It's unlikely 33-year-old Chad Pennington will return to Miami next season, because he's in the final year of his contract and faces an uncertain recovery from the third operation on his right shoulder since 2005.
Pennington said he'll meet Thursday with Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., who will likely perform the surgery Friday to repair a torn capsule that has ended his season. Pennington said he'll wait until he starts rehabilitation to decide whether to continue his career.
"I'm certainly not going to close the book on myself," he said. "As an athlete, you always feel like there's unfinished business."
Pennington joined the Dolphins last year, led them to the AFC East title and won NFL Comeback Player of the Year for the second time. But because of injuries, he has never started 10 games or more in consecutive seasons, and that trend will continue.
The latest injury was tough to absorb, he said.
"The first 48 hours, you're kind of numb to the situation. You're in shock, and it just doesn't seem real," he said. "I did feel like I was past some of that and had paid my dues to the football gods, but that's not the case."
In practice Wednesday, the Dolphins' new starting quarterback, Henne, held the ball to his ear, spotted his target 25 yards downfield and threw a tight spiral on a line that hit Ted Ginn Jr. in full stride over the middle.
One person applauded: head coach Tony Sparano. "That's it!" he shouted.
The Dolphins haven't given anyone much to cheer about lately, losing their first three games and Pennington.
"We do have to move on," Sparano said Wednesday. "It's Chad Henne's turn."
The Dolphins' shakeup at quarterback includes a newcomer. To shore up depth, they acquired third-year pro Tyler Thigpen from Kansas City on Tuesday for an undisclosed draft pick.
He took part in practice Wednesday.
"My head's been spinning a little bit," said Thigpen, who started 11 games for the Chiefs last year, but fell to third string this season. "Yesterday was kind of a shock for me. I didn't think anything was going to happen like this, but it's the nature of the business, and you've got to roll with it. I'm excited about the opportunity to come down here."
Thigpen joins rookie Pat White backing up Henne.
While the Dolphins will miss Pennington's experience and leadership, they have been sputtering on offense despite a strong running game, and rank 30th in the NFL in passing. Henne has been regarded as Pennington's heir apparent for more than a year, and the injury only accelerated the timetable for a switch.
"Everything is going through your mind," Henne said. "You have the nerves, the excitement, the emotions. You are the starting quarterback. You have to take this team over and give them confidence in yourself and show them you can get the job done."
It helps that he has a stronger arm than Pennington. In passing drills at the start of practice Wednesday, Henne threw the strike to Ginn, then connected again with the speedy receiver on a deep pattern.
That kind of completion has been missing from the Dolphins' offense for most of the past decade. Will the Bills see it Sunday with Henne and Ginn?
"If they give us the coverage to attack it, we'll hook up a couple of times," Henne said.
He came off the bench in the third quarter at San Diego and led the Dolphins to 10 points, completing 10 of 19 passes for 92 yards. Several times he missed an open receiver, and a poor decision led to an interception return for a score.
"For the most part I went to the right places with the ball," Henne said. "Obviously I didn't make some of the throws, but I thought I saw everything clearly."
Henne threw only 12 passes in his rookie year, and as Pennington's understudy he took only a quarter of the snaps in practice. The start will be his first since throwing for 373 yards for Michigan in the Capital One Bowl against Florida to conclude the 2007 season.
Sparano said he anticipates no changes in play-calling with a new quarterback, but he does expect the offense to be different.
"I don't want Chad Henne to be Chad Pennington out there on the field," Sparano said. "I'm looking for Chad to be his own man."