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A Dolphins problem named Suh

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The Sports Xchange

He may not have been the first to say it, but he was the first to say it to me, so let’s give the late George Young, former general manager of the Giants, the credit for this line.

“Anytime you think you’re one player away,” Young said, “you’re not.”

In other words, don’t mortgage the franchise for one guy. Don’t overpay for one guy. Don’t wreck the locker room for one guy. Don’t draw to an inside straight.

Young once worked for the Miami Dolphins, which makes his reminder timely since the Dolphins are off to a 1-3 start, they just fired their coach, and their headline free agent signing, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, $114 million contract and all, has been worthless.

Suh hasn’t earned his money this year either on or off the field.

On the field, he doesn’t have a single sack in four games, and no, that’s not because he’s tying up blockers so others can get to the quarterback. As a team, the Dolphins have one sack. The league average is eight and a half.

And off the field, he is such a terrific leader and standup guy that he made a mockery of his post-game interview session after the Dolphins’ latest defeat by responding to questions with a two-word brushoff, “Next question.”

There are, of course, exceptions to any rule. The Denver Broncos probably have been getting their money’s worth out of Peyton Manning the last few years, but with Manning you knew what you were getting. Suh, on the other hand, was a really good player at times for Detroit, but with a history of abhorrent behavior, fined at least eight times for more than $300,000 by the league.

You might note that most of the teams which have maintained a reasonable level of success for any length of time — the Patriots now, the Cowboys in the ‘90s, the 49ers in the ’80, the Steelers seemingly forever — never put all their eggs in one basket.

With Ozzie Newsome as general manager, the Baltimore Ravens have maintained a consistent contender for years not only by avoiding the crazy free agent signings, but letting their own players leave when the price became too high for them. Their m.o. of infusing a steady stream of talent through compensatory draft picks for lost free agents has been a study in how to keep a roster strong without going nuts for players.

Yeah, you have to have players. But on these teams which have been competing in the upper echelon of the league for years, no one player ever was allowed to become bigger or more important than the team, and these teams never chased the supposed can’t miss free agent as the missing piece.

Now, you could say the Green Bay Packers did that in the ‘90s with the late Reggie White,. and to an extent that is true. But that was after they already had Brett Favre in place at quarterback, and signing White was a no-risk move as far as personality was concerned. Further, because of Green Bay’s unique geographic situation in a small Wisconsin town, White was viewed by the Packers as a sort-of Pied Piper who would prove that black players could thrive in an atmosphere many were concerned about.

Building methodically and patiently and smart, and understanding there will be bumps along the road can be boring and difficult to stomach, especially for owners who lack patience. But the Steeler stuck with Bill Cowher through three straight non-playoff years and eventually were rewarded. The Patriots hired a coach, Bill Belichick, who most people in the NFL thought a dunce at the time.

The Cowboys built their dynasty a couple of decades ago thanks to the slew of draft choices they got from Minnesota in the Herschel Walker deal. One player away? The Vikings did not win a playoff game until six years after Walker was gone from them.

Having tasted success once, Dallas boss Jerry Jones thought he could do it again, quickly, and found it wasn’t that easy. In recent times, Jones seems finally to have come to understand you can’t build a champion on quicksand, and has become more patient and rational in his contract dealings. Unfortunately for him, however, things happen — like the injuries this year to Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.

Miami owner Stephen Ross tried to make a big splash five years ago by going after Jim Harbaugh to coach the Dolphins. He might have had a better shot of it if he didn’t already have a coach at the time, however, so Harbaugh went to the 49ers, instead. So now, Ross will be looking for another coach after the season. He’ll have to hope that Suh does not become the millstone that brings down the next coach.

–Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than four decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.


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