I remember watching then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue walk across the stage in New York City in 1997 as 32 teams across the NFL made selections in the Draft to help improve. While most fans, including myself, usually target the 1st and 2nd round selections and use it as a catalyst for next season’s excitement, the true gold was found in the later rounds.
1997 was an odd time for the Miami Dolphins. While still a legitimate contender, legendary quarterback Dan Marino was in the final seasons of his playing career. With the defense always being an issue for Miami, 1997 served as a changing of philosophy and also served as a harsh lesson.
Many Phins fans will remember the promise of 1st round pick Yatil Green, a wide receiver from the University of Miami. Green was supposed to be the deep threat that Marino had been playing without for the past few season. But Green would serve as a harsh lesson for the Miami Dolphins. On the very first day of training camp, Green tore his quadriceps muscles, anterior cruciate ligament and cartilage in his right knee. Green came back the next year and again tore the same ACL in camp. Green was cut in 1999 and considered a complete bust.
But the 1997 Draft wasn’t a complete bust for the Dolphins. In the 3rd round the Phins used the 73rd selection to nab Jason Taylor a defensive end out of Akron. But Taylor was a different type of end than what the NFL was used to seeing. He was tall, fast and hovered around the 250-260 weight range. A far cry for what was an influx of 300-pound, powerful lineman who overpowered tackles, guards and centers with sheer strength.
Taylor used a unique stance to attack the line protection schemes, a method that yielded great results for Taylor and proved to the NFL that using speed, quickness, intelligence and athleticism could be just as effective as brute power and pure size. In his first season in Miami, Taylor posted 5.0 sacks. He followed it up in 1998 with 9.0 sacks.
While those were respectable numbers, Taylor would take a step back in his production in 1999 by only posting 2.5 sacks. But Taylor would record his first career interception.
2000 could be remembered as the “Year Taylor put the NFL on notice” by turning in an incredible 14.5 sack season. He would be consistently productive and a major component of the Miami defense up until his first departure in 2008. Taylor’s best seasons came in 2002 (69 tackles, 18.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles) and in 2006 when he was selected as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year (60 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions).
Unfortunately the Dolphins losing ways wore on Taylor and the change in regime that saw the organization bring in Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano would also lead to Taylor’s surprising departure from the Dolphins. On July 20, 2008, Taylor was traded to the Washington Redskins for a second-round pick in 2009 and a sixth-round pick in 2010.
Many fans in Miami were unhappy to see Taylor go, but most were unhappy due to his apparent aspirations to be a celebrity and his seemingly curved passion for playing football. Taylor would appear as a contestant on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars”, something that Miami fans would hold against Taylor for the rest of his playing career. Taylor would finish 2nd in the contest.
On March 2, 2009, Taylor was released by the Washington Redskins for refusing to participate in off-season conditioning programs claiming he wanted to be closer to his family in Florida.
On May 13, 2009, Taylor signed a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins for $1.1 million with $400,000 in incentives. On November 1, Taylor set the NFL record for most fumble returns for a touchdown with a 48-yard return against the Dolphins’ rivals, the New York Jets.
While the Dolphins failed to make the playoffs after an incredible turnaround season in 2008 that saw them win the AFC East and make the playoffs, so did the effort to keep Taylor in Miami. Taylor still found friction with the Front Office and at many times with Miami fans who thought he should have never left Miami in the first place.
Taylor would again irritate Dolphin fans by not only leaving town, but signing with the team’s biggest rivals, the New York Jets. It was clear that Taylor was more concerned about having a legitimate chance at winning a Super Bowl and thought the Jets posed the best opportunity to do so. After a subpar season with the team, the Jets released Taylor on February 28, 2011.
But it wasn’t the end of the road for Jason Taylor. He would again return to Miami for a 3rd stint by signing what would be his final contract. On December 28th, 2011 Taylor officially announced he would be retiring at the conclusion of the season.
With one game left to go in both Taylor’s career and the Miami Dolphins’ season it almost comes full circle for Taylor. A team that is clearly the most hated in the eyes of many Dolphins fans, the New York Jets, has their playoff hopes and their entire season on the line this Sunday. It’s also interesting to note that the Jets is the team Taylor played with for one season in 2010 and the free agent move that caused a lot of negative uproar from the Miami faithful.
While the wounds may still be fresh for Miami fans it’s hard to criminalize Taylor and even harder not to rally behind him this Sunday. Taylor has been one of the best defensive lineman of our generation and certainly deserving of the Hall of Fame in the future. Taylor paved the way for many teams in the NFL to start drafting high motor, speedy and athletically gifted lineman.
After seeing how Taylor impacted the Dolphins, the Tennessee Titans drafted a similarly built defensive end in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft. That lineman was Pro-Bowler Jevon Kearse who would have a pretty solid career himself. We also saw the pattern continue and increase in 2000 with the New York Jets taking John Abraham, the New Orleans Saints taking Darren Howard and the Green Bay Packers taking Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. This would lead to a total of 24 defensive ends taken in the draft. The trend of taking athletic, tall, speedy ends remains in place today.
But this Sunday Taylor can accomplish a few things. He can end his career on a high note by defeating the New York Jets, a fierce division rival and a team that cut them. The loss would signal the end of the season for the Jets and ruin much of the chance they have in making the playoffs. It would also help heal some wounds with Phin fans who all passionate hate the rival Jets.
Taylor can also walk out of the game with a victory that is just as important to his teammates as it is to the franchise. While he never competed or won a Super Bowl, Taylor has accomplished a lot in his career and has etched his name in the record books alongside many of the game greatest defensive players.
In my opinion Jason Taylor will always be a Miami Dolphin. Despite the few instances where his decisions and intentions may have made me irritated it never erased what Taylor meant to this franchise. While many may say he bailed on the team, those same fans will recall how much Taylor endured with all of us. Losing seasons, broken hearts and no playoff dominance.
Taylor was an anchor for the better part of the 2000’s on one of the NFL’s most dominating defenses. When many of his defensive teammates left town (Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison, Brock Marion, etc) Taylor stuck it out and produced impressive results. Taylor has won numerous awards throughout his career, including the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and the 2007 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Taylor is also a six-time Pro Bowl selection (2000, 2002, 2004–2007), a four-time First or Second Team All-Pro (2000–2002, 2006), a two-time NFL Alumni Association Defensive Lineman of the Year (2005, 2006) and the NFL Alumni Association Pass Rusher of the Year (2000).
Taylor has also won the “AFC Defensive Player of the Week” Award seven times which is fifth most ever by a defensive player. In addition to winning seven “AFC Defensive Player of the Week” Awards, Taylor has also won three “NFC/AFC Defensive Player of the Month” Awards which is the third most ever by a defensive player (behind only Bruce Smith and John Randle).
So this Sunday as we tune in to the Dolphins/Jets game remember what Jason Taylor’s career brought to Miami. Remember the impact he had while on the Dolphins as opposed to remembering his 2 stints away from Miami. Remember that when Miami wasn’t a “defensive heavyweight” Taylor contributed to changing that culture. Remember his charitable contributions, his activeness in the community and his leadership on the field as well as in the locker room.
Remember that #99 for the Miami Dolphins and seeing #99 in aqua teal and orange will always signify Jason Taylor.
Thanks for all the memories Jason!