The Dolphins’ biggest mess isn’t what happened in this bullying scandal that went national and swallowed the team, or even how it could have happened.
This team’s biggest problem is what happens from here.
While an independent NFL-appointed investigator probes the events that led tackle Jonathan Martin to leave the team under emotional duress and guard Richie Incognito to be suspended for his role, the pulsing issue moving forward is what the Dolphins will do about the two central figures in this bizarre soap.
Martin, the victim, remains out with an “illness” but still is on the active roster — the assumption being he eventually will rejoin the team, until there are indications otherwise. And Incognito, the aggressor, is indefinitely suspended, with the Miami Herald reporting he is “done” and has played his last game for Miami.
The club would seem inclined to eventually reinstate Martin if only from a prudent legal standpoint and to sever ties with Incognito if only from a P.R. standpoint. There is a huge problem, though, with both presumptions.
Martin, viewed in the locker room as the weak quitter and snitch who caused this whole problem, would not be welcomed back.
And Incognito, popular among teammates and seen in the locker room as the real victim here, IS wanted back. Team leaders are lobbying hard for Incognito’s return, according to a source of mine on the Dolphins staff who deals with players daily and has heard the internal conversations.
“They want Martin gone. They want Richie back,” I was told.
My source would not say which players are lobbying general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin, but listen to quarterback Ryan Tannehill from earlier this week, speaking of Incognito: “He brought a lot of laughter to this locker room, he brought a lot of cohesiveness. He was the best teammate I could ask for.”
If Martin returns to the Dolphins’ locker room, or especially if Incognito does not, this mess won’t be over.
Scatter-shooting the league:
Updated playoff likelihood entering Week 10, via makenflplayoffs.com computers — AFC: Chiefs 99.1 percent, Broncos 87.7, Patriots 86.6, Colts 83.6, Bengals 74.2 and Jets 32.3. (Dolphins stand eighth at 22.8). NFC: Seahawks 96.0, Saints 81.4, 49ers 74.5, Cowboys 66.1, Panthers 57.4 and Lions 51.2.
• Broncos continue as Super Bowl favorites in latest odds via Bovada, at 10-3, followed by Seahawks at 5-1, 49ers 15-2 and Pats and Saints both 9-1. Dolphins are mid-pack at 75-1, tied for 15th.
• Nick Foles for the Eagles last week became only the third QB to throw seven TD passes in a game with zero interceptions. Peyton Manning did it in Week 1. Before that it had only been done by Y.A. Tittle in 1962.
• You know that Dolphin Cam Wake’s game-winning overtime safety last week was only the third ever. Pretend you knew the others were by Viking Mike Merriweather in 1989 and by Bear Adewale Ogunleye in 2004.
• Panther Cam Newton’s 79 TDs (53 passing, 26 running) are the fourth-most in a player’s first 40 career games. Record is 92 by one Dan Marino.
• Boom time for 400-yard passing games. Season record is 18 in 2011. There have already been 17 this season.
• The 86.5 league-wide passer rating is also on record pace. That makes Miami’s Tannehill (80.8) below average thus far.
Jerry Rice had 17 seasons of 50-plus catches. Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez (44 catches) is about to record his 16th.
• The previous five seasons have seen eight 4-4 teams reach the playoffs and four 3-5 teams, including the Bengals and Redskins last year.