnel chief Rick Spielman to GM and brought in former quarterback Dan Marino as vice president of football operations. Or at least he thought he settled on that.
Marino, after accepting the job Jan. 12, abruptly backed out on Feb. 3, just before he was to begin. Amid criticism that he would have been merely a figurehead with the Dolphins while Spielman made the player decisions, Marino said he wasn't ready for the lifestyle change that the new job would have brought. Huizenga said he would find someone else for the job but hasn't done so yet. So Spielman and Wannstedt have continued to make football-related decisions, with Spielman now carrying the GM title and, presumably, more clout.
The unrest continued when Wannstedt chose a new offensive coordinator after Norv Turner left on Jan. 26 to become the Oakland Raiders' coach. Wannstedt immediately promoted Joel Collier from running backs coach to offensive coordinator. But that didn't even last four months before Collier gave up the offensive coordinator title and moved back to running backs coach, saying he was suffering from an unspecified illness related to exhaustion and needed to reduce his workload. Wannstedt has two former NFL offensive coordinators on his staff -- quarterbacks coach Marc Trestman and wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan -- but promoted comparatively inexperienced tight ends coach Chris Foerster to offensive coordinator. Wannstedt wanted Trestman to focus on quarterbacks Jay Fiedler and A.J. Feeley, and didn't want to distract Sullivan from dealing with a receiver corps that includes patience-testing newcomer David Boston.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, that hasn't been the only controversy surrounding the organization. Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, the reigning AFC sacks champion, has been in a contract dispute with the team and has said he will hold out into the season unless the club signs him to a long-term deal rather than the one-year, $1.824-million contract that the Dolphins tendered him in restricted free agency.
After the Dolphins got USC cornerback Will Poole in the fourth round of the draft, reports surfaced as to why he had dropped so far after being projected as a late first-round selection. In addition to having a disappointing pro-day workout for NFL scouts and having gotten into trouble earlier in his college career at Boston College for reportedly stealing computer equipment, Poole had been arrested in Los Angeles in February for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Most recently, there have been reports that Miami tailback Ricky Williams is facing a possible fine by the NFL for testing positive for marijuana.
Amid all of that, the Dolphins have had a busy offseason of player reshuffling, including trades for Boston and Feeley. But has the result been a team that can make it back to the playoffs and save Wannstedt's job?
Williams is coming off a season in which he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. But he remained productive, finishing with 1,372 rushing yards, and he's still in his prime, turning 27 this week. The Dolphins were able to get Boston from the Chargers for a modest price -- a sixth-round draft pick in 2005 and cornerback Jamar Fletcher -- because the receiver clashed with Coach Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego. But Boston got along well with Sullivan when the two were in Arizona together, and Boston and Chris Chambers potentially could make for a dynamic wide receiver duo.
The offensive line was fortified by the additions of free-agent guard Jeno James and first-round draft pick Vernon Carey from the University of Miami. If Trestman can coax some solid quarterback play out of Fiedler or Feeley -- or if the Dolphins go back into the still-active quarterback market, as some in the league suspect they might -- the offense could work.
The defense ranked 10th in the league last season, and should be solid again if Ogunleye resolves his contract situation. The Dolphins made a multi-year offer to him this week and could receive a counterproposal from agent Drew Rosenhaus today. Poole could end up being a contributor, and cornerback Reggie Howard was a good pickup in free agency.
The Dolphins, as always, looked talented and dangerous. But an awful lot has gone on this offseason, and the organizational chaos and quarterback shortcomings make it difficult to imagine this story having a happy ending for Wannstedt.
Around the League
Safety Sean Taylor, the fifth overall selection by the Washington Redskins, isn't the only first-round pick with agent issues.
Defensive tackle Tommie Harris, the 14th overall choice by the Chicago Bears, has switched agents, from Kennard McGuire to Eugene Parker.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton, the 15th overall selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and tight end Ben Watson, the 32nd overall choice by the Patriots, have been involved in a representation dispute involving Tom Condon and a former IMG co-worker, but appear set to be represented by Condon.
Defensive end Kenechi Udeze, the 20th overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings, is represented by his brother, an attorney, and likely will hire agent Ethan Lock for assistance, an NFL source said. Tailback Steven Jackson, the 24th overall choice by the St. Louis Rams, did not have an agent on draft day but since has hired Rocky Arceneaux.
Ravens Not Reconsidering Talking to Collins
Baltimore Ravens officials say they are not reconsidering their decision not to bid on free agent quarterback Kerry Collins, even with Collins having trouble finding a job to his liking. The Ravens say they remain committed to Kyle Boller as their starter and Anthony Wright as their backup. . . . The Green Bay Packers hope to reschedule a visit by Collins for next week. Collins canceled his visit with the club scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. . . .
The St. Louis Rams excused quarterback Kurt Warner from this weekend's minicamp in anticipation of his release next month. The New York Giants have been the most public suitors of Warner, and Warner also has listed the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers among the teams interested in him. But some in the league think the Detroit Lions could be a contender despite their denials of interest. The Lions have one young quarterback (Joey Harrington) set to be their starter and have tried recently to trade another (Mike McMahon). . . .
Oakland signed free agent defensive end Bobby Hamilton, formerly of the Patriots. . . . The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently have all but given up on attempting to trade linebacker Jason Gildon and plan to release him after June 1. . . . Tennessee Titans General Manager Floyd Reese continues to negotiate a possible reworking of tailback Eddie George's contract with agent Lamont Smith. George could be released next month if the two sides can't restructure his contract.