Believe me when I tell you that I say this with zero malice: the Dolphins are a pathetic franchise at the moment. It's not so much that two weeks ago they were certain they were going to have Peyton Manning throwing to Brandon Marshall and Reggie Wayne, and now they may have to content themselves with Richard Marshall. It's how desperate and open their one-sided courtship has been, and how publicly they were turned down. The Dolphins are the guy proposing on the stadium jumbotron and getting shot down.
It all started off so promisingly. Miami was everyone's logical landing spot for Manning because of their black hole at quarterback. When Washington made the move to get Robert Griffin III, we all fired up the Photoshop to put Manning in Teal. And why wouldn't he want to play there? We've been conditioned (thanks LeBron) to think that athletes want nothing more than sunshine and beaches and zero income tax, and he already owned a house in South Florida. Yes, a part of us knew that Manning was only going home when he flew there immediately after his tearful press conference in Indianapolis. But it was a perfect fit.
We know now that we projected Manning as a Dolphin based solely on the cold logic of football: Miami needed a quarterback and could afford to pay Manning whatever he wanted. That's the danger of anointing any team a "favorite" before the player actually starts to decide. So maybe the media is partly to blame for getting the Dolphins' hopes up. Still, they eagerly went all in, doing nothing to downplay the hopes of their fans. It was almost as if they thought the power of positive thinking could simply will Manning to Sun Life; The Secret of NFL free agency. Ask, believe, deceive.
So we get things like the local CBS traffic copter hovering near the airport to catch a glimpse of Manning touching down on Florida soil, and "Manning To Miami" billboards with an accompanying website (which remains ever-upbeat in the face of reality, a heartbreaking testament to hope and delusion), and even an awful song and Youtube video, the last refuge of the desperate fan.
And yet Manning eschewed visiting the Dolphins. His cross country trip took him from Durham to Nashville to Denver to Tempe to San Francisco. Gradually he whittled down his suitors: it had to sting when the Dolphins weren't among the cuts, because they weren't among the candidates. Yes, he had a meeting with Joe Philbin and the coaching staff, but as it turns out, Manning only did that as a favor to Dan Marino.
The Palm Beach Post reports that Miami's front office couldn't even get their calls returned by Manning's agent, let alone set up a facilities visit. As a last-ditch effort, the Dolphins turned to Dan Marino, Manning's golfing buddy. Marino called Peyton's personal phone and pleaded for some show of engagement. In the end, he got at least that face-to-face time for Philbin. But despite the fact that Manning has that home in South Florida, Dolphins brass was forced to fly to Indianapolis for the meeting. A pity lay if there ever was one, with the Dolphins flying back to Miami in their rumpled clothes from the night before, a flight of shame.
Manning eventually, mercifully, told the Fins they were out of the running, and precisely no one should have been surprised. These are the Dolphins, after all. Peter King chronicles a decade of bizarre moves and failed gambles and wrong choices in Miami, and you should send that link to every Browns fan you know to make them feel better about their team. Though the Dolphins want to scrub the slate clean, the stink of failure still hangs heavy. "No one" wants to go to Miami, said Ryan Clark. Once upon a time he almost considered it, but "it was an easy decision not to."
Once Manning turned them down, the Dolphins threw money at their Plan B. This Plan B has started three games in his NFL career. This Plan B also decided Miami wasn't for him. Now on to Plan C, Alex Smith, who is only looking for work because his former employer thinks it can get Peyton Manning. But if the 49ers can't close the deal with Manning, Smith would happily return to San Francisco. The Niners have added Mario Manningham, the Dolphins subtracted Brandon Marshall, and perhaps the biggest news of the offseason is that San Francisco has a better receiving corps than someone. That someone happens to be the Dolphins, but that's not news or a surprise. The Dolphins were supposed to spend the 2012 offseason reloading. And they have, but only so they can go on shooting themselves in the foot, like they've done for the last 10 years.