The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers embody the true definition of being a team. When Peyton Manning was benched halfway through the season in favor of Brock Osweiller, many assumed that he would be unhappy and that he was done playing for the remainder of the season. Through it all, Manning deflected all attention off him and supported Osweiller. When Osweiller was benched in favor of Manning, many assumed the Broncos would start to fall apart. The opposite happened though, with Osweiller supporting Manning and the rest of the team doing the same.
The Panthers were a loose bunch of players and always supported one another. Whenever Newton was being bashed in the media, his teammates always came to his side to support him. His head coach, Ron Rivera, always came to his side along with the rest of his players when the media talked about them having too much fun on the sideline. When cornerback Josh Norman was going back and forth in the media with opposing players, his teammates stuck up for him and stood by his side. Tackle Michael Oher, who many thought would be done in the NFL, said that if it wasn't for Newton, he probably wouldn't be playing. That's because it was Newton who stuck his neck out and told Oher that he needed him to protect him.
The Miami Dolphins? When is the last time they have truly been a team? I would say that it would go all the way back to when Tony Sparano made magic happen with quarterback Chad Pennington as they won the AFC East in 2008. Before that though, you would have to go back to the days of Dave Wannstedt when he was able to get the team to rally behind quarterback Jay Fiedler. Nick Saban? No, there was too much fighting and backstabbing between coaches and players. Cam Cameron? That was a disaster as players openly challenged him in front of the entire team. So, in reality, besides that one year in 2008, the last time they were a team goes back to the year 2000.
Of course, things unraveled the following season in 2009 when the team turned to Chad Henne and the downward spiral hasn't stopped since then. In 2012, when Joe Philbin was hired, he traded away Brandon Marshall shortly into the new league year and then traded Vontae Davis during training camp. Also during training camp, Philbin cut star wide receiver Chad Johnson for a domestic violence dispute. All three of those moves caused some ruffles in the locker room. Looking back at the draft, they took Jonathan Martin in the second round, which immediately began to raise questions about the future of left tackle Jake Long. Add Michael Egnew to the mix in the third round, and you can see where the mistakes started to pile on quickly. In their defense though, that was also the same draft where Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller (although that raised questions about the future of Reggie Bush in Miami) and Rishard Matthews were drafted and all three are headed for a big contract this coming offseason. Still though, the 2012 Dolphins were not a complete team as there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of the franchise under Philbin because of his head-scratching moves so early into his tenure as head coach.
In 2013, the bullying scandal broke out and there was a divide in the locker room. While the majority of the players supported Richie Incognito, there were others who sided with Jonathan Martin and were happy for the punishment that was levied upon Incognito and offensive line coach Jim Turner. Sure, there was that locker room session where the players came out in support of Incognito and tried to deflect everything that was happening. However, that incident tore the team apart and the results on the field was evidence of that. A team, with players fighting amongst themselves? No.
In 2014, the Dolphins hired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and we saw unhappiness amongst players in the offensive room. Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace complained throughout the season about the lack of touches and the game plan. While Hartline was much quieter than Wallace, there was tension inside the building, which carried over to the practice field and game day. Wallace openly criticized the coaching staff and it all came to a boil in Week 17 where he essentially gave up, sitting down for the entire second half. Don't forget about the bizarre locker room interview where Brandon Gibson was his spokesman. On the defensive side, players began to become unhappy with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle and the whispers started to grow louder as the season progressed. They became unhappy with his scheme and the way he was utilizing the talent. Nonetheless, he didn't change, which caused tension. Was this a team? No, there was just too much dysfunction on both sides of the ball to even come close to that.
In 2015, Ross decided to bring back Philbin, who then decided to bring back Coyle. The Dolphins let several players, such as Hartline and Gibson, walk to other teams. They traded Wallace to the Vikings and removed themselves from his overpriced contract. They then brought in guys who they thought would bring a team atmosphere to the locker room, such as Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, Brice McCain and more. But, dysfunction still occurred. Miko Grimes, the wife of cornerback Brent Grimes, became much more vocal on social media and the radio, although that had been dating back to 2014. She openly bashed Tannehill and the coaching staff. There is no doubt that she caused controversy in the locker room. Lazor and Philbin teamed up against Tannehill and tried to stack the odds against him. Coyle was still being Coyle and refused to adjust the scheme to the talent on the field. All of that led to the two of them being fired just four games into the season. Dan Campbell was promoted to interim head coach and he was able to bring the team together, but the dysfunction still was rooted too deep for them to overcome anything. A team in 2015? No, there was just too much controversy on and off the field to warrant calling this a team.
Mind you, all that information above is just what has happened on the field and that's not even covering everything! There is so much more, such as the dysfunction surrounding Tannehill and the questions about the lack of leadership on the team. I can also talk about everything that has happened behind the scenes over these years, but that's an entirely different post for a different day. Yes, the front office matters and the dynamics behind the scenes play a big role into what transpires on the field.
The bottom line is that there are always teams who have a lot of talent but for some reason, can't pull it together and win games. Then, there are teams who don't have as much talent, but still find a way to win and get to the playoffs for a chance to win the Super Bowl. Besides 2008, we haven't see the true definition of a team in Miami in over 15 years. One can only hope that new head coach Adam Gase along with the rest of his coaching staff establish a team first culture in Miami before worrying about anything else. If they fail to do that, it won't matter how good the players or scheme is because they will be lacking the culture that allows other teams to be so successful.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @FinsInsider