There are only 2 things that are clear to me about the future of this franchise, at the moment:
- Dan Henning has to go. I actually predicted somewhere around here that this team could take a step back this year because of all the churn, especially along the offensive line. But what I'm seeing on offense isn't a step back; it's a disorganized retreat.
- Mike Nolan has to stay. While the offense has been coming apart like a used Kleenex, Nolan has been welding the defense together into one of the best units in football. The man clearly knows what he's doing, and he's an excellent fit for our personnel (which is nice, since we spent the last 3 years assembling it).
Everything else? I'm fuzzy about that, but here's some sketchy thoughts.
Sadly, Tony Sparano does not look like he's got what it takes to be an NFL head coach. He's a master sergeant, not an admiral. He's great at getting the troops trained and pumped up for a fight -- and they love him for it -- but he's not so good at setting overall direction and keeping all the pieces moving as one.
The thing is, I don't love any of the replacements I've heard discussed, either. There's a lot to like about Bill Cowher -- more than anything else, I like the idea of him bringing the mentality of the Steelers' organization to the Dolphins -- but I don't see any way in the world he's not going to meddle with the defense, and that's one too many cooks in the kitchen. The same goes for Tony Dungy.
Jon Gruden might be a nice replacement at OC -- something he wouldn't do, of course -- but I'm not much of a believer in him as a HC. Likewise for Billick. I don't know enough about Harbaugh to have an opinion.
As for the QB position . . . I just got no idea. It seems clear Chad Henne is not going to be an elite QB. The hope would be he could be a game manager on a predominantly running team, who also just happens to have a big enough arm to wing it down the field when needed. Right now, though, the game is just too fast for him; he can't read defenses, and he's completely abysmal under pressure. He's also not an on-field leader.
It's hard to squint your eyes enough to see a game-manager QB in that skill set.
Is this the year to mortgage a sizable chunk of the franchise on a top draftee, then? Not sure. Andrew Luck looks like the only real high-percentage bet in the draft. Ryan Mallet has a ton of physical talent, but he's very uneven. Maybe a pro coach can get his mechanics consistent and fix that; maybe not. My gut says Jake Locker's a bust, but I couldn't say why. Cam Newton? Is he Michael Vick, or JaMarcus Russell? No idea.
What about the vets? Carson Palmer hasn't been right since his injury, and I don't see that changing at his age. Kyle Orton has bits and pieces of a good QB, but not enough of them. Dononvan McNabb is crazy talented, but old, expensive, and an absolute magnet for drama. Matt Hasselbeck would be signing an old QB who can't quite get it done to replace a young QB who can't quite get it done. Might as well stick with youth.
So, as unsatisfying as it is -- and it's very unsatisfying -- I think I'd stand pat at the HC and QB positions this year. Bring in a youngster from the middle rounds, since we're going to need another QB just to fill out the roster, but that's about it. Sure, ask around and see if you've got a chance of getting Luck w/o bankrupting yourself at every other position, but don't get crazy.
No, I think I'd "stay the course" another year -- that is, focus on continuing to build up the rest of the roster. We absolutely have to get a center. We're old at RB. We need a speed receiver. Do whatever you have to do to get studs at the first two, make WR your next priority, and otherwise go BPA.
To me, that looks like the best path available to improve this team for next year and the years after that. I just don't see much improvement available right now in changing head coaches or quarterbacks.