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Dead in the water Shaky personnel decisions have turned a once-proud organization into a mess this season

You can't criticize the Miami Dolphins' organization for being cheap.

Everything else? Have at it.

"I've spent millions and millions and millions," Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga lamented to Miami reporters last month. "It's not about money to us. It's about winning."

Actually, it's all about losing this year in Miami.

The Dolphins stand 0-8 entering today's game against the Buffalo Bills, and the future of the team never has looked more bleak, despite the fact Huizenga has paid top dollar for coaches and players ever since he purchased the team in 1994.

The Dolphins are wandering in the desert in search of a quarterback. Their only two offensive stars are gone. One (receiver Chris Chambers) was traded away. The other (running back Ronnie Brown) tore up his knee. Their defense, which has the oldest front seven in the NFL, is falling apart.

This once-proud franchise -- which owns the only undefeated season in the Super Bowl era -- has a legitimate chance to go 0-16.

What in the name of Don Shula has gone wrong?

1. The Dolphins have recklessly discarded draft choices since coach Jimmy Johnson retired after the 1999 season.

2. Miami's previous two head coaches -- Dave Wannstedt and Nick Saban -- were given too much power over personnel matters and collaborated poorly with the team's scouting department.

The Dolphins do not have a single player from the 1998 through 2003 drafts on their current 53-man roster. They made 46 picks in that six-year span. They traded away another 10 picks and acquired 13 players in return. None of those 13 are on the team, either. So that's an 0-for-59 stretch for the player personnel department.

"When you have a habit of giving away draft picks, those are core players you should have on your team for four or five or six years that you don't have," said Dolphins General Manager Randy Mueller earlier this year. "It's pretty hard to keep a franchise afloat."

How have the Dolphins frittered away draft picks? Let us count just some of the ways:

*They have taken big gambles, like giving away two first-rounders (in 2002 and '03) to acquire running back Ricky Williams, who played a mere two full seasons.

*They have shown impatience on draft day. During the 2003 draft, they gave away a 2004 second-rounder to New England for the right to move up in the third round and take offensive lineman Wade Smith, who was a bust.

*They have taken fliers on young veterans. In September of 2004, they gave a 2005 third-rounder to St. Louis to acquire running back Lamar Gordon, who carried a mere 35 times for Miami before being discarded.

*They have done a poor job of drafting and developing offensive linemen. They took 16 offensive linemen in nine seasons from 1995 to 2003 but just three were in the first two rounds and none of the 16 panned out for the Fish.

*They have tossed away a bunch of picks in the quest to find a successor to Dan Marino, who retired after the '99 season. They gave up a second-rounder in 2005 to acquire quarterback A.J. Feeley, a second-rounder in '06 to acquire quarterback Daunte Culpepper, a fifth-rounder in '06 to get Joey Harrington, and a fifth-rounder in '07 to get Trent Green.

"We've made some mistakes along the way," Huizenga said.

Wannstedt had the final say on personnel during his tenure from 2000 to '04, but his philosophy never meshed with that of his personnel chief, Rick Spielman.

Then Huizenga opened his vault to make Saban the highest-paid coach in the league, at $5 million a year. Saban had total control and made the fateful quarterback decision in 2006, opting against signing free-agent Drew Brees on the advice of team doctors and instead trading for Culpepper. That move was a bomb.

The Miami defense has ranked among the top 10 in the NFL eight of the previous nine seasons. This year they're tied for 31st in points allowed.

Five of Miami's six best defensive players are over 30 -- Keith Traylor (38), Zach Thomas (34), Jason Taylor (33), Vonnie Holliday (31) and Joey Porter (30).

The offense, meanwhile, has seen 11 different starting quarterbacks in eight years. With that cast in mind, Dolphins fans were outraged when the team picked receiver Ted Ginn Jr. over quarterback Brady Quinn in this year's draft.

Dolphins fans now want the team to turn to rookie John Beck, a 26-year-old taken in the second round in April.

The Dolphins will start fourth-year QB Cleo Lemon today against the Bills. But everyone expects Beck will get his chance soon.

"We're sitting here winless," Huizenga said. "To say we're not rebuilding, give me a break. We have to rebuild. Did we believe that [heading into the season]? No. Maybe we're stupid. We need to make some changes."


Post-Marino hangover

The Dolphins have started 11 different quarterbacks in the 7 1/2 seasons since Dan Marnio retired. Their names: Jay Fiedler, Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Brian Griese, Sage Rosenfels, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Daunte Culpepper, Cleo Lemon, Trent Green.

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