Dolphins

Bullygate fallout may force Miami Dolphins to open season with new offensive line

 
 
Miami Dolphins guard John Jerry (74), is in the final weeks of his Dolphins contract and center Mike Pouncey could be suspended to open the season. Both were highlighted in the Ted Wells report for their roles in the Bullygate scandal involving Jonathan Martin.
Miami Dolphins guard John Jerry (74), is in the final weeks of his Dolphins contract and center Mike Pouncey could be suspended to open the season. Both were highlighted in the Ted Wells report for their roles in the Bullygate scandal involving Jonathan Martin.
Lynne Sladky / AP

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

The crashing asteroid that is Ted Wells’ report on the Dolphins’ locker room culture continued to leave aftershocks Saturday.

The first: former Dolphins lineman Andrew McDonald, known in the report as Player A, disputed Wells’ characterization of his relationship with assistant coach Jim Turner.

The second: There’s a growing belief around the league that the Dolphins will be without a single offensive lineman on opening day 2014 who was the Game 1 starter in 2013. And the guy who ended the season at left tackle — Bryant McKinnie — is an unrestricted free agent, too.

Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey and John Jerry — the team’s starting left guard, center and right guard, respectively — engaged “in a pattern of harassment” directed at not only teammate Jonathan Martin, but also McDonald and other teammates and staff, Wells determined.

That opens the door to league punishment for all three — in the way of suspensions and fines.

Incognito and Jerry are both in the final weeks of their current Dolphins contracts, so they will be removed from Miami’s roster if (and more likely, when) the team chooses to part ways.

Yet Pouncey, in all likelihood, isn’t going anywhere. He’s under contract through at least the 2014 season; the Dolphins have until early May to decide if they will guarantee a fifth year on his rookie deal.

But if, as many around the league believe is certain, the NFL suspends Pouncey for at least the start of this coming season, the Dolphins will likely begin the year with an entirely new offensive line.

(Martin, who wants to return to football, is expected to be traded or released. The Dolphins are meeting with his agent Kenny Zuckerman at the Scouting Combine next week to discuss his future. Zuckerman told the Miami Herald Saturday that Martin is doing “great.”

Meanwhile, McKinnie and right tackle Tyson Clabo both underperformed in 2013, and barring an unexpected reversal, neither will be under contract when the league calendar turns over next month.)

The NFL and the Dolphins are not commenting on this matter beyond the statements each released Friday. Efforts to reach Pouncey’s camp for comment were not successful.

But members of the broader NFL family believe that Pouncey will be punished for misleading investigators or engaging in conduct detrimental to the league — a nebulous, catch-all rule that grants commissioner Roger Goodell wide discretion.

League sources estimate that Pouncey will be suspended for anywhere from one to four games. That means the Dolphins could conceivably play a quarter of their season without their best lineman and a member of their 2013 leadership council.

Pouncey could be in the biggest trouble if, as Wells believes, he did mislead NFL-affiliated investigators.

Beginning on page 12 of Wells’ 144-page report, he first says that he didn’t find Pouncey’s claims of ignorance regarding the abuse not “credible.”

Most specifically, Wells called into question Pouncey’s truthfulness about long-running insults directed at Martin’s sister. Pouncey told investigators that he never heard jokes among offensive linemen about having sex with Martin’s sister, and “if someone said that to me I would punch them in the mouth.”

Unbeknownst to him, presumably, Wells had in his possession a text message conversation in which Pouncey said he “would pay” for relations with his sister. Martin was part of the conversation.

Why this is important: the penalties resulting in the Saints’ bounty scandal were increased because the league believed key witnesses lied to them.

It’s unclear if the NFL will view Pouncey’s apparent trouble with the truth in the same light, however. While the NFL paid for Wells’ report, it was at the Dolphins’ behest. And so, one could make the argument that he was misleading his own team (which likely would have its own issues with it).

Incognito, meanwhile, has already served a lengthy suspension — and the league might decide to sentence him to time already served. However, that’s assuming he ever gets another job.

Wells portrays Incognito as the ringleader of the boorish behavior, a bully who is fluent in racial slurs. Incognito, a known bad boy long before Martin left the team, will have trouble finding work again, league sources believe.

As for McDonald, now a member of the Carolina Panthers, Wells painted him as another victim of abuse, with his teammates regularly questioning his sexuality.

Wells reported that even Turner piled on, buying McDonald a male blowup doll for Christmas 2012, even though he gave the other linemen female dolls. (McDonald, by all accounts, is straight.)

Brett Tessler, McDonald’s agent, said Saturday his client is “disappointed” that his name has become associated with this story.

When Wells interviewed McDonald, Tessler said, he already had learned all the details included in the report.

Added Tessler: “While Andrew can’t speak for any other players involved in the report, he personally has no problem with the Miami Dolphins organization and has the highest opinion of coach Turner both personally and professionally and feels terrible about the way their relationship has been portrayed in the report.”

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