Without a doubt, this has been the worst decade on record for one of the winning-est franchises in league history. It started with Jimmy Johnson retiring and Dan Marino following suit not long after. Then it went down hill from there. The Dolphins have had (count 'em) one, two, three, six head coaches in the last ten years (yes, Jim Bates counts), two owners, and more starting quarterbacks than the Colts, Patriots, Packers, Eagles, and Titans combined.
But that doesn't mean there haven't been a few stand-out stars--the few who've made even a painful stretch watchable. It wasn't easy (surprisingly?), but we put together a list of the top five Miami Dolphins of the decade.
First a bit about who isn't on the list. You definitely won't be seeing names like Fiedler, Lucas, Harrington, Culpepper, or Saban, or anyone who owns dogs who've ever killed a horse (or been shot in the ass).
Sadly, we also had to leave out names like Bill Parcells, whose presence immediately curbed the darkest period in Dolphin history; Greg Camarillo, whose overtime touchdown against the Ravens in 2007 gave the team its only victory that year; Jake Long, who not only cut the Phins a deal to become the top draft pick, but has rewarded owners and fans alike with great play and two Pro-Bowl selections; or Chad Pennington, who came out of nowhere to lead the team from the worst record in the league to the playoffs in a single season (but as quickly as he came, he disappeared onto injured reserve and potential retirement).
So argue if you will, but here are the top five Dolphins of the decade:
Welker isn't on this list for what he did in his three seasons in Miami, though he still holds most Dolphins return records and he is still only the second player in history to return a kickoff and a punt, kick an extra point and a field goal, and record a tackle in the same game. No, he's here more as a symbol of what could have been this decade. He signed with Miami as a rookie free agent after being waived by the Chargers. The Dolphins traded him to division-rival New England for a second- and a seventh-round draft pick. Since then, he's lead the league in receptions, including 11 in Super Bowl XLII. The picks the Dolphins got turned into Samson Satele (no longer in Miami) and Abraham Wright (no longer in the league).
Like Welker, Zach Thomas was also a product of Texas Tech. Unlike Welker, Thomas played his best years as a Dolphin. In his career, he had over 1,700 tackles--more than any player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame--and he went to the Pro-Bowl seven times--the most of any defensive player in team history. Thomas was the anchor of the tough defense that brought success in the late 90s and first two years of this decade. His talent was wasted for the next five years, and eventually age and injuries caught up to him. The Dolphins waived him on Valentine's Day, 2008.
Before the smoothies (smoothiez?), before the Dancing, before the short stint in the nation's capital, Jason Taylor was probably the best defensive end in football over the last decade. He's tall, lean, quick, and ruthless in his assault of opposing quarterbacks (and retired teammates). It's a shame to think of how good the Dolphins should have been for all those years with Taylor and Thomas on defense. Now though, Taylor seems to practicing for his days in the booth more than he's practicing making the playoffs.
When the Dolphins took Ronnie Brown with the second pick in the 2005 draft, most experts thought maybe Miami was reaching. Brown hadn't even been the best running back on his own team in college (backing up Carnell Williams, who went to Tampa Bay three picks later). But since coming to the Dolphins, he's led the team in rushing yards, touchdowns, and amazing surprise pass plays. When Tony Sparano came to town, he made Brown the pivot point in his Wildcat offense--and an even bigger nightmare for defensive coordinators across the league. Now if only Brown could stay healthy for two full years in a row...
Sure he's had his problems, his retirements, his treks through Australia, his stint in the Canadian league. He's been the butt of jokes spewed by commentators, comedians, and, most famously, Jason Taylor. But he's still here, and he's still the rock at the center of the Dolphins offense. And even if he wasn't the most interesting, most thought-provoking, most counter-intuitive athlete of this generation (and he is all those things), he would still be one of the best running backs in the league over the last ten years. In addition to leading the league in rushing one year and being the other half of why the Wildcat is rewriting NFL playbooks, Williams has been the most consistent offensive threat this team has had this decade.