The End of the Millenium
Now that the SuperBore - er, Bowl - has ended, the 2000 NFL football season can now officially be declared over. Yes, I know that we still have the Pro-Bowl to suffer through, but that is really just a postscript to the last NFL season of the last millennium.
In reality, the season ends with the crowning of the SuperBowl champion.
And the crowning of this year's champion has left me with kind of a sour taste in my mouth. You see, I didn't find the game itself particularly interesting and neither participant impressed me as a complete football team.
Oh, sure, the Ravens have one of the best defenses ever, but their offense is barely competent. About the best you can say about their offense is that they didn't turn the ball over, although even that stat has an asterisk beside it. The Ravens fumbled twice and Trent Dilfer threw an interception that would have been a Giants' touchdown if it hadn't been nullified by a penalty.
As for the Giants - they looked like the least deserving SuperBowl team since the 95 Chargers. Yes, I know that's unfair to the Giants, who worked hard all year to get to Tampa, but they just didn't look like they belonged there yesterday.
And if the game wasn't bad enough, even the commercials were disappointing....
But the real SuperBowl disappointment for me was that the Dolphins (and probably half a dozen other AFC teams) could have beaten the Giants yesterday, if they had made it to the game.
And Miami was one of the few teams to beat the Ravens this year. Not only did the Dolphins beat the Ravens by the biggest margin of any team, but they out-muscled Baltimore and beat them at the line of scrimmage, something almost no one has done in two years.
There is a lesson to take away from the game yesterday, as well as from the season in general - mistakes kill. You still hear the pundits say that "speed kills", but that's not really true. Speed dominates, but it's mistakes that kill a good team - like the Dolphins.
Miami won the AFC Eastern Division this year and went farther than almost all of the so-called experts had predicted. But the truth is that the real story of Miami's season was ultimately about how many mistakes the team made each week.
And nowhere were those mistakes more evident than at the quarterback position.
At the beginning of the 2000 season, the biggest question mark about the Dolphins' roster was whether or not Jay Fiedler was the right man to lead the team as the starting quarterback. At the time, this was a understandable question given Fiedler's relative lack of experience and the recent retirement of Dan Marino.
At the end of the season, it is ironic that the questions about Jay Fiedler still remain unanswered, even though Miami won the AFC East and had its best record since 1992.
Personally, I think that Jay Fiedler did a fairly good job this year. He has shown good leadership, an unexpected athletic talent and flashes of good decision making ability. At one point in the season, he went 4 games without throwing an interception.
Not surprisingly, the Dolphins won all 4 of those games.
He has also shown perseverance in the face of adversity and a willingness to play through pain. All in all, he has shown almost all the qualities that top quarterbacks possess at one time or another.
Now he just has to do it consistently for most of the season.
Of course, he also had periods of dismal performance, mostly because of bad decision making. Obviously, his worst stretch came in the playoffs, where he threw 6 interceptions in 2 games against the Colts and the Raiders.
And his arm is not that strong, so his bad decisions are magnified. He can throw the ball deep, but he doesn't have much zip behind his throws and they often float.
So the book is still open on Jay Fiedler. If he can fix his decision making and consistently avoid the turnovers that plagued him this year, I believe that he can lead the offense effectively. And his decision making is something that should get better, especially for someone as smart as Fiedler.
He also has the benefit of one of the better offensive coordinators in the game - Chan Gailey. If Gailey can make Kordell Stewart look good, he should be able to fix Fiedler's problems.
But the fact that he should get better doesn't mean that he WILL get better - or that he will get better fast enough. In the era of free agency and the salary cap, it's very difficult to keep a team together for several years while waiting for your players to grow into their positions. Teams need players who can excel immediately in order to have a decent chance to win the big game.
And no matter how good he gets, he will almost certainly never be an elite quarterback in the NFL.
So, while Fiedler may be able to take Miami to the next level of competition, there are no guarantees. And since there no guarantees, Miami should be looking carefully at the available quarterbacks, both in the draft and in free agency, to see if they can sign one who would be better than Jay Fiedler.
News reports and interviews with Dave Wannestedt suggest that the Dolphins have already been doing their homework on the available quarterbacks. Wannestedt has publicly denied interest in most of the available free agents, leaving open only Brad Johnson of the Redskins, but that could be a cover-up or could change rapidly if the situation with any of these players changes.
Quarterbacks that might be available for Miami to try and get include Brian Griese, Troy Aikman, Trent Green, Gus Ferrotte and Trent Dilfer.
Of this list, the most provocative are Griese and Trent Green.
Aikman is not a possibility, because even if he doesn't return to Dallas, he does not get along with Chan Gailey and I can't imagine that Gailey would agree to signing that headache in Miami - no pun intended.
Gus Ferrotte and Trent Dilfer have not shown any more ability than Jay Fiedler this season and both would cost more than Fiedler, so it doesn't make much sense to bring either player on board.
Brian Griese is an exciting possibility, but there is almost no chance that he will sign anywhere but Denver. Griese is a restricted free agent and that means that Denver can match any offer that any team makes to him and keep him in Colorado.
While Griese might like to play in Miami, Denver head coach Mike Shanahan would have to be a fool to let the top-rated passer in the NFL this year get away from him - and Mike Shanahan is not a fool. Also, Denver appears to have the cap space to match any reasonable offer and Miami doesn't have the money to make Griese an outrageous offer, unless they want to forget signing all of their other free agents.
So, as thrilling as it would be to see another Griese in aqua and orange this coming season (would they un-retire #12 to let him wear it? I don't think Dad would mind...), I think there's a greater chance that George W. Bush will nominate Hillary Clinton for Attorney General than the Broncos will let Griese go.
That leaves Brad Johnson and Trent Green as possible candidates. Let's come back to Green in a minute and talk about Johnson first.
Brad Johnson is an unrestricted free agent, but there are several significant obstacles to signing him. First (and foremost), the Ravens want a new quarterback and Johnson may be their first choice. While the Ravens haven't given out any hints yet (other than being only luke-warm about signing Dilfer back), there are many reasons to think that Brian Billick might want Johnson.
Johnson developed his skills in Minnesota while playing for Brian Billick, who was the Vikings' offensive coordinator at that time. Billick put together an excellent offense in Minnesota with Johnson at the helm and knows that his team needs a better quarterback if they are to continue their success.
From Johnson's perspective, there is a good chance that Johnson will want to go back to work for the coach who made him a starter in the first place. Not to mention that the opportunity to start at quarterback for the SuperBowl champions will be a powerful inducement.
And if all that isn't enough, there's the fact that Johnson already lives in the Washington area, so he might not even have to move to play for Baltimore.
But even if Baltimore passes on Johnson, Norv Turner out in San Diego may be looking for a new quarterback and he also likes Johnson. The Chargers definitely need a new quarterback and Turner could be a strong lure to Brad Johnson to venture west.
So that kind of leaves the Dolphins a distant third on the list of teams who would be interested in Brad Johnson, unless there is come connection to South Florida or the Dolphins that I'm unaware of.
And that pretty much sums up the available free agent quarterbacks that the Dolphins might be interested in. There are others available, but none of them are definitely better than Jay Fiedler and the Dolphins would probably rather spend their time and energy trying to fix Fiedler's problems than to bring in a new guy, who would need time to learn the system before anyone would know if he could be as good as Fiedler.
Outside of the draft, there is only one other reasonable possibility the Dolphins could explore to get a new quarterback - they could trade for Trent Green.
This past season, Green was the 2nd rated passer in the NFL, even ahead of his teammate, Kurt Warner. In the 5 games he started, he threw 12 TDs and 4 INTs, despite being sacked an average of 4.2 times per game. He never threw more than one pick in any one game.
As far as I know, there haven't been any rumors about this possibility, but from my perspective, it makes enormous sense. The Rams were painfully weak on defense this past season and they are starting Ray Agnew at left defensive tackle, a permanent journeyman who is now playing with his fourth NFL team.
Coincidentally, the Dolphins are rumored to have been shopping Tim Bowens for a trade. The actual rumor speculates that the Dolphins are offering Bowens to Seattle for a first round pick, but a Bowens-for-Trent-Green trade might make more sense for Miami. The Rams get some serious power for their defensive line and the Dolphins get a terrific prospect at quarterback.
And Miami could live without Tim Bowens. Jermaine Haley had a very strong year for a rookie and Damien Gregory showed enormous potential before being hurt. Kenny Mixon can also rotate inside to help with the pass rush, since Trace Armstrong replaces him outside on obvious passing downs anyway.
Plus, the Dolphins would really like to reduce Bowens' 6.5 million dollar hit on the salary cap in 2001. He may decide to become a free agent, but if he doesn't, he'll end up counting almost 10 percent of the available salary cap. I like Tim Bowens, but he's not 10 percent of the team.
All in all, it's a trade I'd love to see Miami make. I doubt that it will actually take place, but of all the possibilities that the Dolphins have to upgrade the quarterback position, this is the one that excites me the most.
As I said, I have no knowledge that would lead me to believe that the Dolphins are even thinking about such a trade, just my own feeling that this trade would make a lot of sense to both teams.
The free agent period starts late this year, not until March, so we'll have to wait a while to see what - if anything - the Dolphins do for their quarterback situation. It should be another interesting off-season for Miami, as they try to sign their most important free agents and pick up some players to fill the holes they have.
Remember, though - no matter what the Dolphins do this spring, you can be sure that it will be...
... On Porpoise.