By Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports
November 16, 2007
He is the general manager of the NFL's only remaining winless team, but one thing Randy Mueller hasn't lost is his sense of humor. Explaining the team's decision to name rookie John Beck as the Miami Dolphins' starting quarterback for Sunday's road game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Mueller acknowledged that the second-round draft pick from BYU might not be completely ready for the madness that awaits him at Lincoln Financial Field.
"With a young quarterback, you try to err on the side of caution as much as you can," Mueller said Wednesday from Boise, Idaho, where he was enjoying a temporary respite from the Land of the Lost. "But let's face it – we're 0-9. It's not like we're protecting a 59 and we just need a par on 18."
If you think about it, there isn't all that much pressure on Beck, the quarterback who last April compelled Mueller and first-year coach Cam Cameron to pass on Brady Quinn in the NFL draft and incur the wrath of their aghast fan base, not to mention some players and a nation of draftniks.
In replacing Cleo Lemon, who replaced the injured Trent Green, all Beck has to do is help prevent the Dolphins from joining the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only teams to go winless throughout an entire NFL season. Oh, and provide some hope for the future, all while keeping his teammates from checking out and smarmy TV commentators and sportswriters from insufferably fixating on newly reinstated halfback Ricky Williams' pot-smoking past.
Other than that, Beck's life is stress-free.
The worst thing that has happened to the Dolphins in '07 was the Rams' stunning victory over the Saints last Sunday. In skyrocketing to 1-8, St. Louis left Miami as exposed as Eugene Robinson on Biscayne Boulevard the night before Super Bowl XXXIII. That the Dolphins simultaneously blew a 10-2 fourth-quarter lead on the Buffalo Bills didn't help matters.
Then, on Wednesday, Miami became the NFL's biggest newsmaker – first because of Beck's promotion, and later after the league announced that Williams had been cleared to return after an 18-month suspension for violating its substance-abuse policy.
Suddenly, the football world is watching – or at least slightly paying attention – as the Dolphins attempt to avoid eternal ignominy by beating at least one of their remaining opponents (at Eagles, at Steelers, Jets, at Bills, Ravens, at Patriots, at Bengals).
The scary thing is, this gutted franchise is faced with a challenge far more daunting than winning a football game.
As my former colleague Peter King pointed out so comprehensively last month, Miami's mess was of its own making, especially on draft days. From 1998-2003, the Dolphins selected 46 players and traded for 10 others. Exactly none of them is on the team's active roster; that will change only when Williams, who has a two-week exemption, gets back onto the field.
Mueller, who as the Saints' general manager traded Williams to Miami in 2002, didn't join the Dolphins' front office until June of '05, and during his first 17 months on the job he (like everyone else) had to yield to the all-knowing authority of coach Nick Saban. In the winter, after Saban slithered off to Alabama and Miami owner Wayne Huizenga had already chosen Cameron as his successor, Mueller finally was granted some semblance of power. Almost immediately, he started getting grief from a frustrated fan base.
From the free-agent signing of ex-Steelers linebacker Joey Porter (for a reported five years, $32 million) to the re-signing of veteran defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday (for a reported four years, $20 million) to the selection of former Ohio State wideout/kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth overall pick (instead of Quinn, the popular choice), Mueller's moves have been cited by critics as reasons for the team's failings. Porter hurt his knee and then struggled to adjust to a defense that didn't deploy him properly before coming on in recent weeks, Holliday has been hobbled by an ankle injury that kept him out virtually all of October, and Ginn has yet to make a significant impact on offense or special teams.
Yet blaming Mueller for Miami's miserable season is like calling out Katie Couric for the demise of the network newscast. Thus, though a 0-16 disaster (or close) would seem to spell possible doom for Mueller, Cameron or both, the GM believes Huizenga is committed to staying the course.
"We've only had the wheel for six months," Mueller said. "It's not like we can undo six years in six months, and people understand that. We spend a lot of time with (Huizenga), and he's fine. He understands that this should have happened a few years ago."
Partly for that reason, Huizenga seems to be on board with Cameron's decision to play Beck, a 26-year-old married father who went on a two-year Mormon mission in Portugal from 2000-02. If nothing else, the owner is as curious as everyone else who cares about the Dolphins to see if the rookie can help revive this flat-lined franchise. As Mueller said, "We're all fans, to a point. We all want to see what John can do."
As for Williams, all that talk about the chilly reception awaiting him for having let down his teammates faded as harsh reality sunk in and the Dolphins' players considered the potential benefits of his return. To you, Williams may be a punch line; surely, he is the sports world's most lampooned stoner in recent memory. But to veterans like the unfailingly blunt Porter, one of the team leaders consulted by Cameron before the coach greenlighted the halfback's return, Williams simply is a rugged runner with fresh legs.
Asked by reporters Wednesday if he'd welcome Williams back, Porter responded, as only he can, "Yeah, I would. We're 0-9. I'd welcome (Osama) bin Laden if he could run the ball like Ricky did."
Perhaps Williams and Beck will conspire to stir the Fins from their season-long slumber and let teams like the Rams, Jets, Raiders and 49ers (er, Patriots – thanks, Mike Nolan, for that absurdly generous Joe Staley trade) back into the race for the No. 1 overall pick in '08.
In the meantime, there's no shortage of self-appointed personnel gurus willing to tell Mueller how to escape the Land of the Lost. "We've heard it all, believe me," Mueller said. "I was on a car rental bus in Cleveland, and the driver said, 'You're playing Ted Ginn out of position. He should be a defensive back.' I just laughed; you just have to grin and bear it."
Rest assured, the GM would trade that grin for a win in a Miami minute.
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