Richie Incognito set to leave Miami but what next for the rest of the Dolphins?
The Miami Dolphins organisation has a week left to endure until troubled and troublesome offensive lineman Richie Incognito is no longer its concern.
The controversial left guard, pegged as a “ringleader” in and trashed the club’s once-sparkling global reputation, becomes an unrestricted free agent on March 11.
There is zero possibility that the Dolphins will bring back Incognito, who checked himself into a mental health facility, seeking help after .
Unfortunately for Fins owner Stephen Ross, Incognito’s impending departure is unlikely to mark the end of this dark period in the Dolphins’ history.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill last week said:
“I think it’s behind us at this point. It’s out now, we’ve had the consequences, the repercussions and now we can put it in the past and move forward.”
That prognosis is optimistic at best.
A pair of coaching firings aside, an awful lot remains unresolved in Miami after that caused Incognito’s teammate Jonathan Martin to twice consider suicide before leaving the team mid-way through the season to seek psychological help.
More than a fortnight removed from the damaging findings (which also revealed another player and trainer as victims), both the Dolphins and the NFL are yet to play their hand. Despite what Tannehill says, the real repercussions are yet to be felt.
While Incognito is off the Dolphins’ books in a week, along with alleged wingman John Jerry, the third perpetrator identified by the report, Mike Pouncey, remains under contract. More importantly, so is the victim, Jon Martin.
Twenty-three-year-old Martin wishes to continue his career in the NFL, but sees his future away from Miami, . Some of his teammates and coaches, still convinced his camp blew the situation out of proportion, are also reportedly less than keen to welcome him back.
Ross and new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey are on record claiming they ‘want to have a conversation’ with Martin, but right now the potential legal ramifications of opening a dialogue ties both sides’ hands.
The solution could well come in a courtroom, assigned with the task of determining how the outstanding numbers on a $4,784,267 deal which has two years left to run, will be handled. The likelihood is a monetary settlement that allows Martin to pursue a career elsewhere, but an ugly, lengthy lawsuit remains a distinct possibility.
For Pouncey – part of an offensive line whose collective on-field displays were arguably worse than their off-field activities – the future is also uncertain.
The Dolphins are expected to exercise the option to pick up the fifth year of Pouncey’s rookie deal in 2014 (which will pay him $1.6m), rather than offer him a lucrative long-term extension. His role in the scandal may have cost him a small fortune.
Despite with the highly-rated Pouncey, it’s possible the ‘Fins center will side-lined for a significant period of the forthcoming season, once the NFL deals out its expected punishments.
Like , this situation is unprecedented. It is entirely possible the NFL will seek to enforce a swift, reputation-salvaging culture change by handing down similarly severe penalties.
While punishments for players are pending, on the coaching side of things, at least, some changes have been made in Miami
Offensive Line coach Jim Turner was fired in the immediate aftermath of the report, which found he was not only aware of Martin’s treatment, but also failed to act upon it. He also forcefully pressured Martin to “do the right thing” and publicly clear Incognito’s name in text messages sent as the story snowballed in the national media. Considering the 2013 Dolphins allowed a franchise-record 58 sacks while negatively contributing to the team’s non-existent running game, Turner’s job was by no means secure, but his firing remains significant.
Kevin O’Neill, a long-time head athletics trainer with the Dolphins, was also fired amid the report’s revelation he “allegedly laughed at some of the racial insults” and at times joined in with the harassment.
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman and General Manager Jeff Ireland are also gone from Miami but those decisions were announced long before the Wells report hit and were primarily performance-based.
The biggest survivor is Dolphins Head Coach Joe Philbin, who will return for a third season, despite missing the play-offs two years in a row. He is now charged with affecting the change in the locker room and creating a positive environment akin to the personal virtues he has preached since arriving in Miami in 2011.
“We are going to do things about it,” he told reporters at the recent scouting combine. “We are going to make it better. We are going to look at every avenue. We are going to uncover every stone, and we are going to have a better workplace. I’m going to make sure that happens.”
However, despite the Wells report praising Philbin for promoting “integrity and accountability” within the organisation, his ability to affect that promised change is under the spotlight.
Wells was convinced Philbin would have acted has he known about the misconduct. Some might express surprise that the coach was unaware of what was going on. It was also Philbin who promoted Incognito to the team’s five man ‘leadership council.’ Now it is his own leadership qualities that are being called into question.
Philbin’s new GM Dennis Hickey (who, incidentally, doesn’t have the power to fire the coach) echoed the sentiments: “We want our organization to be a culture of respect,” he said. “We take this seriously and we want to set the standard around the league.”
For all of the talk from the Dolphins’ top brass, exactly what the change entails is still entirely unclear.
The organisation has been on a massive PR offensive since the publishing of the Wells report. Owner Stephen Ross recently released a statement claiming – would be welcomed by the organisation.
However, given that the word “faggot” appeared 10 times in Ted Wells’ report, it’s unlikely the young defensive end – projected to be a ‘mid-round’ pick - is crossing his fingers in the hope of being selected by Miami, despite Ross’ assurances.
Ross has also worked with New York University to create bi-partisan legislature on anti-bullying measures that will aim to combat the issue from High School level, all the way up to professional locker rooms. That bill was put to Florida lawmakers at the end of February.
“When you see something like this happen it really tells you what your principles are and how you can impact something,” he said. “We must work together towards a culture of civility and mutual respect for one another… We will use this opportunity to make a positive change.”
On a larger scale, perhaps aware the situation in Miami could be the norm rather than an anomaly, the NFL is likely to introduce an all-encompassing code of conduct for players. Surprisingly, considering its athletes’ regular brushes with the law, the League doesn’t have one.
Meetings with League commissioner Roger Goodell are scheduled for early and late March. In the meantime, . This month’s meetings may also when the scale of the punishments levied on the Dolphins is revealed. With the NFL’s first openly gay player about to join the workplace environment, the League stands on the precipice of a new era, where a culture of respect won’t just be promoted, but will be strictly enforced.