Outside of Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn — both of whom are likely to test free agency — Henne has emerged as the NFL’s hottest quarterbacking commodity set to hit the market when the signing period begins March 13. Multiple sources have told FOXSports.com that Henne is drawing the strongest consideration from teams seeking a “1A” option — the guy who can push a suspect starter for the job but not command starter’s money.
That’s not to say he will come cheap, especially with the limited free-agent options available. Regarded in some circles as a better alternative than second-tier retreads like Jason Campbell, David Garrard, Vince Young and Kyle Orton, Henne is expected to land a contract that averages between $4 million to $5 million a season. Excluding demoted starters, the NFL’s top backup quarterbacks command no more than $3 million a year.
So what are interested teams seeing that the Dolphins didn’t?
Miami is among the NFL’s most quarterback-needy squads but has no desire to re-sign Henne. The Miami Herald reported that team owner Stephen Ross is “infatuated” with landing Manning should he get released by Indianapolis as expected. Flynn seems a more natural fit with new Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin having served as his offensive coordinator in Green Bay.
The drop-off after Manning and Flynn is steep. The only two upper-end NFL starters set to become unrestricted free agents are Drew Brees and Alex Smith. New Orleans will use its franchise tag on Brees by Monday’s designation deadline if unable to finalize a long-term contract extension. Smith may not get franchised but is expected to re-sign with San Francisco.
If the Dolphins can’t get Manning or Flynn, the quarterbacking nightmare that began after Dan Marino’s retirement in the 2000 offseason will continue. Miami will likely shift its focus to addressing the position in April’s draft.
This, too, provides its challenges.
The “Suck for Luck” campaign mounted by some Dolphins fans during the team’s 0-7 start failed. At 6-10, Miami won too many games for a shot at Stanford’s Andrew Luck. He’s headed to Indianapolis with the No. 1 overall pick.
Moving up six spots in the first round with St. Louis to select Baylor’s Robert Griffin III at No. 2 is a long shot. The Dolphins would have to outmaneuver interested suitors like Cleveland and Washington with even heavier trade compensation. Tossing in some of the Dolphins’ limited ownership partners like Gloria Estefan and Fergie along with multiple high draft picks still might not be enough considering the bounty St. Louis is seeking.
The third top college prospect is Ryan Tannehill. He played under new Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman at Texas A&M and could be a good fit in the West Coast-style system that Miami is installing. But without having conducted any pre-draft workouts following foot surgery, Tannehill’s pre-draft value remains unclear.
It’s possible Washington could make a play for Tannehill with the No. 6 overall pick. Conversely, the Dolphins may not believe Tannehill is worthy of being chosen at No. 8 overall if he were available.
About the only thing we do know is that Miami wouldn’t have to deal with this quarterback conundrum had Henne lived up to Ross’ lofty expectations.
While his intentions were good, Ross did his fellow University of Michigan alumnus a disservice in the 2010 offseason when proclaiming he thought Henne could become the next Marino. Henne couldn’t even become the next Jay Fiedler. Henne was 6-8 as a starter in 2010 and briefly lost that spot to Chad Pennington before he suffered another shoulder injury. The Dolphins began the 2011 campaign 0-4 under Henne until he was lost for the season with a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder.
Matt Moore played well enough in relief of Henne that it’s fair to wonder why the Dolphins didn’t give him a preseason chance to compete for the first-string job. Moore will enter next season either as a place-holder starter while a rookie is groomed or as Miami’s backup behind Flynn or Manning.
The biggest knocks on Henne’s game are deep-passing accuracy, decision-making (he has 37 interceptions compared to 31 touchdowns) and a lack of fourth-quarter success. Henne mounted only one game-winning drive in his final 18 games with Miami.
But there are things to like about Henne. He turns 27 in July, which is still a relatively young age in NFL quarterbacking years. He already has 31 career starts. He was a 61.1-percent passer in 2009 and 2010 before dipping to 57.1 last season.
Henne also wasn’t surrounded by high-end offensive talent. His best receiving target was the temperamental Brandon Marshall, who never formed a close bond with Henne. Henne also spent his first three seasons under a coordinator (Dan Henning) who was pushed into retirement after the 2010 campaign for not fielding a dynamic enough offense.
Henne has shown enough to make clubs believe that he still has upside to become a potential long-term quarterbacking solution. The New York Jets are considered a strong contender to land Henne. They’re seeking a quarterback — at the right price — to push foundering starter Mark Sanchez. Henne also would be reunited in New York with new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, who, ironically enough, also was shown the door in South Florida when fired as head coach last December.
Denver (Tim Tebow), Seattle (Tarvaris Jackson) and Kansas City (Matt Cassel) are other teams that will likely be seeking a 1A option behind their respective starters.
Here are some additional storylines emerging from the recently concluded NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:
1. The tampering that takes place at every combine was tempered by the later start to this year’s free-agent signing period. The frenzy usually begins three days after the combine ends.
Although such maneuverings are illegal under NFL rules, that timeframe gives agents the chance to have handshake agreements in place about what contracts will be offered to their clients. But with a gap of two-plus weeks this offseason, several sources told FOXSports.com that many clubs were reticent to talk turkey until getting a better grasp on what the free-agent class will look like following the franchise-tag designations and re-signings that help set market value.
For example, the new contract signed Monday by Cleveland’s D’Qwell Jackson — a reported five-year, $42 million deal with $19.5 million guaranteed — will serve as a barometer in negotiations for teams trying to re-sign their own inside linebackers, like Atlanta with Curtis Lofton. A slew of talent also will be taken off the market by franchise tags, especially since the salary numbers actually dropped from 2011 under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
2. Even with some teams having enough salary cap space to sign an entire roster, I’m getting the sense that there will be more short-term contracts signed than mega-deals. There is only so much money to go around with a flood of free agents set to hit the market.
San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers is an example of a player who benefited from signing a one-year deal last season when unhappy with other offers. Rogers will be rewarded for his great 2011 season with a large contract from either the 49ers or another suitor.
But there also is a risk in such a strategy. After three strong seasons in Tampa Bay, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud signed a one-year, $4 million contract with Tennessee last July in hopes that it would lead to a more lucrative deal in 2012. Ruud instead struggled with injury, was outplayed by rookie Colin McCarthy and will now likely sign an even lesser contract elsewhere.
3. Lost amid the combine hoopla was a nice scoop by CBS NFL insider Charley Casserly that the league will consider having all plays involving turnovers reviewed without head coaches having to use their replay challenges. The move makes sense but will still require approval from 24 of the NFL’s 32 owners if presented by the competition committee at the league’s annual meeting in late March. Owners who worry about the length of games being affected by excessive replays may bristle at the thought of head coaches having the luxury to challenge more mundane officiating calls knowing they don't have to keep their red flags tucked for more critical situations.
4. The admission of 250 select fans to watch the combine for the first time is probably just the start of opening what was traditionally a closed event. Speaking with me and co-host Vic Carucci on Sirius XM NFL Radio, NFL Entertainment director Tracy Perlman said the league may consider working with all 32 teams to invite select fans inside Lucas Oil Stadium as part of marketing and sponsorship opportunities. Perlman stressed that such moves would need approval from the NFL’s Competition Committee.
Football executives will be reticent to green-light anything that could potentially detract from the actual scouting aspect of the combine. But league owners may be interested in trying to make the event an even bigger cash cow.
Considering the spate of concussion-related lawsuits facing the league, generating some extra cash might not be such a bad idea.