Monday, March 2, 2009

Vonnie Holliday released; What is leadership?

The Dolphins are continuing the team-wide youth movement, this time by releasing DE Vonnie Holliday.

By releasing the 33 year old, Miami saves $3.25 million.

Holliday has been a pretty good player during his tenure in Miami, but it's time to move on. Sure, he was a great class act, but if we learned anything from the Jason Taylor situation from a year ago, it's that good teams know to get rid of players before they start their precipitous late-career declines rather than waiting one year too long and regretting the decision.

Miami drafted Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling for the express purpose of usurping Holliday. Keeping him for any more time would cut into their development curve. And it's not like Miami doesn't have any depth at the DE position. Langford established himself as a suitable starter last season, and Merling and Randy Starks should compete for the other starting spot with the loser playing a crucial role as the rotation guy. Miami also has youngster Lionel Dotson who could stick for another year, or they may draft another guy to add to the rotation.

If fans are honest with themselves, Holliday was very expendable.

And furthermore, as a general aside, I think "leadership" is one of the most misunderstood and/or overrated aspects of a fan's judgment of a player.

Far too often, players are turned into leaders by the local media, who constantly pump up those guys who are media friendly and are always reliable for a quote. And for the fans, who can't see the inner workings of a locker room, they have little choice other than to accept the picture painted for them by the local columnists.

Now, in no way is this an indictment of Vonnie. It's obviously preferable to have a nice guy on your team than some miscreant, and Vonnie gave Miami fans no reasons not to be proud of him and the team.

During the Pro Bowl, Football Outsiders held a live chat, and there was a really good discussion about the merits of "leaders".

Here are some choice nuggets to think about:

Leadership is real, but it is not something you can count upon, because a guy goes from leader to "mercenary who just talked a good game" pretty fast.

And in the NFL, great leaders lead in April, and in July. They lead during practice sessions and film sessions. They don't do it by jumping around and yelling before games and after a TD. Leaders keep the guys focused when focus is hard: there is no opponent, no game tomorrow, and you still have to worry about where your hands are and how deeply you bend your waist.

-They'll follow your "humble" lead if you enforce it a bit, but impressionable players (rookies, freshman, etc.) will follow the guy who is vocal about it. You lead by not just going to film sessions but grabbing the rookies and telling them this is how your going to have a career in this league.
-Yes, but we don't really know about the guys who take rookies aside in May Minicamp. We only know the guys who shout "What Time is It!" before games, the guys who are good copy so they get extra articles about them.

I don't doubt Peyton. Ray Lewis is certainly a leader in Ballimore. Let's look at LaDainian Tomlinson. He was everything a team could ask for in a player as of 2 years ago. Now, not only is he allegedly washed up, but there is talk that he is a malingerer.

Look at Marvin Harrison.

There are real leaders. There are guys they say are "leaders" where it is all PR. There are great leaders who get no ink. And it is rare that we can tell who is who from our perspective.

Team leader to the press is any guy who has played for a long time and isn't obviously an asshole.

That's a thing we get in Philly: There's the official party line, the Talk Radio Rumor line, and the real player who lies somewhere in between. I love FO because we evaluate what happened on the field as 98% and the manufactured "what kind of guy is he" persona 2%.

But we don't know. He can lead a bunch of ways, but we don't know. We can't tell on TV. We can't tell from newspaper articles. We can't tell from the out-of-context quote that the talk show picked up and harped on for 4 days. We can't even tell when a player says "He's a Leader" because they say that to make reporters go away. With the exception of Peyton Manning Good and TO Bad, we just don't know. There's no stat. There's no scouting tape. Theres just smoke mirrors and hype.
The point is, we as fans have a pretty good idea of who the good guys are, but we tend to project leadership qualities on to them. It's rare that you actually see with your own eyes a player leading other players on game day. Unless you are an idiot like Ray Lewis jumping and shouting like an asshole, the cameras aren't going to show you (see: Thomas, Zach).

Most of the real leadership takes place where we, and reporters, can never see it. So to rely on quotes to label people leaders is a little ridiculous.

The most important leadership on a team comes from the coaching staff. Just look at Miami. It lost the two biggest leaders on the team in Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor, and brought in Tony Sparano and Bill Parcells who instantly changed the culture and rocketed the team forward. A team's culture is much more important than any one player's perceived ability as a leader.

Bottom line, don't worry about losing Vonnie Holliday. The defense isn't going to suddenly collapse without his leadership.

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