Out of the shadows? Miami Dolphins aren’t getting respect 9-5 team commands

Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Dolphins players say they’re worried about only one thing, and given that they could be just a few days away from clinching their first playoff berth in ages, it’s understandable. The topic presented to them wasn’t the Buffalo Bills, so they embraced a chance to discuss it as enthusiastically as a trip for an MRI.

At 9-5, are the Dolphins getting the kind of respect a 9-5 team deserves? (Honest answer: No.)

It’s easy to file this under the label of “who cares?” As long as the standings say what they say, there is something to be said for that.

But it does matter. It matters today and it could matter even more tomorrow.

As social media can attest, it matters to you. And despite what the players say, it matters to them.

This week proved it. When the Dolphins placed only two players on the Pro Bowl roster (Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake), cries rang out among fans that it’s another sign of disrespect toward the Dolphins. Receiver Jarvis Landry, the primary victim, avoided joining the chorus because to do so would cause the dreaded “distraction” at such a critical time.

Truth-serum time: NFL players don’t care about playing in the Pro Bowl. They very much care about making the Pro Bowl.

Respect doesn’t just equal a Pro Bowl invite. With it comes money (triggering incentive clauses in contracts). With it comes TV exposure. It’s a stamp of legitimacy in the eyes of free agents. Did we say it brings money (as in merchandise sales)?

So do the Dolphins get respect?

Miami Dolphins free safety Walt Aikens (35), celebrates on his way to scoring a two-point conversion on a blocked extra point by Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Dolphins free safety Walt Aikens (35), celebrates on his way to scoring a two-point conversion on a blocked extra point by Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro. (Bill Ingram / The Palm Beach Post)

“Nah,” safety Walt Aikens said. “But it’s all good.”

“Uh, no,” Landry said. “But I’ll say again, being around this group of guys and in this locker room, just in this building, period, there’s a lot of blue-collar workers who at the end of the day are going to let the results and the record and the score and all that take care of itself.”

Most players, including Aikens, defensive end Andre Branch and right tackle Ja’Wuan James, said  they’ve given the subject little thought because it’s out of their control and clutters the mind. But a bit of probing shows there’s more to it.

Aikens, on whether respect has an impact on Pro Bowl selections: “I feel like it definitely has an impact, because that’s all about publicity and getting your name out there. … When you get your name out there, you get a lot more recognition and it’s an easier target for Pro Bowl-status-type deals.”

Some teams get a steady diet of 1 p.m. regional telecasts. Others seem to pop up every other week in prime time. Get Cris Collinsworth singing your praises to a national audience — it’s never a bad thing.

In their glory days, the Dolphins were darlings of “Monday Night Football.” Here’s how much they’ve fallen off the map since: When NBC took over the marquee prime-time games in 2006, the Dolphins-Steelers was the debut game, a special edition of “Sunday Night Football” on a Thursday. Since then, the Dolphins have been chosen to play on the main stage once, a Sunday night game vs. the Jets in 2010.

Last week, NFL Network featured Landry and his mother, a rare tip of the cap by network pre-game shows toward the Dolphins. A month into Miami’s six-game winning streak, ex-Jets linebacker Bart Scott, a guest analyst on Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” said anyone banking on the Dolphins making the playoffs was falling for “fool’s gold.”

It’s somewhat understandable. Seven years of futility cannot be erased by two months of success. One season of Adam Gase does not wipe away 3 1/2 of Joe Philbin. Still, NBC grabbed the Cowboys-Bucs last weekend on the basis of current performance rather than the fact both teams were as bad as the Dolphins last season.

Clyde Christensen

Clyde Christensen

Offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said, “I think one of the things that (stands) out to me is we have to keep going and getting the respect for this franchise, this team, and get that back to where a lot of that, unfortunately, is how much you’re in the big games on TV, what you do in December, playoff games – all those things.”

Does that matter to players?

“Whatever,” Branch said. “If we play at 1 or we play at 8:30, we’ve still got a game.”

Right. Come next year when the Dolphins return to “Sunday Night Football” (that’s a prediction, not a promise), you’ll hear player after player chirping about how exciting it is to be under the lights, with all their peers looking on.

Fact: Out of all the teams with nine or more wins in the NFL, the only team shunned more than the Dolphins in Pro Bowl selections was Detroit (9-5), which was shut out. Heck, Tennessee (8-6) has five representatives.

“As long as we take care of each other and we support each other in-house, in my eyes, that’s all that matters,” right guard Jermon Bushrod said. “You don’t have to talk about us, and that’s fine. That’s not going to slow us down. That’s not going to hinder the way we go to work.”

Could the lack of attention inspire players?

“Maybe.”

So is Bushrod having it both ways? It doesn’t matter, but it could matter?

“I think because I’m a lineman, nobody talks about you when things are good, things are cool,” Bushrod said. “When things are going bad, they find all the reasons to pounce all over you.”

There is one aspect we can all agree on: If the Dolphins keep winning, respect — with all the rights, privileges and cash therein — would eventually follow.

“Exactly,” Bushrod said.

[Mike Pouncey says he’s back in 2017, no doubt]

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