Commentary

Taylor, Dolphins remain miles apart

With Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano trying to establish a new identity in Miami, the new regime is having trouble reeling in Dolphins' franchise player Jason Taylor, writes Sal Paolantonio.

Originally Published: June 9, 2008
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN.com

DAVIE, Fla. -- It didn't take long for Tony Sparano to make his voice heard. It was a growl, really, like the bark of a gunny sergeant at boot camp, cutting through the heat and humidity of south Florida, making it perfectly clear that -- with or without Jason Taylor -- the Dolphins' defense was going to show up on every down.

"Run to the [expletive] ball!" screamed Sparano, chasing rookie running back Jalen Parmele, who had scooted through the left side of the Dolphins' front seven. The man who hired Sparano -- vice president of football operations Bill Parcells -- watched from the sideline, silently providing a pillar of authority for his rookie head coach.

"The message has been pretty clear from the first time I walked into the building," Sparano said later Friday. "I expect competition, and I expect competition at every position that is out on the field right now. And whether you are a veteran or a young player, you need to show me. I need to see it on the field."

Not on the field, however, was Taylor, the face of the franchise for most of the past decade. Taylor, who said he wanted to attend his brother's high school graduation and tend to a "legal matter," was an unexcused absence from the first full-squad mandatory minicamp of the Parcells-Sparano era. Before minicamp, he met with Sparano and Parcells separately. In both conversations, Taylor reiterated his desire to play one more season -- somewhere else.

At this point, whether that was a demand or a request isn't the point. Why? Now that Taylor has pronounced that he is a one-year rent-a-player, his value has diminished. In essence, he's made himself into Tiki Barber, proclaiming he's done before he's done. And who's going to part with a first- or second-round draft pick for that headache?

For Parcells, the Taylor saga has proved to be vexing. It was Parcells who asked for the meeting with Taylor. It was Sparano and Parcells who both said publicly they wanted Taylor back -- only after Sparano tried to take a more hard-line approach, announcing prematurely that there was no expectation that Taylor would be at the minicamp or training camp.

In short, no tactic has worked. The Dolphins tried a trade. But interest from the Bucs, Redskins, Eagles, Jaguars and Chargers didn't meet Parcells' demands, and since the draft, the market for Taylor has dried up. The Dolphins tried to push the issue on Taylor. No dice. Now, the head man and the head coach are saying, in effect, "We want you back - no matter what."

"Jason's doing things on his own terms and that's got to be driving everybody around here crazy," said one Miami player who asked not to be identified. "He is not used to that."

That "he" would be Parcells. For all his years in the NFL, Parcells has always wanted to be in a position to call all the shots. According to Parcells, Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga gave him that authority, saying, "Look Bill, I need help. I need some law and order."

But the new sheriff in town has had trouble lassoing his best player. And the constant updates about the team's disgruntled superstar have eclipsed everything else the new regime has tried to do. Now, the Taylor situation threatens to derail any short-term progress Parcells and Sparano have had in changing the culture of a once-proud franchise.

"Hopefully, everybody will put egos aside, and this will get resolved," said defensive end Vonnie Holliday, who speaks to Taylor daily. "I know Jason wants to play football this year."

But where?

"Well, I hope they don't do something crazy like trade him," said defensive tackle Jason Ferguson.

Sparano is no fool. Finishing 1-15 last season, the Dolphins were 30th in the league in points allowed. The run defense ranked last. And right now, Sparano's two best defensive players are linebacker Joey Porter, who turned 31 in March, and Holliday, who will turn 34 in December.

Without Taylor, new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who is installing a new 3-4 defense, must find a pass rush from somewhere else.

Pasqualoni said Taylor, who has the most sacks in the NFL in the past eight years (100.5 sacks), will have no problem in learning his assignment in the new defense. Taylor knows how to play right outside linebacker in a 3-4. Still, Pasqualoni said Taylor is missing critical time.

Sparano has put in place an extremely rigorous offseason training program.

"I haven't done some of this stuff since college," said Holliday. "We're in the sand pit every day, working on our small muscles, and then in the weight room lifting free weights, doing squats, dead lifts. It's been brutal. But I feel great. My knees used to bother me. They feel strong right now."

Second-year quarterback John Beck has added nearly 10 pounds of muscle, Sparano said. Porter is thicker and said he feels stronger.

"The one thing that jumped out at me about last year was that there were too many injured players," Sparano said. "They had 17 players on IR and one of the things that we had to have happen immediately was that our offseason strength and conditioning program needed to be a priority."

Taylor has missed all of it, and he will be 34 in September. But Taylor has started and played in 130 straight regular-season games -- the longest such streak in team history. Nevertheless, by doing it his way, Taylor is thumbing his nose at the new regime. If there is no trade and if Taylor returns, how will Parcells and Sparano be viewed in their own locker room?

Parcells said he's been through this before with another Taylor -- Lawrence. "He held out," Parcells told the Miami Herald. "You think I didn't have a knockdown and drag-outs with LT? But he's my guy. So maybe this guy will be our guy, too. You never know. I think he's a good player. Could we put him back on the team? Yeah. You think we don't want good players? We want good players."

But according to those with knowledge of his conversations with Parcells and Sparano, Taylor doesn't want to be Parcells' "guy." In fact, he has repeatedly asked for permission for his agent, Gary Wichard, to engineer a trade out of town. That request has been repeatedly rejected.

Parcells insisted he is not "actively" trying to unload Taylor. It's obvious why. Calling teams now would only eliminate whatever leverage Parcells might have left. "The best he's getting now is a fourth-rounder," said one NFC front office executive. "Taylor will be 34. He's making a boatload of money. He wants to play only one more year. Who's going to give up a first- or second-round pick for a player who won't be around in a year?"

Absent an unlikely trade, Parcells and Sparano have the expectation that Taylor will show at training camp, when the fines reach nearly $15,000 per day. Taylor is due to make $7.5 million this year. No one expects him to leave that on the table.

Right now, Sparano is focused on a problem bigger than Taylor -- quarterback. Beck is competing with veteran journeyman Josh McCown and rookie Chad Henne for the starting job. In the past nine years, the Dolphins have had 13 different starting quarterbacks, most in the league.

So, for now, Sparano said he is done trying to persuade Taylor to show. Is it up to Taylor to pick up the phone and make the next move?

"Yeah, I think so -- that is really the way I feel," said Sparano. "Jason knows exactly how I feel and how we feel as an organization. Right now, really it is in his hands."

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.