Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wilkinson's Signing With Dolphins Rather Curious

So let me get this straight: "Big Daddy" Dan Wilkinson, defensive tackle, tells the Lions he's not interested in playing for them this fall because he's leaning toward retirement. He just can't muster up the energy nor the commitment needed for another season in the NFL trenches.
Thanks, but no thanks, he tells them. No harm done.

Of course, Detroit isn't Miami -- in a lot of respects.

Wilkinson signed with the Dolphins yesterday -- for three years, no less. Interesting, considering Big Daddy is 33. He went from considering retirement to signing up to play until he's 36 years old.

Miami has been a fountain of rebirth for pro footballers in previous years. It started in the early-1970's, when the Dolphins acquired an aging QB named Earl Morrall -- a former Lion. Morrall helped Miami achieve its perfect record in 1972. Along with Morrall came a wide receiver named Paul Warfield, from Cleveland. Warfield had some terrific seasons in Miami.

Junior Seau, linebacker extraordinaire, signed up in 2003 after a stellar career in San Diego. He played well, though he was hampered by injuries.

And lest we forget about Pal Joey Harrington?

But more than the Dolphins' history of resurrecting careers, Wilkinson's signing makes me wonder if he simply didn't want to play in Detroit any longer, as opposed to experiencing some sort of epiphany about his pro football career.

Strange, considering a new coaching staff is in place, seemingly ready to wash away the bile that has been poisoning the Matt Millen era. Yet Wilkinson obviously wanted no part of it.

Big Daddy isn't irreplaceable, however. His absence will presumably amp up the career of players like Shaun Cody -- a 2005 draft pick out of USC. But he did create quite a one-two punch with another "Big" -- Baby, as in Shaun Rogers. Those two attracted double teams, and made life easier for the rest of the Lions' front seven.

So why didn't Wilkinson want to continue playing pro football in Detroit, with a new coaching staff no less? Is the lineage of losing too much to overcome in some players' eyes? Is the perhaps more stable situation under Nick Saban a narcotic?

The Lions have tried the same formula as the Dolphins and, most famously, the Oakland Raiders: signing players on the back ends of their careers and hoping they have something left in the tank. On the defensive side of the ball, especially, they've had a fetish for this approach. Always with DBs and linemen, it seems. Rarely have they gotten their money's worth. Another example of how some teams can do it, and the Lions can't.

Anyhow, Big Daddy is gone -- gone for the sun and the dollars in South Beach. He'll be back, though, on Thanksgiving Day, with Harrington and the rest of the Dolphins. Fitting he should return on the most popular feasting day of the year.

They don't call him Big Daddy for his dieting skills, after all.


Ian C. said...

Well done, Greg. I was planning to post on this. The explanations I can think of for Big Daddy's change of heart are:

1) He didn't want to endure what he thought would be a grueling Marinelli training camp.

2) He just wanted to avoid training camp altogether.

3) His style doesn't fit the "3 technique" that tackles usually play in the Cover 2 scheme (smaller, quicker guys like Warren Sapp).

4) He'd had it with the Millen reign in Detroit.

Greg Eno said...

Yeah, I considered the "no training camp" thing, too....

Big Al said...

I'll third the "Avoid a grueling/didn't want to attend training camp" angle.