The big question in South Florida these days isn’t whether Bill Parcells can resurrect yet another dead NFL franchise or whether rookie offensive tackle Jake Long can live up to his status as the No. 1 overall pick. Nor is it which young passer, John Beck or Chad Henne, will quarterback the 2008 Dolphins, a franchise-worst 1-15 in 2007.
No, all eyes in Miami are on the war of wills between longtime prince of the city Jason Taylor and Parcells, his new boss. Taylor, the six-time Pro Bowl defensive end, has ticked off the Hall of Fame-bound team builder by skipping the entire offseason program.
Relations between Taylor, who spent the spring competing on “Dancing With the Stars,” and Parcells’ minions were so rocky that first-year coach Tony Sparano declared two weeks ago that his star wouldn’t attend training camp next month while declining to comment whether a trade or a release of the 34-year-old would be next.
That came as news to Taylor, who met with Sparano on May 29. Taylor talked again to the coach and general manager Jeff Ireland, another Parcells protege from Dallas, at his fundraising gala in South Florida last weekend. But it remains unclear whether Taylor will wear a Miami uniform again. Sparano said Wednesday that although the Dolphins want Taylor to remain, they still don’t expect him for training camp.
“I love Miami,” said Taylor, who has two years left on his contract. “I never said, ‘Trade me or I’m going to boycott.’ I told the Dolphins from Day 1 that if it was in [their] best interest that I would be fine with a trade. There are things I cleared up with Tony. He knows where I stand and what I plan to do. I’m playing ball in ‘08.”
If that’s not for Miami, not only will the Dolphins not have a player who has suited up for them in a playoff game, only six will remain who started a game during their last winning season in 2005. If Parcells can put up with oddball running back Ricky Williams, surely there’s room for Taylor, named the NFL’s 2007 Man of the Year for his community service. Plus, Taylor had 11 sacks last season and is second among active players, while former star Williams’ comeback from his drug suspension in 2006 lasted all of one game, six carries and 15 yards before he succumbed to a torn pectoral muscle.
But then Parcells, the king of NFL reclamation projects, began his latest renewal by cutting middle linebacker Zach Thomas because the seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was limited to five games in 2007 by career-threatening migraines.
While Parcells’ methods can be debated, his results can’t. He has made the playoffs by his second season everywhere he has been. He guided the New York Giants to a win in Super Bowl XXI in his fourth season as coach. Parcells led New England Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI after four years at the helm, and two years later he steered the New York Jets to their first AFC Championship game in 16 seasons. All those teams, as well as the Cowboys, were in significant playoff droughts when he arrived, so Miami’s six years out of the postseason after nearly four decades of consistent contention are old hat for the 66-year-old.
But it’s hard to see the 2008 Dolphins - who didn’t add a top-shelf free agent - having the right ingredients to win even if Beck or Henne proves a solid starter. Running back Ronnie Brown, the second pick in the 2005 draft, has missed 13 of 48 career games with injuries. The only Pro Bowl players on the roster are Williams and outside linebacker Joey Porter, both 31, and only four of their assistant coaches have ever contributed to a playoff victory.