If this is what doom-and-gloom looks like, then I want to be miserable.
While most Miami Dolphins fans conceded back in April that the 2019 season was about as lost as the original Spygate tapes, there seems to be this notion that the Dolphins are suddenly doing things wrong. That Brian Flores is not the leader this team needs.
A team that was pegged by all to easily go 0-16 – and to secure the #1 pick in the NFL draft – has a real chance of selecting outside of the Top-5 because they won too many games.
Does that sound like a head coach that’s doing a bad job?
In Miami’s 3 wins, their most-expensive players were:
- Albert Wilson (and his 7 total receptions) – $8.33m
- Ryan Fitzpatrick – $5.5m
- DeVante Parker – $4.84m
- Eric Rowe – $3.73m
- Charles Harris – $2.96m
Does this sound like a head coach that has a lot to work with?
Miami has more Pro Bowlers on injured reserve (3) than they do on their active roster (0).
Does this look like a head coach that’s in the best position to win?
After witnessing mediocrity for the amount of time it takes a human being to develop from shitting their pants uncontrollably to legally drinking alcohol, you would think a franchise that is doing things differently and methodically is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
The Miami Dolphins have used 80 different players on their roster in 2019, an NFL record.
Yesterday’s 53-man roster featured 11 players that returned from 2018, probably an NFL record.
Meaning, it’s been a revolving door of evaluations for Brian Flores and his staff from the moment he arrived. And that’s exactly what 2019 was supposed to be: a year to expunge the team’s cap space and evaluate talent for the future.
For some, it seems evaluations and results must go hand-in-hand. Better results = a better team, because, duh, wins are the ultimate measure of success. As if we don’t have the cognitive thinking skills to read between the lines…
“If It’s About Winning, Then Win”
Somewhere, the lines between exceeding expectations and winning football games was blurred.
Brian Flores did such an amazing job exceeding our expectations that he won too many football games. At the start of the season we expected 0 wins, now, towards the end of the season, we feared (another) two-game winning streak.
That shift in our expectations already indicates that 2019 was a successful season for growth and advancement. The fact that we are even debating whether or not Miami should beat the New York Giants or Cincinnati Bengals is a far cry from where we were 3 months ago, when we all just wanted to avoid 0-16.
Updated Draft order. pic.twitter.com/31zbq7maOs
— Burgundy Breakdown Pod 🎙 (@Burg_Breakdown) December 16, 2019
If you don’t realize that the bar for Flores’ performance has risen as each week passes, you’re delusional. 3 months ago we just wanted to score a point in the second-half. Now, we’re praying Miami doesn’t win another football game.
The two head coaches that are used to counter Flores’ productivity are the same head coaches that prove that winning doesn’t breed success.
Tony Sparano orchestrated the greatest turnaround in NFL history when the Dolphins went from 1-15 to division winners (11-5) in one season, but we’re tiptoeing around the fact that Chad Pennington is the real reason for that change. How well did Miami do when Pennington got injured? The answer is three-straight losing seasons and 3rd-place in the AFC East.
Adam Gase turned a 6-10 team into a 10-6 team, but once Ryan Tannehill went down, and Gase began to institute his own culture with his own players, the offense dwindled to the point that it became the 25th-best offense in 2017 and the 31st-best offense in 2018.
If anything, this further cements the fact that the Dolphins need to find their franchise quarterback before they deal with anything else, but that’s another topic for another time.
Brian Flores is on pace to win 4 games with the perennial 4-game winner, Ryan Fitzpatrick, under helm (53 regular season wins as a starter; 13 years in which he’s started NFL games = 4.08 wins-per-year).
Fans aren’t holding the Miami Dolphins to a winning standard. In fact, most of us still want this team to lose the last two games of the season. For us, wins aren’t the barometer we’re using. If that were the case, we’d say that the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons are having better seasons than the Dolphins.
Truth is, they’re closer to firing their head coaches than they are praising them. All 3 of those teams have franchise quarterbacks and their results are massively underwhelming. Miami, with Ryan Fitzpatrick as its leading rusher, has a chance of drafting behind these teams, and that thought makes some people believe Brian Flores isn’t the guy?
Three QBs lead their team in rushing this season: pic.twitter.com/ZyzsuTVlkJ
— ESPN (@espn) December 15, 2019
We can be pissed off about the “tank” all we want, but you have to be excited about a coaching staff that seemingly maximizes the talent on their roster.
“This Team Was Supposed to Tank”
Are you trying to make my case for me?
The reason the Miami Dolphins didn’t successfully tank is due to the head coach that was able to rally his team into beating multiple playoff-contending opponents.
We can question plenty of Chris Grier‘s draft picks, but Grier successfully stripped this team of talent while recovering draft picks in the process. He held his end of the bargain.
Flores, on the other hand, did not. His intent was never to concede the season, but to build a team with genuine camaraderie that could sustain success for a prolonged period of time. He wants his players to know that winning is the ultimate goal, and they are going to work their ass off each week in an attempt to do that.
Sounds cliche. Sounds like something every head coach wants to do. Until you realize there aren’t many head coaches capable of this.
Jarvis Landry gets in Freddie Kitchens face and tells him "that's f***** up"pic.twitter.com/TkAfTdzRLW
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 15, 2019
Adam Gase certainly couldn’t with the Dolphins, and currently isn’t with the New York Jets. See Janoris Jenkins‘ latest bout of immaturity that earned him walking papers from the New York Giants? How’s Freddie Kitchens doing in Cleveland? Think Dan Quinn has plenty of support with the Atlanta Falcons?
Flores job as the head coach is to take the players his general manager provides him with and try to win as many games as he can with them.
I think he’s doing a good job.
The Miami Dolphins may have identified two starting cornerbacks in Nik Needham and Jomal Wiltz. Both of these players have had their struggles throughout the year, but overall, Needham has been excellent in coverage and Wiltz has done very well in the slot.
This team actually has two legitimate tight ends in Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe. Whether or not they were drafted too high remains a debate, but you found your seam threat and your blocking tight end for the next two seasons.
When Kenny Stills was traded we felt we might not have any legitimate wide receivers going forward. At worst, the Dolphins have four capable starters with DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns.
Vince Biegel with a pick. He’s the top performer out of all these trades, waiver wire claims and practice squad poached players on the Dolphins roster. The cranberry man can play. He’s the new Rob Ninkovich for this defense.
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) December 15, 2019
Do issues still exist on this team? Absolutely!
You aren’t going to solve every problem in one year, not when you’re purposely removing talent and expensive salaries from your team. But do you feel like this team can’t solve those problems going forward?
Those Perfect Imperfections
I understand if we want to wait before prematurely dubbing Brian Flores the next Don Shula. It’s not like Flores and his staff have been mistake-free:
- Why weren’t we able to get this kind of production out of Minkah Fitzpatrick?
- How did we grossly mishandle Kenyan Drake all year?
- Why did it take so long to get Raekwon McMillan out there?
- Did he scout Josh Rosen and agree he was worth two draft picks?
- Especially when you realize they had Ryan Tannehill under contract and shipped him off just so they could spend more (in terms of assets, not money) on a worse player.
- We already forgot about the time Flores blared 8-straight Jay-Z songs to piss off Kenny Stills, but I’ll remind you for full transparency.
Flores is not flawless. The thing is, there isn’t a single fan that claims Flores is perfect. In fact, we acknowledge that this coaching staff has mishandled quite a few things throughout the year. But we also understand that Flores has been able to overcome each of these and build from them.
Flores isn’t enamored with a player’s draft status or the size of their contract; he makes it well known that he plays the best players, regardless of how you came to this team.
My respect level for Brian Flores has grown immensely today with his decision to start Ryan Fitzpatrick this week. Fitz is the better QB right now. NFL HCs start their best players. Period.
— Armando Salguero (@ArmandoSalguero) October 16, 2019
He has earned the respect of his locker room, something that hasn’t been accomplished since Tony Sparano or Jimmy Johnson back in the 20th-century.
On the field, this team is seeing better results than we envisioned. Off the field, this team is building a cohesive relationship rather than igniting a civil war between the players and the coaching staff.
Whether or not you believe Flores is the guy going forward is entirely up to you. You’re not wrong for wanting to see more, but to disregard what you’ve already witnessed is a weak way to protect yourself from the potential pitfall of another disappointing head coach.
If I ask you why you believe Brian Flores isn’t the right coach and you point to the Dolphins’ record, you’ve already lost.
If I ask you why you believe Brian Flores isn’t the right coach and you point to the Dolphins’ “upset” by the New York Giants, you’ve already lost.
If I ask you why you believe Brian Flores isn’t the right coach and you point to some statistical category, you’ve already lost.
We might be used to the doom-and-gloom, but that doesn’t mean the future is automatically miserable.
Turning the Machine in the Right Direction
Nearly a year ago, 11 months to be precise, I wrote this piece for Locked On Dolphins: “Small, Important Steps in the Right Direction”. It was me opining on what I felt like were a series of small steps Miami, specifically Chris Grier and the front office had taken in the right direction just after the Draft. At the time, Miami had accumulated a Draft Pick haul of a: 1st rounder, two 2nd rounders, a 3rd, two 4ths, a 5th, two 6ths, and two 7ths. We know war chest has expanded, and Miami’s sure to put that to effective use in just over a month at the 2020 NFL Draft.
So, where are Miami now?
Well, that’s an interesting question, but I’ll attempt to answer it. With a haul of 11 free agents, counting TE Michael Roberts who was signed before the new League Year, Miami’s managed to fill some of the holes the exited 2019 with. Perhaps most important, despite shelling out big money deals, all of them are structured in smart, team-friendly ways. Kudos to Chris Grier and Brandon Shore for that. It’ll pay dividends down the road.
With the Draft still a month away, at least as things stand with the COVID-19 outbreak right now, Miami’s needs have become clearer. Quarterback was always and still is the top priority for the Draft. Running Back is a need still, and there’s a plethora of top notch backs in this year’s class. Offensive Line, obviously. Miami can use help across the board there. With the defensive free agent signings, I’m not sure edge defenders are a need anymore, but I think Miami will still bargain shop there. Safety, specifically free safety, and a true nose tackle round out the needs list. At lest in my mind.
With 14 picks, and Miami probably won’t use all of them to make actual picks – I think some get used in trade ups and some get pushed to 2021 – Miami will likely be able to fill that remaining chunk of needs, which is a great place to be in. Perhaps Miami still shops around a bit in free agency, maybe for O-line depth or a cheap running back, but I think the focus now narrows to the Draft. Since that’s next month, let’s review the free agent crop.
Free Agent Fits
Our pal Travis Wingfield has done plenty of in-depth reporting on all of Miami’s free agent signings, so I’m going to give you my broad stroke takes on what Miami’s added this past week.
Miami added defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to help set the edge against the run. Kyle Van Noy is an outside linebacker with a sneaky amount of strength and ability to play with heavy hands and good leverage who can help set the edge too. What this means for Miami’s defense is that we’ll likely see more 4-man defensive fronts. Remember, when Brian Flores called the Patriots defense in 2018 his most used for formations were:
4-2-5 (307 snaps)
3-3-5 (226 snaps)*
3-2-6 (132 snaps)
4-3 (97 snaps)
* With the 3-3-5 package, there’s really two versions: The Bear front and the slide front. The Bear front typically included bigger defensive lineman to cover the opponents G-C-G with Hightower and Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy on edges, with Van Noy or Elandon Roberts off-ball. Think of the slide front as really a 4-2 front, but you have an OLB playing as a stand-up DE.
A potential hidden bonus here is that both Lawson and Ogbah have some experience playing in stand-up OLB/DE roles. Shaq Lawson did it some at Clemson and Ogbah had some limited experience in doing so last year with the Chiefs. I think Ogbah was used primarily as a rusher as I haven’t seen snaps of him dropping into coverage from that spot. But he’s been aligned there.
With the additions of Lawson, Ogbah and Van Noy, Miami’s going to try and be able to find analogs similar to Van Noy himself, more on that in a minute; Ogbah compares pretty well in play style to how the Pats used Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise that year; and Lawson’s versatility might lend him to be used in some, and I stress some, of the capacities in which they used Trey Flowers. With Van Noy, in 2019 he was almost an exclusive on-the-LOS edge LB. In 2018, his duties between being an edge player and off-ball linebacker were about 50-50. I don’t know that we’ll see that, but I think Van Noy’s snaps won’t be as an exclusive edge – he’s so versatile in how he can be used.
As much as I love Khalid Kareem and really like guys like K’Lavon Chaisson, Curtis Weaver, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marlon Davidson I have a difficult time picturing Miami spending a top-level resource on an edge defender. I think they’ll take a stab on a guy that falls or try and find value later on like Trevis Gipson, Jason Strowbridge, Chauncey Rivers, James Smith-Williams, etc.
No Fly Zone Southeast
I’ll admit, I in no way shape or form saw Miami going after someone like Byron Jones. In fact, I wonder if the Patriots franchise tagging Joe Thuney meant that money Miami might’ve offered to him was “freed up” to pursue other options. And man, did Miami get a nice player in Jones. Yes, he doesn’t have a ton of interceptions, but he does have 20 PBUs the past two years, and 44 for his career – nearly nine a year.
I’m a little dumbfounded that so many Dolfans think this signing means that Xavien Howard is on the trade block. Why would he be? Why would you dismantle a CB tandem this good? I get that X had the legal issue, but that was dismissed. I feel like if Miami wanted him gone, he’d have been gone by now.
What it means having a tandem like Byron and X is that you have a pair of corners that excel at press, can play off man, can both play on either side of the formation, and both can travel to the slot. That gives them some really nice flexibility and the opportunity to get creative with coverages. I’ll be really intrigued if they add a FS that allows Bobby McCain to play in the slot more, like he did in 2015-17. Miami could disguise a lot if that becomes an option.
When you combine Jones with the additions of Lawson and Ogbah up front, and Van Noy as someone who can play on the LOS or off-ball, you have to tip your cap to Miami for adding help at all three levels of the defense.
Depth and Special Teams
Miami apparently isn’t bringing back Walt Aikens, who was their best special teamer the past few seasons. Instead, Miami opted to bring in a trio of damn good special teamers, two of whom were captains. The one that wasn’t, Elandon Roberts, figures to get a chance to play in some packages on defense, just as he did with New England, and is a core special teams guy. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ate some of Chandler Cox’s reps as a fullback either. He’ll be fun to watch on whichever unit he’s getting snaps at.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, a fellow 6th round pick mate of the 2016 Patriots Class with Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts, is an intriguing player. While he might have been a better fit for Miami’s previous staff under Gase and Burke, he’s a fantastic special teamer and has shown well as a blitzer and coverage linebacker. His presence probably means guys like Sam Eguavoen and Calvin Munson are in the danger zone.
Clayton Fejedelem is more a like-for-like replacement for Aikens. A hard-hitting safety who’s a demon on special teams. Fejedelem probably won’t get a lot of looks on defense, especially if Miami ends up drafting another safety, but the bonus with Fejedelem, as compared to Aikens, is if you have to call on him to play on defense, he’s going to be better equipped to handle it.
Improving the Ground Game
I’ll admit, with Ereck Flowers being the first reported signing of free agency, I was a little worried the ghosts of Jeff Ireland and Mike Tannenbaum were summoned by the Tequesta. Flowers reputation carries stains, but he played well the second half of 2019 as LG for the Redskins. I hope Miami leaves him there. Ted Karras comes over after playing as center for the Patriots in 2019. He’s a bigger guy than Daniel Kilgore. He’s smart. He’s tough. He struggles a little in space and with power. I do wonder if Michael Deiter gets a shot to compete with him at the C spot with Flowers at LG, where Deiter played last year.
Both Flowers and Karras will get the opportunity to block for newly signed running back Jordan Howard (a favorite of my wife’s as he’s a fellow Indiana Hoosier). Howard’s a bigger back at 225lbs, but he’s more well rounded than he is a power back. He can catch and be a weapon in the pass game. He’s also pretty savvy with inside and outside zone runs. With Chan Gailey and Eric Studesville working on the ground game, Howard’s sure to get plenty of use.
Tight end Michael Roberts has played just 12 games over the past three seasons due to injuries and poor play. He was traded to the Patriots last year but failed a physical cancelling the trade. Detroit waived him and he was claimed by Green Bay but failed a physical there. He battled weight gain, depression and had his left shoulder surgically repaired. More of a blocking TE, he roasted the Dolphins in 2018, naturally, when Detroit came to Miami. If Roberts plays up to his potential, I think he’s got the ability to challenge Durham Smythe for that #2 TE role – being an inline TE.
Prepping for April
While the Draft won’t have the party that Vegas would’ve offered, that’s the next major step for Chris Grier. Miami needs to get the Draft right. We’re talking 2017 Saints right. We’re talking 2019 Raiders right. Miami has the opportunity to inject a lot of talent, in addition to the quarterback, into this team.
Go figure that the year Miami as FINALLY loaded up on picks, the COVID-19 breakout has forced Pro Days and 30 Visits to mostly be cancelled. And unless something drastically changes in the next few weeks, Miami and the rest of the league aren’t going to have as much operating information as they normally do. Miami will have to rely more on scouting than in the past.
The outbreak also likely puts a dent into each team’s offseason program. Teams will have to head into their offseason programs storming to get ready for the season. Let’s hope Miami doesn’t have a truncated offseason like they did in 2011 under Tony Sparano, which lead to an 0-7 start.
For now, with quarantines in place, there’s likely not going to be a lot happening for the Dolphins between now and the Draft. Hunker down. Watch tape (Game Pass is free). Familiarize yourself with Flores’s scheme. Watch “Humble and Hungry” – I highly recommend it! But above all, stay safe. We can get through this together.
You may recall Travis and I made a trip to Miami last year for the Bengals-Dolphins game. We were credentialed for it, meaning we were members of the media for that day. I think one of the most lasting impressions I have from that trip is just how many pieces work to create the “machine” that is each NFL team. Miami have a lot of great people in place.
I’d only ever been to one other Dolphins game in Miami. That was back in 2010. I don’t remember what Hard Rock Stadium was called at the time; it’s had many different iterations since it was Joe Robbie Stadium. But I remember walking around that stadium thinking it was dumpy. And I’d been to some dumpy stadiums – Old RFK Stadium for a Washington Nationals Game, whatever they call the Coliseum where the Raiders played, and the A’s still call home. Riverfront Stadium – the stadium of my youth. These were the stadiums that Hard Rock rivaled in 2010.
What Mr. Ross and Tom Garfinkel have done to the place is INCREDIBLE! I’ve been to Lucas Oil Stadium and the renovated version of Lambeau Field (2010 and 2016). Those two places are crown jewels. Hard Rock Stadium as it stands right now is nicer than both!
Miami’s building a fantastic new team headquarters and training complex. Travis and I stopped by Team HQ in Davie on our trip to pick up a parking pass for the game. The current HQ is nice (I live in Cincinnati and drive by Paul Brown Stadium daily on my way to work – that’s my comparison, but Miami’s is nicer), but it’s small. This new place is going to be world-class.
Brian Flores the Head Coach. While it’s only been a year with him at the helm, just by being in his presence, hearing him speak and listening to what the players said about him – there’s not a man in that building that wouldn’t run to the TNT Wall for him. Miami’s finally got the Head Coach they’ve longed for since Don Shula strode the sidelines.
The Dolphins have added 11 pieces so far, and the have the opportunity to select a new franchise quarterback in a month. If Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie, Brian Flores, the staff, and the scouts get this right Miami’s going to have built one hell of a machine. Just in time for the post-Tom Brady Era in the AFC East.
It’s a wonderful time to be a Dolfan! All is certainly not right in the world. Not by a longshot. But in these trying times where we all need to cling to some form of solace, the Dolphins are providing one. It’s a small part of my everyday life, but it’s one of my favorite parts. Always has been. Always will be. FinsUp!
Free agency opens; Reshad Jones, Mike Hull lead Miami Dolphins cuts
MIAMI (Locked On Dolphins) – While the two-day legal tampering period has already been underway, free agency officially opened on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Since many of the heavy-hitting signs and trades have already been announced, the start of the new league year will be more about ratifying all those moves.
The Miami Dolphins, at the time of writing, have announced 10 free agency moves.
And with that, there has been the consequential announcement of cutdowns to counterbalance the roster spots of incoming players.
Reshad Jones leads the list and is also the only technical release, but the Dolphins had already announced that.
Jones was going into his 11th season and spent the first 10 with the Dolphins.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones sign with a new team in the coming days of free agency.
Nearly half a dozen players were also waived: wide receiver T.J. Rahming, cornerback Rashard Causey, tackle Chidi Okeke, interior offensive lineman Evan Brown, defensive lineman Kendrick Norton, and linebacker Mike Hull.
Rahming, Causey, and Okeke spent the 2019 season as practice squad members.
Brown saw playing time late in the 2019 season but had been plucked off the Giants practice squad.
Hull might be the most interesting name on the list. He had been a scrappy ‘backer presence for the Dolphins after signing with the team as a UDFA in 2015.
Hull re-signed with the Dolphins last spring.
But he spent the 2019 season on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a knee injury and didn’t play.
Norton was also kept on the team during the 2019 season by way of the Non-Football Injury list after a car accident last summer.
Miami Dolphins Bring On Another Ex-Patriot, Sign LB Elandon Roberts
The Miami Dolphins are loading up on leadership. If there’s one thing the Dolphins have made a priority this offseason, it’s adding smart, determined football players to their team. Under Brian Flores‘ stewardship, I doubt we ever see a broken locker room again.
According to Cameron Wolfe of ESPN, the Miami Dolphins are signing linebacker Elandon Roberts to a contract. Financial details are currently unknown.
Dolphins agreed to a deal with former Patriots LB Elandon Roberts, per source.
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) March 18, 2020
Roberts is yet another ex-New England Patriot to leave Boston this offseason for warmer pastures down south, following fellow-linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and the recent addition of (center) Ted Karras earlier today.
Originally drafted as a 6th-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2016, Roberts has primarily served as a special teams ace, while also serving as depth at linebacker.
If you were impressed by Biegel’s production last season, you will be pleased with the type of versatility Roberts brings. Over the past four seasons, Roberts has been active for 60 games (starting 33 of them), and has accumulated 4 sacks, 6 passes defended, 206 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 14 QB Hits.
Roberts is stout against the run, something the Dolphins have lacked over the past couple of seasons.
Run-stuffing LB/FB Elandon Roberts, a team captain in 2019, reunites with Brian Flores. The Patriots have Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley as top ILBs. https://t.co/yvYxvVgMV4
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) March 18, 2020
If you were curious what all the additions at linebacker meant for Vince Biegel, this doesn’t make things any clearer. Biegel is tendered at a “cheap” rate next season, so there’s no need to trade him or let him walk, but with the additions of Roberts and Kamu Grugier-Hill so far this offseason, it seems snap counts are becoming sparser.
Right now, the Dolphins currently have the following linebackers on their roster for 2020:
- Chase Allen
- Jerome Baker
- Vince Biegel
- Jake Carlock
- James Crawford
- Jamal Davis II
- Sam Eguavoen
- Terrill Hanks
- Trent Harris
- Mike Hull
- Deon Lacy
- Raekwon McMillan
- Calvin Munson
- Andrew Van Ginkel
They recently added:
- Kyle Van Noy
- Elandon Roberts
- Kamu Grugier-Hill
Sam Eguavoen was a budding linebacker and special teams player for the Dolphins last season, but it looks like he’ll need to have an excellent training camp to remain on the team. It’ll also be interesting to see what this means for last year’s 5th-round pick, Andrew Van Ginkel.
- Turning the Machine in the Right Direction March 22, 2020
- Free agency opens; Reshad Jones, Mike Hull lead Miami Dolphins cuts March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Bring On Another Ex-Patriot, Sign LB Elandon Roberts March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins sign center Ted Karras March 18, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Bolster Their Running Backs, Sign Jordan Howard March 17, 2020