DAVIE, Fla. -- If it wasn't for a sturdy boat, the career of Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Keith Traylor might have sunk.
Traylor acknowledged this week that former coach Nick Saban's volatile demeanor wore him down, and the game he played since childhood was no longer fun. So the 37-year-old spent much of the offseason contemplating retirement and fishing with linebacker Channing Crowder, who tried to persuade his teammate to return for a 17th NFL season.
Crowder said his 16-foot boat has a 600-pound maximum weight, so by stepping on board, the 340-pound Traylor put more than his career in jeopardy.
"I guess he would have retired if it sank," Crowder said.
Crowder took Traylor on about 10 fishing trips in the offseason, and was one of a host of veteran teammates who lured Traylor back.
"We just wanted to let him know how important he was to us," Crowder said. "We didn't want that to be the reason he stopped playing."
Traylor said when Cam Cameron was hired to replace the departed Saban, and Dom Campers was retained as defensive coordinator, re-signing with the Dolphins was a sure thing.
"If the regime had stayed the same, I wouldn't have come back," Traylor said. "You just didn't want to hear it (from Saban). I can't talk to you that way, don't talk to me that way. We're grown men. We get paid just the same."
Cameron's calm, laid-back approach has played right into Traylor's personality. Under Saban, who once launched a tirade that brought a defensive tackle to tears, Traylor said he never felt happy. And though the Dolphins' defense was good, ranking fourth in the NFL in 2006, Traylor said playing wasn't fun.
"When you can come to work and not have to worry about being talked down to, it's easy to come to work and enjoy your work," Traylor said. "When you don't enjoy your work, the day is real hard."
With experienced nose tackles hard to find, the Dolphins are thrilled to have Traylor back. Although they're loaded with talent on defense, including NFL defensive player of the year Jason Taylor, linebacker Zach Thomas and newcomer Joey Porter, Traylor is a key presence.
"He's one of the leaders of this defense," Crowder said. "To lose him, I don't know how our defense would have recovered."
No player on the roster has been in the league longer than Traylor, who turns 38 in September.
He has 19 career sacks, including a career-high four last year, his second season in Miami.
"I can't tell you how pleased we were, and I know I am personally, that Keith is back," Cameron said. "He's such a tremendous leader. He has so much respect, not only in this league, but in this locker room."
Traylor will likely see his role somewhat diminish - battling 300-pound linemen for almost 20 years has taken its toll.
Fourth-round pick Paul Soliai has backed up Traylor during training camp. The rookie, among others, will likely get occasional playing time to rest Traylor during the grueling 16-game season.
"He's a rare guy. That's why he's played as long as he's played," Capers said. "Those guys are hard to find that can go in and do what he does, so he's going to have a significant role for us. We just have to realize that he's not a rookie."
Traylor was reluctant to discuss his future beyond this season. He said he's prepared to do anything to stay in the game, and might coach.
"I've been playing football forever. It's what I know how to do," Traylor said. "I'm not very good at fishing."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press