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Confidence in Miami Dolphins Defense

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In Miami’s defense, individually, the Dolphins’ defense has a very good group of players.

Reshad Jones is a Pro Bowl-caliber safety, Xavien Howard is an elite cornerback and Minkah Fitzpatrick is on his way to becoming one.

Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are phenomenal defensive tackles that cost a fraction of what they’re really worth, and both Jerome Baker and Raekwon McMillan give Miami a solid, young tandem in the middle of the field.

So with all of this “talent”, how did Miami end up with the 29th-ranked defense last season?

Individually, Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh were two of the top players at their position across the entire NFL; and yet, how well did those defenses do during their tenure?

  • 2015: 25th
  • 2016: 29th
  • 2017: 16th

We have no idea what kind of results Patrick Graham‘s defense is going to produce, but he has an opportunity to mold a group of talented individuals into a threatening team.

These starters all show promise, but do they provide us with a sense of confidence heading into 2019? See who’s letting us relax and who has us on edge down below:

Defensive Line
Confidence Level: 5
Confident Players: 2

Anchored by two late-round picks that came into their rookie training camp with minimal expectations, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor have stolen the show. Drafted in the 5th and 6th rounds respectively, both defensive tackles have transcended their “draft value” and evolved into reliable starters on the defensive line.

The foot injury to Taylor in Week 8 dampened an otherwise dominant season from the Oklahoma State product, to the point where we started to believe that Taylor may actually be the better defensive tackle between the two.

This is a glorious problem to have for any team, as both players will combine to cost $1.38m against the salary cap next season. These are the exceptional values you receive when you draft stellar talent deep in the draft, and Chris Grier deserves praise for identifying just that.

Where Grier deserves some skepticism is with the performance of his team’s defensive line since taking over as Director of College Scouting in 2007.

Since then, Miami has averaged the 19.5th-ranked rushing defense.

During that time, the team has had:

  • The top-10 rushing defense 3 times (25%)
  • The bottom-10 rushing defense 6 times (43%).
    • In fact, they’ve been bottom-3 as many times as they’ve been top-10.

Recent draft hauls help quell thoughts of incompetent defensive lines, but given the number of resources (money and draft picks) used to solve a defensive line that’s currently in shambles, it’s safe to say our confidence level is average at best.

Christian Wilkins should make it a triple threat on the defensive line, but he is an unknown commodity at this point. Charles Harris was selected #22 overall, and he has provided virtually no assistance to this defense during his two-year tenure.

Even if Wilkins is double the player Harris was, it’s still not enough to eliminate every concern at the position.

Akeem Spence returns and should be a quality backup rather than a starter turned boxer. The only player preventing this defensive tackle room from being the best in the league is the exclusion of William Hayes.

What the Dolphins don’t have are players that can rush the quarterback.

After losing Cameron Wake to the Tennessee Titans and trading Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys, the Dolphins are left with Harris and a bunch of practice squad players.

It doesn’t matter how good Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick are, if the opposing quarterback has all day to throw, a receiver is going to get open.

Think back to the Buffalo Bills game last year in Miami when Josh Allen was able to find Zay Jones for multiple touchdowns after each play lasted an elongated amount of time. Allen was also two inches away from hitting Charles Clay in the endzone on a desperate hail Mary attempt….on another play that was extended extensively.

Since 2007, Grier has had a hand in drafting 5 defensive linemen in the first 2 rounds. Combined, out of a possible 292 games they could have all played, they were active for 191 of those games (65.41%) and started just 51 (17.47%) of them:

Clean slate? We’ll give these players one. Confidence they’ll evolve into productive players? Neutral.

Linebackers
Confidence Level: 4
Confident Players: 1.5

You’re just as likely to find half of a human playing football as you are to find Kiko Alonso playing Jeopardy.

Since tearing his ACL in 2014, the former Oregon linebacker has been pretty durable. Up until his ankle injury towards the end of last season, Alonso played every defensive snap. In 2018, Alonso was responsible for another 1004 snaps (92.19%).

But that’s where the consistency ends.

Alonso is going to be on the field and he’s going to consistently give you 8 tackles a game. He is consistently around the ball, but it’s usually after the ball is caught by the opposing running back or tight end.

He diagnoses plays fairly well, but he doesn’t get to his opponent until they are already 3-yards up the field.

To be fair, this actually speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the Dolphins defensive line. If they were able to contain the run better, rush the quarterback with any kind of consistency, or had a 0-technique or 2-technique defensive tackle that was able to maintain the middle of the field, Miami’s linebackers would probably perform better than they have.

This unit makes up for a lot of defensive line failures.

But Kiko is not half the player we’re confident in. Raekwon McMillan’s ACL injury really dampened what could have been a more-promising career up to this point.

McMillan should have been able to get his “rookie mistakes” out of the way in 2017, and 2018 should have instilled more confidence in our defensive play caller.

Overall, he did an admirable job. There were instances where he was burned terribly in coverage, but he also had stretches during the season where he was one of the better defensive players on the field.

I’m simultaneously skeptical of what McMillan can become, but I also believe last season was both a recovery period and a learning curve.

Statistically, McMillan is not a better player than Kiko Alonso, which makes it debatable that he’s a player we’re confident in.

In this case, we’re not rounding up – and we’re being a bit generous with McMillan’s 0.5 – but maybe Kiko deserves a 0.5 himself, and together, they can make one, complete linebacker.

The youngest starter in this unit, Jerome Baker is expected to take the next step and become a better outside rusher and coverage linebacker. Ironic thing is, if you pay attention to the grapevine, it’s possible Baker is an odd-man out in Patrick Graham’s defense.

Personally, I think it’s asinine to leave your best player off the field for extended periods of time (think of what happened last year with Matt Burke and Minkah Fitzpatrick). Good coaches find ways to utilize good players.

Baker is the one of the only linebackers we’ve had confidence in since Zach Thomas or that one season Joey Porter went off (2008).

This unit’s productivity has a lot to do with the defensive line. If Miami can win their battles in the trenches, the team’s linebackers should prosper. Otherwise, “Tank for Tua” is in full-swing.

Secondary
Confidence Level: 7
Confident Players: 3

This position group easily has the capability of becoming a top-10 unit, and it’s not ludicrous to say it could even be a top-5 unit in 2019.

It’s also possible that this position group bottoms-out and ends up living in the bottom third of the league.

On paper, this unit should naturally improve from the 16th-ranked passing defense in 2018:

  • Eric Rowe is better than the missing #2 boundary cornerback we rolled out last season – even if it would be more-ideal if Rowe were a depth player.
  • The Dolphins are expected to solidify positions for both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Bobby McCain.
    • Allowing McCain to thrive in his natural slot cornerback position.
    • Giving Fitzpatrick the opportunity to become an elite talent at one, specific position rather than a valuable Swiss Army knife.
  • A complete season of chemistry under their belt.
    • T.J. McDonald has now worked with Reshad Jones for a full season.
    • Fitzpatrick isn’t trying to learn the ‘lay of the land’ while studying 3 different positions.
    • Defensive Captain Bobby McCain got the “I hope I can live up to my contract extension” butterflies out of his system.

Thing is, we used some of these similar reasons to excuse 2017.

After missing the first 8 games of the 2017 season due to a suspension, McDonald jumped into a starting role in Week 9 – fresh off of a contract extension he earned due to his training camp performance.

We expected vintage 2014 McDonald, and instead we received a player who wasn’t even as productive as Isa Abdul-Quddus.

And it’s not to say that the fans weren’t rooting for McDonald to succeed. We gave him an ample amount of excuses: he had to learn Matt Burke’s playbook, he was shaking off some rust, he had to figure out a way to coexist with Reshad Jones – both of whom are better-suited as strong safeties.

All of which may have some validity to them, but his 2018 performance reminded us why the Los Angeles Rams let a once-promising young player walk. Statistically, it seems like Miami made the right decision, but if you watched McDonald in coverage, he was more of a liability than he was a playmaker.

McCain was expected to settle in at his slot cornerback position last season when he received a $27m contract extension. He was thrust to the outside when Miami realized they actually needed to field someone opposite Xavien Howard.

It’s hard to say it’s entirely McCain’s fault for his subpar season, but when you’re making $6.75m a year (and you’re the 5th-most expensive player on the roster in 2019), you’re expected to provide a solution, not become a detriment.

Although there are only a few players we’re confident in, we aren’t really too concerned about this group either.

If McCain and McDonald are as bad as they were last year, you figure Miami’s passing defense should stay right around 16th again. However, if they perform closer to the expectations their contracts dictate for them, this secondary can carry this Dolphins team to more victories than the “2020 QB club” would like.

Is Reshad Jones “declining”? Yes.
Is Reshad Jones overpaid? Yes.
Did his attitude last season tick us off? Eh, kinda.

But, Jones is still a quality player to have in your backfield. Don’t let the lack of trade offers fool you, no one wants an aging $17.2m safety. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be productive for Miami this year.

The hard-hitting safety will burn us a few times when he takes the wrong coverage angle, but he’ll probably make up for it with an impressive interception or two.

Jones hauled in 3 interceptions last season, but it was also the first year of his career in which he didn’t record even half a sack.

Let’s not allow our emotions cloud the kind of player Jones is for this team. Could the situation be better? Absolutely. But would you rather Walt Aikens back there? What about McDonald? At least until 2020, you have Reshad Jones – and I’m confident he will produce for the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Between the offense and defense, Miami has 9 players we are confident in. That’s nearly enough to field half a starting football team!

Stay strong, Dolphins fans. 2020 is the year this team is complete and competes. Allegedly.

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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