Rodgers a big one who got away from Dol­phins

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - Dave Hyde

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.

Up next

Dol­phins at Pack­ers

4:25 p.m. Sun­day, Ch 4, 12

■ More cov­er­age, in­clud­ing staff picks and who has the edge. Pages 6C, 7C

Dol­phins’ radar.

“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.

MICHAEL LAUGHLIN/SUN SEN­TINEL

JEFF HAYNES/AP

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