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Assessing the Depth of the Miami Dolphins

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: MiamiHerald.com

From the depths of hell, we present you with the Miami Dolphins‘ 2019 roster situation.

There was lots of chatter on social media yesterday regarding the overall depth of this team. Plenty of fans wanted to defend the various position groups this team developed, while others pointed out the overall lack-of-talent this team possesses.

While I do believe this team is better than most people give them credit for, they are still just one injury away from being on life support.

We all know injuries happen to every team every single year – it’s a matter of containing them and praying those injuries don’t derail your season.

Shallow History of our Depth

Let’s take 2018 for example:

The moment Vincent Taylor went down, the defensive line relied on other team’s trash to fill the position. Ziggy Hood and Sylvester Williams were invisible on the field; backed up by their combined statistical output of 14 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 tackles for a loss, 0 quarterback hits and 0 turnovers (while active for a combined 16 games).

Once the coaching staff realized that Tony Lippett would be unable to return to form from his torn achilles, we all held out hope that Cordrea Tankersley would evolve as a player. And when he didn’t, we witnessed an avalanche of moves that mightily hurt this defense.

Minkah Fitzpatrick played 3 different positions rather than settling into one. Bobby McCain was taken out of his slot corner position (where he excels), and gave us one of the worst seasons of his career.

We all felt we had a deep wide receiver room last season, and by the end of the year we were relying on Brice Butler and Leonte Carroo.

How did last year’s offensive line hold up when Daniel Kilgore and Josh Sitton went down with season-ending injuries? It didn’t.

What about when Laremy Tunsil had to miss time and the season essentially crashed on us during that Cincinnati Bengals game?

When Ryan Tannehill went down, we relied on Brock Osweiler. And I don’t think I need to repeat what happened in 2017 when Adam Gase virtually admitted the team didn’t have a solution on the roster and attempted to salvage the season by wasting $10m on Jay Cutler.

On paper, everything looks nice and promising – especially when we’re still 3 months away from meaningful football. But the season will provide a different story, and unless the addition of Brian Flores gives us a magical elixir that can prevent substantial injuries from happening, this season will feature some similar detriments.

So just how well will the team hold up?

As many have pointed out, we don’t even know who the 2019 starters will be, so how exactly can we gauge our team’s depth?

That’s where the first problem lies. You can’t have depth if you don’t have starters. You can put bodies into positions and ask them to perform, but if they are consistently overmatched, you don’t have formidable players.

Offensive Depth

The deepest position the Miami Dolphins have is the same position this team has been looking to solve for the past 20 years.

The Dolphins actually have 2 “starting” quarterbacks on this team. If one of them goes down, we have another that can step in and perform as if an injury never happened.

Thing is, you’re going from a bottom-third performer (Ryan Fitzpatrick) to one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league last year (Josh Rosen); but at least you have 2 options that you can say are legitimate.

This isn’t downgrading Ryan Tannehill to Brock Osweiler or Matt Moore, so you can be assured that an injury to one of these players isn’t the most detrimental thing that could happen. But for now, we have no idea what kind of production we’re going to get.

Fitzpatrick has played on 7 different teams for a reason, and Rosen is either a complete unknown or we have to call a spade a spade and call out his 11/14 TD/INT ratio, his 55.2% completion percentage and 66.7 quarterback rating. And if your excuse revolves around the Arizona Cardinals offensive line, what exactly is he getting into with Miami?

(This article isn’t about Josh Rosen’s potential as a franchise quarterback, that’ll be debated plenty this offseason)

Most will say that Miami has depth at wide receiver as well, but that’s stretching it. We reminded you what happened last year, and this year’s team has the same cast of characters at the position. Except this year, two of those players are coming back from substantial injuries, so who knows how they’ll perform.

Does DeVante Parker step up in year 5 and with a new coaching staff? Does Chad O’Shea have a legitimate gameplan for an unconventional receiver (Albert Wilson)? Does Jakeem Grant produce more than 228 yards in a season (or more than the 583 receiving yards he’s accumulated his first three seasons combined)?

Preston Williams could be a phenomenal find, but we don’t know what he is yet. Players like Isaiah Ford and Francis Owusu flashed in prior training camps, and they weren’t even worthy of being poached by another team from our practice squad, let alone provide productive playing time when they were in the lineup.

You don’t sign Brice Butler if you think you have depth. You don’t run out Leonte Carroo if you think you have depth. Do the 2019 Miami Dolphins have depth at the position? I’m skeptical, at best.

What does the rest of the offense have? Hope. And hope doesn’t mean you have depth.

I don’t have to waste too much time explaining the offensive line. They only have 2 legitimate starters in Laremy Tunsil and Jesse Davis. You could argue Daniel Kilgore is another legitimate starter, but his presence was more of a negative than a positive last season. Outside of those 3? Hope.

You can say the Dolphins have a deep running back room after drafting Myles Gaskin and signing Mark Walton from the 2018 draft class. They can be excellent players or they can be duds – nobody knows.

Kenyan Drake is a #1 running back and can be considered underrated across the league, but he needs to prove he can be a 1,000-yard back in the NFL. Kalen Ballage can be a solid compliment to Drake, but outside of his 75 yard touchdown run last season, he averaged 3.3 yards-per-carry. Any running back off the scrap heap can muster that.

This isn’t to disparage the potential these players have; but for now, nothing is proven. All we can do is….hope.

The tight end group is basically in shambles. Mike Gesicki had an underwhelming rookie season, but if he evolves he can still become a legitimate threat in this league. Durham Smythe served his purpose as a blocking tight end last season, but doesn’t offer much else in the receiving game. Nick O’Leary and his 86 receiving yards in 2018 don’t raise any kind of concern for opposing defenders or defensive coordinators. And Dwayne Allen is the team’s most-complete player…at 29 years old and after accumulating 27 receiving yards last season.

Having a bunch of possibilities at a position is nice – you want to have options. But options aren’t answers, right now they’re simply….hopeful.

Defensive Depth

Now that we’ve obliterated any potential the offense has, let’s take a look at the Dolphins’ defense. This is where you can form a better argument for where your depth lies.

You can start with the team’s defensive line and realize you have zero starting defensive ends, but a plethora of defensive tackles. A ying-yang of a conundrum that isn’t all that harmonious.

Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor, Christian Wilkins and Akeem Spence provide us with a great group of defensive tackles. There is both depth and starting talent here. Unless Wilkins turns into the next Charles Harris (entirely possible), this unit could survive a terrible injury and still not miss a beat. Not sure if they would still excel during a 16-game stretch if someone went down and they had to continuously rotate to keep them fresh, but for now it seems like this team is just fine at defensive tackle.

Like we just mentioned, there are basically 0 defensive ends on the roster, and you can’t have depth if you don’t have starters.

Linebacker seems like it should be better in 2019 than it did in 2018. Jerome Baker was a great 3rd-round pick, and his evolution as both a linebacker and a pass-rusher will provide this defense with a scary threat for opposing offenses.

Raekwon McMillan should be more comfortable calling plays and leading the defense. Since this is his “year 2”, he should be able to perform while thinking less and reacting more. He’s also in the process of learning a new scheme, so it’s entirely possible we witness another “growing year” for McMillan. Kiko Alonso isn’t the greatest starter, but he’s still a starting-caliber linebacker in this league and is capable of making plays.

This means we have 3 starting linebackers, but we’re discussing depth, not starters. Who’s going to step up if any of them go down?

Chase Allen and Mike Hull are formidable backups, but they’re special team’s specialists that otherwise get picked on when they’re in the starting lineup. Quentin Poling was a 7th-round pick in 2018 who remained on the practice squad all year. Nate Orchard is entering his 5th season and is coming from the Seattle Seahawks practice squad. Jayrone Elliot is coming from the AAF. And 5th-round pick Andrew Van Ginkel is a complete unknown. Will he turn into someone like Davon Godchaux or Jay Ajayi (as former 5th-round picks), or will he be stashed on the practice squad by the time preseason is over?

Again, plenty of bodies at the position, but that doesn’t mean you have answers.

Cornerback seems like it’s settled, but that depends on a myriad of factors. Xavien Howard is a stud and Bobby McCain is a great slot corner, but what exactly are you doing with Minkah Fitzpatrick? If he’s going to predominantly play cornerback, you’ve now taken away your safety depth, and if he’s going to play safety, your cornerback group is somewhat barren at best.

We are hopeful Eric Rowe will turn his career around as a former 2nd-round pick, but it’s entirely possible he’s a worse solution than Byron Maxwell was.

Cornell Armstrong and Jalen Davis can evolve into starters or even worthwhile backups for this team, but that hasn’t been proven yet. Torry McTyer was a surprising training camp story last year, but when he was thrust into a starting role he was picked on pretty badly.

Lots of possibilities at this position group, and I can buy the argument that this group is “set”, but I’m pushing my luck here. We’re potential living on (false) hope, and that’s not enough to satisfy my confidence in this group’s depth.

Reshad Jones is overpaid and T.J. McDonald can be a force when placed in the right scheme/position, but he was not a reliable starter for us last year. An aging playmaker (who we all want traded) and an underwhelming strong safety doesn’t give me much confidence in our starting safeties, but I’ll temper my pessimism for a moment and say those two are “fine”.

Behind them? Maurice Smith? I have no idea what I’m getting there. Walt Aikens? He’s a special team’s captain for a reason. We saw what happened to him when he was playing defensive snaps last year. If you think opposing offenses scoring touchdowns means we have depth, then we’ve had the best linebacking group in the NFL over the past decade.

This team has plenty of players that can evolve into legitimate threats. This team has plenty of players that can become menacing starters. This team has plenty of players that can develop into draft steals or solid signings. But what this team doesn’t have are definitive answers.

It simply has hope.

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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