1996: Dolphin gamble: Gardener
The Dolphins talked with the New York Giants earlier in the week about moving up to No. 5 in the first round of the NFL Draft but didn't have nearly the ammunition to get there for a shot at troubled Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips.
Or, as coach Jimmy Johnson said as he entered to address the media, "Well, we did give you something to write about."
Later, Johnson made two trades, including one with Dallas owner Jerry Jones. Johnson gave up the No. 49 overall pick, a second-rounder, for the Nos. 79, 98, 134 and 150.
In the third round, the Dolphins used the 79th pick, obtained from Jacksonville, to select cornerback Dorian Brew of Kansas. The Dolphins used the 80th pick, their own, to get UCLA running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar.
As statistics and potential go, the Dolphins drafted a lot of both with the 6-foot-61/2, 320-pound Gardener, who was rated as the No. 1 Boom-or-Bust player by Pro Football Weekly draftnik Joel Buchsbaum. Gardener, who runs a 4.89 40-yard dash, is what a defensive tackle would look like in cybervision if you put the requirements in a computer.
Now that the Dolphins have him, what will he compute to be? Defensive line coach Cary Godette said he envisioned Gardener as either a tackle or end. Getting him ready to play will depend on factors such as conditioning and attitude adjustment. Gardener seems ready for both, especially after being embarrassed. He had expected to be a top-10 pick. "This is motivational for me," Gardener said. "All these people that doubted me and had problems with me will have problems with me when I play them with the Miami Dolphins. I thought I was a better player than that.
"I still have high expectations of myself. ... I'll try to make a career out of it and be in the Pro Bowl, plus in the Hall of Fame. I'm not looking for anything less because I know what Daryl Gardener can do."
The Dolphins appear ready to take care of one factor quickly. Johnson said it is a priority to sign Gardener as soon as possible. They have already talked contract with Gardener's agent, Neil Schwartz.
Schwartz said he'll be in town today and that he didn't anticipate any problems.
"I spoke with the Dolphins when the selection was being made," Schwartz said. "We have some parameters already. It's in everyone's best interest to get this deal done. If they come up with No. 20-pick money, with a rookie cap increase and some upside money, you can't argue with that."
What Schwartz is saying is that if the Dolphins give Gardener roughly a 10 percent increase on Luther Elliss' five-year, $4.9 million contract at No. 20 with Detroit last season, this deal could be done soon.
The sooner the better, because everyone realizes Gardener has a lot of work to do. Despite his size and speed, Gardener was inconsistent at Baylor. He started from his freshman year on but never had more than 41/2 sacks in a season.
Still, Johnson compared him with Dallas' Leon Lett and Green Bay's Reggie White. Lett may be the best lineman in football right now. White has been the best for a decade and is on his way to the Hall of Fame.
"I think he's as talented as any defensive lineman I have ever coached and I've coached some pretty good ones," Johnson said. "I think right now he's a more talented guy than, for instance, a Leon Lett. That's not to say that he's going to be a better football player than Leon Lett ... but I think Gardener has that kind of talent."
Then came the White comparison.
"I don't know if Reggie White can outrun him or not," Johnson said. "But I'll tell you what, and you may throw rocks at me if you want to, but on certain plays I saw Reggie White."
Gardener is nothing if not intriguing. He has size, speed and intelligence. Johnson said Gardener scored perfect 10s for confidence and competitiveness. On the NFL's Wunderlich test, Gardener scored 26, which is unusually high.
Gardener immediately showed mental agility and confidence. He addressed his inconsistency right away.
"It's a fair criticism because it's true," Gardener said. "I have weight on me and it's hard to push around this weight."
That weight isn't fat. Gardener is built more like a swimmer, his torso forming a V in a chiseled form. Gardener benched 225 pounds 30 times at the NFL combine, tying him for sixth best among defensive linemen.
Johnson noted that, saying that although Gardener didn't perform consistently after the first quarter of most games, neither did he get pushed around.
"The thing you see in him is that he didn't get pushed back," Johnson said. "Most guys, when they're tired, get knocked around. This guy still held up the offensive lineman."
All of that combined to make Gardener worth the risk. A big risk? Yes. A big reward? Johnson thinks so.
"Yeah, there's a risk," Johnson said. "But it gets down to your philosophy. Do you want to be safe and good or do you want to take a chance and be great?''