Rodgers a big one who got away from Dolphins
Josh Richardson is fouled by the Wizards’ Bradley Beal in the first half of the Heat’s loss Saturday night.
This is the story of a golden opportunity that would solve the Dolphins franchise. But there’s no need for suspense. It won’t end well. The coach in question, Nick Saban, will fly to California in this story, watch a quarterback work out for 40 minutes and sound publicly impressed after 92 throws.
“To throw that many balls in a row and only have one hit that ground, that’s pretty impressive,” Saban will said afterward.
But Saban will pass on the quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, by the end of this story. Rodgers will still line up against the Dolphins on Sunday in Lambeau Field. He’ll remain the reason why the entire Green Bay franchise matters even with a 3-4-1 record.
Thirteen years after that workout, New England coach Bill Belichick found defensive coordinator Brian Flores last Sunday night after beating Green Bay and said, in clipped Belichick-ian speech, “Great job. Holding them to 17. Hard.”
Holding him, really. Rodgers, more than any great quarterback of this era, is the one-man band who keeps his franchise in contention, year after year, diluted supporting cast after diluted supporting cast. And for several days in the spring of 2005, he was on the Aaron Rodgers looks to throw a pass against the 49ers last month.
Dolphins at Packers
4:25 p.m. Sunday, Ch 4, 12
■ More coverage, including staff picks and who has the edge. Pages 6C, 7C
“Yeah, he was in the discussion,” said one former Dolphins staffer who doesn’t want to be named in this chapter, even after all these years. “It went around meetings. ‘What do you think?’ ‘Who does he look like?’ Ultimately, it was [Saban’s] decision. He wasn’t really letting on his thoughts, as far as I know.”
By now, Dolphins fans suffer from wrong-way fatigue in quarterback decisions. Dave Wannstedt chose wrong in drafting cornerback Jamar Fletcher over quarterback Drew Brees in 2001. Saban passed on free-agent Brees for Daunte Culpepper in 2006. Bill Parcells passed on quarterback Matt Ryan for tackle Jake Long in 2008.
Rodgers is the forgotten whiff in all this.
“It wasn’t just us,” the former staffer said. “A lot of teams passed on him.”
Twenty-one teams, to be exact. San Francisco took quarterback Alex Smith with the top pick and Rodgers waited under the glare of ESPN cameras for four hours and 18 minutes before Green Bay drafted him at No. 24. The Cowboys and Vikings skipped him twice.
“Terrible,” he called it afterward.
It’s worse for those who passed. Jon Gruden, who had Tampa Bay’s fifth pick, once called passing on Rodgers, “the biggest regret of my career.” New Orleans (Aaron Brooks), Houston (David Carr) and Kansas City (35-year-old Trent Green) needed a quarterback. And passed.
The Dolphins passed first on Rodgers, though. They had the second pick. Saban had just taken over the Dolphins, needed a quarterback and watched Smith work out on his pro draft day in Utah, followed the next day by Rodgers workout out in California.
“Both guys are really impressive people,” he told reporters after Rodgers’ 40-minute session. “Both have the right stuff, it seems to me.”
In private, the Dolphins staffer said it was clear Saban joined much of the NFL in ranking Smith first and Rodgers second. Rodgers held the ball strangely, NFL types said. What’s more, his University of California coach, Jeff Tedford, had a list of good college quarterbacks who became NFL suspects: Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller. Was Rodgers next?
Saban’s plan seemed to be to trade down and possibly take Rodgers lower in the draft.
“That’s what it seemed to me, in retrospect, what was in play,” the staffer said.
The problem was the draft had no sure things in the top five picks. Washington and Minnesota discussed a pre-draft trade with the Dolphins, the staffer said. Neither wanted to move up that badly.
While on the draft clock, Saban called Cleveland, which held the third pick, to ask if it wanted to move up, the staffer remembered. No dice.
“So that was that,” he said.
So Saban chose running back Ronnie Brown. He was a fine pick. He played six Dolphins seasons (and 10 years overall). Made the Pro Bowl in
2008, the year he directed “The Wildcat” offense. He’s just not the story of that draft like Rodgers became.
The Dolphins lucked out in 1983 when Dan Marino plummeted to No.
27. They became one of those teams in 2005 with Rodgers. All these years later, a glimpse of the Dolphins’ never-ending nightmare came at midfield in Foxborough.
“You’re the best,” Rodgers told Belichick after their game in an exchange caught by NFL Films.
“No, you’re the best,” Belichick said.
Let the Dolphins be the judge after Sunday.