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Miami Dolphins

Defining the Tank and Exploring the Alternatives

Travis Wingfield

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A Message from a Pro-Tanker

The season began as a quiet one for the Dolphins fan base through the four games in September. Social media or otherwise, supporters were mostly able to compartmentalize the 2019 season for what it is — a stepping stone.

Now, the Dolphins are set to host a fellow winless outfit, and the fan base is divided once more. The possibility of a win tantalizes some. The likelihood of a loss brings the others one step closer to the ultimate prize — the top pick in next year’s draft.

We’ll delve into the hypothetical alternative, and what it might have looked like this season, but it’s important to take the temperature of the collective. To self-govern ourselves (myself) by observing the rhetorical situation and how our ideas (tweets) are perceived by others.

One obstacle of covering this sport (this team) for a living is the development of rigid ideas. Inundating myself with the daily activity of the team, the analysis and the all-22; all of it can equate to a sense of entitlement. Platforms in this industry are hard-earned, but it’s equally difficult to avoid becoming a preachy prick that dismisses any idea other than his own.

While I’m adamantly behind the idea of doing whatever it takes to acquire the best quarterback available, I don’t ever think it’s fair to dismiss another’s feelings or emotion attached to the team. That’s entirely the right of the individual.

The sport is entertainment, an enjoyable hobby that we all digest in different ways. The last 20 years — which equates to nearly the entirety of my football fandom as a 31-year-old — has somewhat desensitized me to the idea of a losing season.

Growing up directly in the middle of the century of mediocre Dolphins football has allowed me to open myself up to drastic measures to get this thing fixed. I have longed for even the imaginary scenario where Miami are 10-3 heading into a December game with the Pats, and a chance to clinch home field. How sad is that fantasy? No grand illusions of winning the big game, but rather settling for entering January with expectations. Something that simply hasn’t happened since Lamar Smith’s epic, overtime touchdown run in the 2000 playoffs.

It’s not as though the pro-tank crowd is taking solace in Miami’s defeats; it’s the foresight to recognize that this is beneficial to expediting the rebuild. It’s no different than rooting against the Steelers in pursuit of that draft pick climbing up the board. Of course, there are more preferable routes to get back to the glory that this franchise used to enjoy, nobody is arguing otherwise. It’s the belief that either outcome — winning five games, compared to winning no games — leaves the team in the exact same place, but with one caveat.

A higher draft pick.

There’s no thought about 2019 in this pursuit. It’s entirely, 100%, unequivocally about 2020, and beyond. It always has been. If it all works, this will be a mere, comedic footnote to a new era of Dolphins football.

Alternatives to the Tank

These two topics could’ve stood on their own as independent articles, but I think they work best in tandem. To support the argument of the tank I’d like to look at the likely alternatives had Miami taken an alternative route.

The route defined as maximizing market opportunities. If Miami continues to properly assess it’s own assets, then the likelihood of building a roster capable of sustaining postseason and championship success increases.

Market opportunities. That term should stand out as you comb through that description. Nobody will argue against losing Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and those departures certainly prolong the rebuild. The Dolphins negotiated the situation to capitalize on a rare opportunities (Houston desperate for OL help, Pittsburgh dealing a R1 pick with a backup QB at the reins),  to sell commodities for a price much greater than what Miami paid to initially acquire said players.

The Minkah Fitzpatrick pick is on its way to turning into a top five selection, while Laremy Tunsil brought back more draft picks than some blockbuster quarterback moves.

Those deals should be viewed on a unanimous plane by the fan base. Difficult pills to swallow as talent exits, but an acknowledgement that Miami seized unusually above-market value assets in return.

We good with that?

Then, the issue of the rest of the roster.

Sep 15, 2019; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (29) celebrates after recovering a loose football during the second half against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Miami’s biggest free agent buy — aside from the unrivaled salary at the quarterback position — didn’t break camp with the team. Nobody received a bigger free agent contract to bring their respective talents to South Beach than Dewayne Allen. He was cut at the conclusion of August.

Devante Parker was brought back, though hit deal was greater than Allen’s, but as far as incoming free agents not named Ryan Fitzpatrick, Allen was the gem of the class, financially speaking.

The Dolphins entertained current Saints fill-in Teddy Bridgewater, but the Miami native opted to stay in New Orleans as Drew Brees’ backup. Losing games was never the driving point of the offseason model, but rather setting a price point and committing to a linear mode of operation.

The opposing approach is exactly the route Miami took to wind up in this mess. Undoing the nearly $100 million in guaranteed money signed over to the likes of Andre Branch, Kiko Alonso, T.J. McDonald, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Quinn required some accounting gymnastics to reset the books, and give the team a fighting chance in the future.

Eric Rowe, Chris Reed, Tank Carradine — this was store from which Miami were shopping. These players — and their contract demands — jived with the Dolphins first priority of a hard financial reset.

It started with the firing of Adam Gase. In his 2018 season debrief with Stephen Ross, Gase was informed of the new direction. He didn’t agree with it, and the two sides parted company.

So, what if Gase persuaded Ross to maintain the status quo? What would that look like? Of course, the Dolphins could’ve axed Gase, then continued the Band-Aid approach with a new regime. But the jimmies and joes were still lacking, even with better X’s and O’s.

Let’s go name-by-name.

Ryan Tannehill – I don’t think this one requires a lot of explanation. It was time for the organization to end this relationship. If Tannehill had been brought back, the team’s on-field performance improves from what we’ve seen through four games, but the win total doesn’t. The additional $13 million of cash compensation would’ve prevented Miami from rolling money into next offseason by paying the debt in this rebuild season.

Saving money and preventing another seven or eight-win season sounds like a win-win. Tannehill is the Titans backup and has not seen regular season action.

Robert Quinn – Miami also ate dead money on Quinn’s trade, but the cash savings were considerable with the pass rusher’s departure. Miami finagled another draft pick (4th for Tannehill, 6th for Quinn) in addition to clearing out more cash commitments — $20 million between the two.

Quinn has appeared in three games for the Cowboys with four QB hits (he had 15 all of 2018).

Josh Sitton – The team cut Josh Sitton in March. The guard promptly retired from football two months later.

Danny Amendola – Lopping off Amendola’s salary saved the team $6 million in 2019 cash commitments. The receiver has 11 receptions and 147 yards through four games in Detroit.

Dec 30, 2018; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Kiko Alonso (47) leaves the field after being ejected against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Ja’Wuan James – James is a good player, but the concerns with him were always about injuries. After inking a deal with Denver that made him the second highest-paid right tackle in football, James played one game and has been on the shelf since the opener. That brings his games-played-total to 47 out of 69 over the last five seasons. If Miami matched Denver’s offer, they would’ve owed James $17 million in cash this season, and been on the hook for another $15 million in guaranteed cash over the coming years.

Akeem Spence – Spence was a surprise survivor of the original purge, but didn’t make it past camp with the Dolphins. Now, in Philadelphia, the defensive tackle has four tackles and no sacks, or tackles-for-loss, through four games. Miami saved more than $3 million by cutting Spence.

Kiko Alonso – Alonso personified faulty self-scouting among football fan bases. For three years, Alonso was a liability, yet he ate up hefty portions of the cap. Trading Alonso relieved Miami of $3 million in guaranteed money. Alonso has six tackles in five games for the Saints.

T.J. McDonald – Cutting McDonald penalized the Dolphins more than it saved ($1.4 million in total savings), but it removed a player that was not a scheme fit. McDonald worked out for the Raiders in September, but remains a free agent.

Tunsil, Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills are all performing well in their new cities. Excusing those three players would be disingenuous to the exercise. The point remains, however, that retaining those players wouldn’t have moved the needle beyond a few games for a team that benefitted from cap relief (present and future) and acquired a ransom of draft picks.

Miami saved more than $45 million by parting ways with Quinn, Alonso, Amendola, Spence, McDonald, James and Tannehill.

Together, these 7 players respectively rank 48th, 103rd, 48th, 140th, and three DNQ’s (Tannehill, McDonald and James) at their positions according to Pro Football Focus. With them, Miami was still in need of a roster reconstruction project. With a reward for what? Six, maybe seven wins?

Is that satisfactory?

It’s up to you to embrace the new operating procedure in Miami. It’s nuanced, it’s consistent, and yet it promises nothing — but after two decades of enduring positively nothing, I’m willing to try something new.

@WingfieldNFL

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Damon Williams

    October 9, 2019 at 11:39 am

    Another great piece!

    • Avatar

      Rick Vesser

      October 9, 2019 at 11:58 am

      Hey Travis, loved the article. Everyone should see this to help possibly seeing the Dolphins mgmt thinking & finally acting responsible in making right decisions. From a Dolphin Fan in N. Idaho, thanks for putting it out there!

  2. Avatar

    MM

    October 9, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    You are a very good analyst. I doubt you’d be able to find a cowboys’ fan who would give up one of the three early 90’s Lombardis for a couple more wins in that 1-15 ‘89 season. This league is intensely competitive. Building a winning team is going to require a fair amount of pain.

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.

A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.

Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).

Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.

Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.

It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.

We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.

 

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