A football season that ends as disappointingly as the Dolphins’ year just did needs a proper punctuation. Often that comes with the coach being fired, as we saw around the NFL on what has come to be called Black Monday. In Miami, Joe Philbin kept his job, so the day after was just Bleak Monday around here, and the proper punctuation to the frustration was provided by receiver Mike Wallace and his diva’s pique.
He’d reportedly fumed and pouted and asked to come out of Sunday’s home loss to the miserable New York Jets, not playing at all in the second half.
On Monday, Wallace stood before his locker at the club’s Davie headquarters and, in an oddly comical tableau, explained himself. (Sort of, not really.)
“Coach’s decision,” he began. “I found out that when I was not back on the field.”
So you wanted to be back playing, Mike?
Um, so you did not ask to come out of the game as was reported?
Are you upset?
Do you want to be back with the Dolphins in 2015?
Were you underutilized this season?
“I’m not sure.”
Were you disappointed or angry not playing in the second half?
To that he replied with what sounded like an affirmative murmur. Not quite “uh-huh.” More like “mm-hmm.”
It was funny, almost. We saw a player whose body language and monosyllables reflected his less-than-chipper mood, but also a player trying outwardly to diffuse a situation, or at least to not inflame it. Just like an 8-8 season, Wallace was in the unsatisfactory gray between apology and combativeness.
Fellow receiver Brandon Gibson had done his part to try to tamp the fireworks in the postgame locker room at Dolphins stadium some 18 hours earlier. He’d answered questions for Wallace, trying to put the pin back in the grenade.
“An outburst wasn’t needed; I tried to mediate that,” Gibson said of his spokesman’s role Monday. “The frustrating thing for [Wallace] is not being involved as much as he wanted to be. I guess you could say it’s a lot of frustration built up. I tried to help him stay away from a situation that could blow up pretty bad.”
This is what losing does.
When you finish on a 2-4 skid because your defense has given up 32 points a game in the past six games, there will be collateral damage. It might be a head coach getting fired. It might be a defensive coordinator under fire. It might be a star receiver being overrun by his own ego. But it will be something.
Especially when your roster lacks the leadership to self-police a situation. We saw that last year with the Bullygate scandal. We see it in a microcosm with Wallace’s little tantrum. There was no Dan Marino to melt Wallace’s face mask. There was no Jason Taylor or Zach Thomas.
What’s important now is for the Dolphins to not overreact with Wallace.
Whether he was benched after a sideline or halftime tirade or asked to come out in a spasm of selfishness and immaturity isn’t all that important, frankly.
What matters is for Miami to identify the cause of the frustration and solve it — not label Wallace an incurable clubhouse cancer and trade him for a fifth-round draft pick in a knee-jerk move.
He is too valuable to give up on.
He is too valuable to be thrown only one pass the entire first half Sunday, and against a bad pass defense at that.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s job-jeopardizing problems are self-evident, but offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s room for improvement is pretty apparent, too.
So is the fact that some of Wallace’s reasons for being frustrated are legitimate. He handled that frustration improperly Sunday. But I can also see how it reached a boiling point.
Rookie Jarvis Landry was targeted as much and caught more passes than Wallace. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s inefficiency in taking advantage of Wallace’s speed on deep balls was a steady problem limiting Wallace to only 10 catches of 20-plus yards.
“We’ll take a long, hard look at why,” Tannehill said Monday.
As for the idea Wallace’s behavior Sunday might have caused a permanent rift, “There’s a lot of time now to heal and get on the same page,” as Tannehill put it.
It isn’t good that, after two years, we’re still talking about getting on the “same page” with this. That’s on Lazor, Wallace and Tannehill. Work it out, adults.
Meantime, the fact 10 of Wallace’s 67 catches were for touchdowns this year hints at his potential as a difference maker.
He was underutilized.
Wallace surely noticed as his former Steelers teammates Antonio Brown led the NFL with 129 catches. Miami brought Wallace here at a salary commensurate with similar production, and must take fuller advantage of his skills by targeting him more and finding a way to make the deep pass a bigger part of the offense. The Dolphins’ dink-and-dunk offense suffered badly this season from a lack of big plays. That’s why Tannehill broke Marino’s club season record for completions while throwing for more than 1,000 yards less.
You take advantage of Wallace’s talents, you don’t trade him.
Miami has given up too soon on too much talent in the modern era of mediocrity. Brandon Marshall, Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis come to mind. Don’t add Wallace to the list.
There is ample foundation here, starting with an improved and ascending Tannehill, 1,000-yard rusher Lamar Miller, Landry and Charles Clay, and linemen Brandon Albert, Mike Pouncey and Ju’Wuan James. Defensively, you build around Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Brent Grimes, Jelani Jenkins and Reshad Jones, and you find out for sure if Dion Jordan can be special.
And you keep Wallace as a part of the solution, not suddenly label him an irreparable problem just because the frustration escaped from him and hissed in a loss to the Jets.