On Tuesday, March 3, 2009, Jeff Ireland and Bill Parcells made the first blatantly questionable personnel move during their tenure as leaders of this franchise by handing over a five-year, $29.5 million contract to Jake Grove.
Sure, the Ernest Wilford signing looks like a huge debacle right about now, and the Boomer Grigsby acquisition was a failure, and it looks like the team may have botched the whole "trade up in the draft to take Shawn Murphy" thing, but those moves were at least logically defendable at the time they were made.
Giving Jake Grove $14 million in guaranteed money to become the Dolphins' new starting center, however, is not.
Let us count the ways in which Grove is inferior to the man he is replacing:
Jake Grove is 29 years old. Samson Satele is 24 years old.
Now, 29 is certainly not over the hill, but at that age, you're past the point of being a young prospect - what you see is what you get, at least until you reach the age of diminishing returns. In general, there is no magic discovery of some untapped wellspring of ability for players pushing 30. If they had any promise, they would have shown it by now. Unfortunately, as we will see, Grove has shown nothing worthwhile in his five seasons.
Samson Satele, on the other hand, is a mere two years into his NFL career, and has plenty of good developmental years ahead of him. He started off very strong in his rookie campaign only to see his play decline in his sophomore outing. Unlike Grove, however, Samson is still at the stage where he can be expected to overcome a down season and continue growing as a player.
Health is a skill, just like throwing accurate passes and catching a football are. Some players are simply better are staying healthy than others, and this becomes obvious over time.
Jake Grove is not a healthy player. He appeared in 54 games for the Raiders from 2004-2008, out of a possible 80 games (67.5%). He only started 46 of those games (57.5%). He has only played a full season once in his career. There is no reason to expect that to change now.
Satele, on the other hand, is a perfect 33 for 33, having appeared in and started every single game of his career. In fact, after this past season, it came to light that he had played much of 2008 with a torn labrum in his shoulder - a pretty important injury for a center - yet he played through it. Isn't that the type of player Parcells supposedly clamors for? So for all the vague and hazy talk about how gritty and tough Grove is, it certainly doesn't show on the attendance sheet.
Every dollar spent on a player comes with an opportunity cost in that there is then one less dollar to spend somewhere else on the roster. So it makes sense to think that shelling out a guaranteed $14 million to a guy is going to substantially upgrade that position. I mean, it better right?
Well, setting aside the question of whether signing Grove actually does solve anything (it doesn't), let's compare how much each player is costing this team.
Jake Grove will cost the team at least $14 million, and is signed for five years. His contract is scheduled to pay him an average of $5.9 million each season for its duration.
Samson Satele is practically free in comparison. He is what baseball fans would call cost-controlled. In other words, he is still on his rookie contract which was determined largely by draft order and which pays him relatively little, and thus the return on the investment is far greater. Satele is under contract for two more seasons and over that time is scheduled to make a little over $1 million.
Is Jake Grove that exponentially better than Satele, so much as 14 times better? (I can't believe I just asked such a ridiculously absurd question.)
To put it simply, Jake Grove's contract will become, if it isn't already, an albatross for this team (in fact, I think Albatross or Millstone might become my nickname for Grove). Even if you think Grove is an upgrade over Satele, there is no way to justify paying him that much more. And if you think Grove is a downgrade from Satele, well...then it just makes you sad to think how much money this team just threw down the drain.
To make matters worse, I doubt there was a huge market for Grove's services. I'm sure if the Dolphins waited they could have gotten him cheaper.
Ah, performance, the thing that matters above all else.
As always, let's look to the Football Outsider stats to see what they show. Judging by the contract Grove received, you'd expect him to be a dominant player, particularly in run blocking, since that is the perceived area of weakness in Satele's game.
Satele, surprisingly, actually statistically improved in the running game this season. Again, he did this while playing with a torn labrum in his shoulder for much of the season. If he statistically improved under those conditions, why the heck would you not want to see how much more he can improve in year three with a clean bill of health?
Now look at Grove, who is supposedly some fierce warrior of a player who dominates the run game. Ha, that's quite the myth isn't it?
Grove has never ranked better than 16th in ALY, and the two seasons in which he started at least 12 games he finished 28th and 30th in the NFL. In fact, the one season in which he did manage to start every game (2006) was probably his worst season. He is a terrible run-blocker, and yet he is supposed to magically upgrade Miami's offensive line? Oh yeah, and he'll be transitioning from a zone-blocking scheme back to a conventional man block system. Well, it doesn't really matter since he sucks at both. He played zone in 2008 and man before that, so he's proven to be equally inept at both.
Look, I can only say Jake Grove sucks in so many ways. So let me recruit some help. This quote comes from Pro Football Prospectus' 2008 season preview for the Raiders' offensive line:
"The Raiders are still on the road back from the nightmare of 2006, one of the worst offensive line performances in NFL history. That line ruined careers...If injuries strike the line, they could return to the nightmare of 2006, which features names such as Jake Grove and Paul McQuistan."
Suffice it to say, the nightmare returned in Oakland, and Grove certainly played his part.
To top everything off with a big crappy cherry, Grove has the dubious distinction of being named to Scramble for the Ball's All-Keep Choppin' Wood team for the 2008 season. The All-KCW team sets out to pick the very worst players at each position for the season. And guess who "won" the center award? Here's what they had to say about Grove:
"Penalty and sack numbers for centers all look pretty similar. Grove's three penalties and 2.5 sacks allowed don't really jump out at you -- until you realize he started only 12 games. The Raiders were also 30th in rushing up the middle."
It's always great when you switch out a promising youngster for one of the worst players at his position.
By now you all get my point that this was a horrible decision by Ireland and Parcells. There simply is no other way to slice it. There is no area in which Jake Grove is a better player than Samson Satele. Satele is younger, healthier, costs much less, and is statistically better.
I'm sick of hearing people trying to defend this move, and every other move this team makes, by parroting some garbage about how because Parcells decided it, it must be right. Yeah, because Bill Parcells has never made a bad decision in his life. If I recall, the Dolphins still face the decision of losing money just to cut ties with Ernest Wilford.
I'll be the first to agree that Parcells has set this franchise on the right course, and most of his moves look great right now. But as fans, we don't have to, and shouldn't, stop critically assessing every move the team makes and simply submit to the Higher Power that is Parcells.
People make mistakes. Parcells and Ireland already have. They will make more. You are no less of a fan if you openly choose to disagree with a move they make. That doesn't make you an idiot for doing so. People need to stop apologizing for (gasp!) even suggesting that the wrong decisions were made. Why are we tiptoeing around, trying to convince ourselves that every move is a great one, when one comes along like this one and it is clearly not a great move? You don't need to call every critical idea a "just stirring the pot" comment. If the proof is staring you in the face and telling you otherwise, then stand up behind your conviction that the Almighty Parcells made a goof.
That's what I'm doing right now. And hopefully more of you will too.
(P.S. Enough with the Jake Grove scouting reports from his draft. He's 29 years old now. That no longer applies. His "mean streak" clearly never carried over into real NFL production.)