Richie Incognito default offensive line leader with loss of Jake Long

Robert Mayer - USA Today Sports

The Miami Dolphins saw offensive tackle Jake Long leave the team via free agency in March 2013. A month later, the default leader to replace Long, Richie Incognito, and Jonathan Martin began having the problems that eventually led to Martin leaving the team.

In 2010, the Miami Dolphins signed free agent offensive lineman Richie Incognito.  They had placed a waiver claim on him the year before, but he was awarded to the Buffalo Bills rather than to the Dolphins.  Despite the behavior concerns, which reached all the way back to his college days at Nebraska, Incognito strengthened the Miami offensive line, and earned a three year contract with the team after playing out his original one-year deal with the club.

Now, as the final months of that three-year deal come to an end, Incognito's behavior has once again become an issue, and it's led to the bullying scandal that has surrounded the team since October.  Media analysis of the situation have blamed the team as a whole for not knowing who Incognito is, and not having a locker room capable of controlling the player they signed despite his past.

In his time with the Dolphins, Incognito was voted the second dirtiest player in the league, but was also the 2012 Pro Football Writers Association's "Good Guy Award" winner for Miami.

According to the Ted Wells report, Jonathan Martin did not object to much of his treatment during his rookie year.  He understood the haircuts, and the rookies paying for dinner, and the "normal" hazing things.  It was not until April 2013, when Incognito left Martin the now infamous voicemail, that Martin thought things were not going to get better for him.  It was then that Martin started to feel like the way Incognito was treating him was moving from the expected hazing of a rookie into something more.

Of course, as we know from the report, Martin never said anything to anyone about his issues.  It was not until he skipped a day of minicamp that he admitted to dealing with depression and having suicidal thoughts, but still he did not attribute the cause to that as the treatment from Incognito.  He hid the situation from the team, yet somehow the team was supposed to know that Incognito was doing this.

Somehow the team was supposed to know about the voicemails and text messages.  The team should have known about the way Incognito spoke to Martin away from the team facilities.

This is not to blame Martin.  Whatever your thoughts of him, or of what he should have done, that doesn't change anything that did happen.  But, this is to question the implication that Joe Philbin and the Dolphins should have known how bad this situation was becoming.

And, more importantly, this idea that the team should have known how out of control Incognito was.

Over the past couple of years, the prevailing talk has been about how Incognito has grown.  How he has put his troubles behind him and moved on with his life since coming to Miami.  In August 2013, NFL.com's Jeff Darlington, a former Dolphins beat writer, wrote an in-depth look at Incognito and his growth over the past few years.  Incognito's past seemed to be just that - the past.

Now, of course, we all see that was not completely true.  But, the media who are now complaining that the Dolphins should have known, are the same people who were telling fans all about Incognito's growth just a  few months ago. (For clarification, I am not saying Darlington is complaining about the Dolphins right now, just that the media in general are doing it.)

Joe Philbin joined the Dolphins in 2012.  He's been with the club just over two years at this point.  Since he arrived in Miami, the Incognito that he has seen is the one the media was congratulating for his growth.  When was Philbin expected to see the "monster" - to use an extreme - as some see Incognito now, in hindsight?

The problems between Incognito and Martin started in April 2013.  Why were things okay for Martin prior to April?  My theory comes down to one player.

Jake Long.

Long was the unquestionable leader of the Dolphins offensive line from 2008 through 2012.  He controlled everything, and he was good at it.  Long kept Incognito in check, both on and off the field.  He was the dominant personality, and he was the top player on the line, he was a multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowler.  With a rookie quarterback, Long was the leader of the entire offense.

And in March 2013, he signed with the St. Louis Rams.

Suddenly, the Dolphins had a huge void along the offensive line.  The man the team had selected with the top overall pick in 2008 was gone, and there was not a read-made replacement.  Martin was moved to Long's position on the line, at left tackle, but did not have the personality to fill Long's leadership role.  Center Mike Pouncey has the skill level to fill in for Long as the player with the highest accolades, but he had not been to a Pro Bowl when Long left.  Guard John Jerry is someone the team has seemed to want to replace since he arrived to the Dolphins.  And, Tyson Clabo was newly signed, trying to establish himself on the line, not in a position to take over leadership.

That left just one dominant personality to take over - Incognito.  And, that's exactly what happened.

To the Dolphins coaching staff, which had seen the "good" Incognito over their year with the club, the Incognito who was held in check by Long, there was not a reason to think Incognito as a leader of the offensive line would become what he did.  They had seen the more mature Incognito.  The Incognito who had put his past behind him and was ready to be a leader.

The loss of Long in March was the catalyst that started the chain of events leading to Martin's departure from the team in October.  The Dolphins had not wanted to lose Long, but with the way his body was breaking down, they also were not willing to pay him a guaranteed salary that could have strapped the team on the salary cap.  Long was coming off his rookie contract, and expected to be paid like a four time Pro-Bowl selection whose salary over his first five years averaged $11.55 million  per season.  In the end, the Rams' and Dolphins' contract offers were likely not all that different, but Long went to St. Louis where there was a little more money.  The Dolphins moved Martin to left tackle, the position he played in college, and Incognito became the offensive line's leader.

In October and November, a lot of the talk around the Dolphins scandal was how a team could have an out of control player like Incognito on their "Leadership Council."  But, the Dolphins coaching staff did not select Incognito, the players did.  At the end of the preseason, Miami's players voted for their leaders, just like every team does when they pick their captains.  The difference is, Philbin does not use those players as game day captains, instead installing them as the council and picking players each week as captains based on their performance in the previous week's game and practices.  The players picked Incognito, including Martin, who admitted he voted for both Incognito and Pouncey because he saw them as the leaders of the offensive line.

The selection of the Leadership Council came at the end of the preseason - not in October and November.  At the end of the preseason, Darlington was writing his piece on the new Incognito and the media as a whole was discussing the growth of the guard.  Incognito was seen as a positive for the Dolphins and a good story for the league as a whole.  It was a growth out of a troubled past into a player who was a leader of a team on the rise.

Two months later, Incognito was a cancer who was given too much power by an inept coaching staff who was not paying attention to their own players.  Four months after that, and the same story line is trying to make a return as people look for a way to blame everyone and anyone involved with the Dolphins.

The Dolphins did not allow an out-of-control player become a leader of their team.  A leader of their team became out-of-control.  The coaches did not have experience with a troubled Incognito.  They saw Incognito as the player he was with Long as the dominant personality.  They did not know what would happen with Incognito as the top of the offensive line leadership.

Unfortunately, now we all know what happened.

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