The Dolphins may have secured the sweep against the Jets with their 13-6 win on Sunday but the bigger question in the immediate aftermath of the game is what happened to Reshad Jones for him to pull himself out of the game?
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said safety Reshad Jones pulled himself out of the game
— Antwan V. Staley (@antwanstaley) November 4, 2018
The reaction online is that Jones is just another player to have fallen out with Adam Gase, following on from Jarvis Landry, Jay Ajayi and others.
If that’s the case, Sunday may have been the last time we see the safety don a Miami jersey.
Gase himself said he was unsure as to why Jones did what he did and that: “I haven’t asked a whole bunch of questions because we were having our own issues on the other side of the ball. It will be one of those things where I’ll probably learn a little more tonight and try to figure out what’s going on.”
There are some who believe Jones may have picked up an injury and rather than persevere on the field, knew that he would be a liability to his side and opted to sit the rest of the game.
Jason Hrina, in his instant reaction piece, said: “Personally, I have to think it has something to do with the torn labrum he’s been playing with this season rather than it being performance based. Miami would rather wait for clarifying results on Jones’ shoulder than admit one of their players is playing injured – though I’m sure it’s no secret to opposing teams. This will be something to monitor as the season continues.”
That theory seems to have been dEubunked already but it doesn’t mean it’s not true, the team may just be hiding it for now.
For the record: Reshad Jones was NOT hurt. I don't know why he pulled himself out of the game, but I can say with certainty that it was not injury related.
— Adam Beasley (@AdamHBeasley) November 4, 2018
So what if Jones’ issue isn’t with the head coach and it isn’t an injury, what if he’s had enough of playing under Matt Burke?
The last few weeks has seen opposing teams torch the Miami defence and during the week, Burke did say that “‘At some point, they have to learn some [bleep].”
What if that was aimed at the veteran?
Jones does like to freelance at times, the majority of the time he ends up making a play.
But given what Burke has seen over the last few games, there’s every possibility that he has demanded Jones stick to the script and become a team player.
It was the mantra all off-season and mainly aimed towards the offensive side of the ball.
But it would have been true on the defence as well.
It’s why Suh walked and a reason as to why Gase stuck up for Kiko Alonso in the off-season, Alonso does what he is told.
If Burke knows his job is on the line, he will need his guys to be on the same page.
Granted, if Jones was doing his own thing then the more likely scenario is that the defensive coordinator would have yanked Jones out of the game.
— Kadeem Simmonds (@KadeemSimmonds) November 4, 2018
Jones taking it upon himself to no longer play against the Jets could mean that he wanted to leave the field on his own terms, and not because he’s been ordered to.
Given that we have already seen one player retire during a game this season in Buffalo, Miami fans are right to fear the worst.
It would be a shame for Jones’ career in Miami to end like this.
If indeed he has fallen out with a coach, be it Gase or Burke, fans will be split on where their allegiances lie.
Do they stand by the coaching staff who have rubbed multiple players up the wrong way and haven’t exactly lit the NFL on fire in their three years at the franchise?
Or do they back the eight year vet who has given his all for the Miami Dolphins and is one of the team’s all time greats?
The initial feeling on social media is that this is the final straw for Gase, falling out with Landry and co is one thing, but Jones is where they draw the line.
All will be revealed in the coming days as attention turns to the Green Bay Packers.
Why Ryan Tannehill Will Be Miami’s Starting Quarterback in 2019
Buckle up, Dolphins fans. There is no TL;DR version of this. If you want to be invested in who the starting quarterback should be for the Miami Dolphins next season, take into account every bit of information that goes along with it. And I’m telling you upfront, there’s a lot.
This piece is not for someone who is sensitive or emotionally-charged about their 5-5 football team. Suspend your current desire to blow up the organization and start from scratch, and take a look at what questions and evidence lie before you.
Miami has been at a crossroads since it fired the greatest head coach and quarterback in the history of the NFL; almost as if it’s payment for irrationally and emotionally moving on from our franchise’s all-time greats. And, going into 2019, the Dolphins remain at the same crossroads they were at 20 years ago.
How exactly do they alleviate themselves from mediocrity?
The calls for a new head coach are slowly rumbling, but they aren’t as loud as the outcries for a new quarterback. While the team has been teased with Matt Moore, Jay Cutler and now Brock Osweiler (all previously starting quarterbacks for their former teams), it has never been able to dismantle Ryan Tannehill from the starting spot. Even David Garrard couldn’t stay healthy enough in his own backyard to unseat a rookie quarterback on the gridiron fresh off the 8th-overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft.
So while (futile) attempts have been made, the team has never successfully replaced the embattled quarterback. Which has led to such a porous cry for change, and for Miami to do “whatever it takes” to land their next beacon of hope.
Careful, Dolphins fans, as the last time the team did whatever it took, they signed Mike Wallace and Ndamukong Suh. And to an extent, Ryan Tannehill was a forced selection by Stephen Ross; a billion-dollar business man who understands that quarterbacks = cash for his entertainment business.
But let’s be rational, not emotional.
Yes, there is no doubt this team needs to guide itself off its current course and towards a new horizon. It has been:
- 45 years without a championship
- 34 years without a Super Bowl appearance
- 17 (most likely 18) years without a playoff victory
- 10 years since their last division title
This team has produced 2 Hall of Fame players over the past 3 decades. To say that this team has been irrelevant is somewhat of an understatement. It’s evident something needs to change.
This article isn’t to convince you that Ryan Tannehill is the answer. In fact, if you’ve come to the conclusion that Tannehill definitively isn’t the solution and the team needs someone new, I won’t blame you one bit. You’re not wrong. Like Bleacher Report said, after seven seasons, we really have no idea what we have in Tannehill. But this article will prepare you for the nightmare that lies ahead; the reality we face as we try to become a franchise we can be proud of once again.
Below are some things I’d like you to consider when taking into account Miami’s 2019 starting quarterback:
“Poor” Quarterback Class
According to every “expert’s” opinion, this is going to be a weak draft class. I’m sure come February we’re going to hype ourselves into believing that four quarterbacks should go in the first round, but remember back to this time when the aura around the quarterback draft class was disappointing.
The top two quarterbacks (Justin Herbert of Oregon and Dwayne Haskins of Ohio State) might not even declare for the draft, leaving NFL teams reaching desperately past a person’s true draft value to select one of the other “top” quarterbacks coming out.
With Miami likely scheduled to select somewhere in the late teens, they will either have to settle for giving up a treasure trove of draft picks to move up, or remain steady and select a quarterback that drops to them.
Teams have wised up since the mid-2000s, and a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers‘ caliber isn’t falling to Miami again. So instead, Miami has to give up extra lottery tickets and cheap roster spots in exchange for a prayer that your less-than-desired quarterback class strikes lightning in a bottle.
Are you fine passing on patching the defensive line, the linebacking unit, a second cornerback opposite Xavien Howard, or a wide receiver to compliment Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, all for the chance of selecting what’s more likely to be the next Tim Tebow or Branden Weeden?
Although we have hindsight on our side, let’s take a look at the previous 10 draft classes and see how the quarterback selections panned out:
Click here for a larger image
Over the course of a decade, there are 10 quarterbacks that we would easily take over Ryan Tannehill, 8 who are on par with Tannehill (Deshaun Watson is the only one of that bunch that you can argue is definitively better, though I’m hesitant to say that right now with his limited sample size and annual injuries), and 57 that are clearly below him.
Out of all of those quarterbacks taken, how many teams traded up in the 1st-round (or into the 1st-round) to get their QB? 19
How many of those QBs would we take over Tannehill? Not counting the uncertainty of the 2018 draft class, 4.
Most of the trades that worked out ended up being quarterbacks taken within the first 5 picks of the draft. And even then, Mark Sanchez and Robert Griffin III were busts, so moving into the top-5 still isn’t a guarantee.
Miami is going to have to (over) commit to a quarterback that is genuinely one of the top-3 best prospects coming out of college, but they shouldn’t press to make someone a top-3 talent. And while there are still quarterbacks worthy of being selected outside of the top-5 (Patrick Mahomes at 10, Watson at 12, Joe Flacco at 18), the truth is, you need to identify a legitimate, elite talent at quarterback in order to convince yourself that it’s worth giving up extra assets to obtain them.
Over the past decade, there are only two quarterbacks selected outside of the top-5 that are definitively better than Tannehill: Russell Wilson (75th overall) and Patrick Mahomes (10th).
Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) and Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) rank 1st and 2nd in passer rating in @NFL history (min. 1,500 attempts). On Thursday, the two square off as the @packers travel to Seattle to face the @Seahawks.
— NFL345 (@NFL345) November 12, 2018
Though it’s not a given, if we were to make the assumption that this quarterback class is equivalent to one of the “weak” quarterback classes mentioned above (2008-2011, 2013-2015), Miami’s best option would be Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton, who would all be desired, yet two went #1 overall and the other was the 3rd-overall pick (that should have also been #1 overall). Are you convinced Justin Herbert or Dwayne Haskins are any of these quarterbacks? Are they worth the cost of a franchise quarterback?
Seeing how 2019 isn’t the year to invest in a rookie quarterback, Miami might be interested in taking a chance on a potential free agent.
Are you willing to provide a riskier quarterback you know absolutely nothing about with a larger contract than what you’re giving Ryan Tannehill?
That’s the first compromise you have to pass if you’re going to go after a free agent quarterback.
With Kirk Cousins possibly setting a new precedence for quarterbacks after obtaining $84m fully guaranteed from the Minnesota Vikings, quarterback contracts are only going to get more expensive as each season passes.
Desperate teams take desperate chances, and teams are willing to pay less-than-stellar quarterbacks (with the most minute bit of potential) for the hope that they can bring their team out of the abyss of irrelevance.
- Brock Osweiler: $72m, $37m guaranteed with the Houston Texans
- Sam Bradford: $78m, $50m guaranteed with the St. Louis Rams after being drafted; $36m, $22m guaranteed with the Philadelphia Eagles; $20m, $15m guaranteed with the Arizona Cardinals
- Matt Flynn: $20.5m, $9m guaranteed by the Seattle Seahawks
Are recent examples of quarterbacks that received a bunch of money due to the desperation of the teams signing them.
I’m not saying spending on a free agent quarterback is the wrong route to go; if you’ve identified an upgrade, you try and obtain it. But how many successful quarterbacks have hit free agency since 2010? Take a look at the quarterbacks who recently signed free agent contracts and look what they earned:
Click here for a larger image
I was going to abstain from color-coding this chart, as it was just going to be a sea of red, but figured I’d leave it in for visual effect.
Now, to be fair, most of these quarterbacks were signed with the intent to be a backup, and nothing more. And that’s fine, but Miami isn’t looking for a backup quarterback right now, they’re looking for an answer, and this chart lets you know just how many answers are out there on an annual basis.
Other than two Hall of Fame quarterbacks not moving anywhere (Peyton Manning in 2011 and Drew Brees in 2018) and then Manning’s unique case in 2012, there are only two quarterbacks whose signings worked out for the team: Alex Smith in 2012 and Kirk Cousins in 2016. You can argue Joe Flacco in 2013, but that contract was horrendous and he is not all that good to begin with.
Jimmy Garoppolo and Cousins’ recent contracts remain to be seen and are temporarily filled in yellow; though I have a feeling those have a better chance of being shaded red than they do green when we reflect back on this a few years from now.
Even now, I’m not all too convinced that Kirk Cousins is anything special. Cousins is a career 31-33-2 quarterback with a 116/60 TD/INT ratio. He took over for a team that Case Keenum led to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship game, and he is currently 5-3-1. He might be the most successful quarterback on this list not named Manning or Brees, but it’s mostly by default. For comparisons sake, Tannehill is a career 40-42 quarterback with a 114/71 TD/INT ratio…or about the same as the quarterback currently making $28m annually.
Unless it’s a rare case like Drew Brees or Peyton Manning, when their previous team had a top-5 first-round pick waiting in the wings, teams don’t get rid of good quarterbacks.
So let’s take a look at our available options this year (including quarterbacks that are speculated to be released by their current teams):
I could list the Sam Bradford‘s, the Matt Barkley‘s and the Nathan Peterman‘s of the NFL, but we’re not dipping down that low. Plus, give me Nick Mullen (not really).
Above are your most realistic possibilities. How many of those quarterbacks would you confidently select to a larger contract than Ryan Tannehill’s AND confidently expect better results?
The only quarterback on that list that has a ceiling is Teddy Bridgewater, one of the most unknown commodities in this game right now. His hype will elevate him to a rich contract, similar to what hope accomplished for Sam Bradford throughout his career.
It’s quite possible Bridgewater is completely durable and there is zero injury risk, while Tannehill, once an iron-man is this sport, is deemed injury-prone. But Bridgewater’s first two seasons, the only seasons we really know, are on par (or worse) than Tannehill’s first two seasons. Is this similar to when a musician or athlete dies at a young age and we never witness their decline, forever immortalizing them as “stars” in our minds? We never got to see Bridgewater develop, so there’s hope that he can regain his franchise form. This is the biggest risk the Dolphins front office has to ask themselves, is Bridgewater the bridge to the future? The traits we wish Tannehill possessed are easily identified in Bridgewater. He has “it”. But outside of the 2018 preseason, where he looked good, what are we really investing $25m-per-season in?
Are you taking a flier on Eli Manning, an aging quarterback who has crumbled to a 5-19 record over the past two seasons while having better offensive weapons than the Dolphins?
Are we bringing in Jameis Winston‘s character flaws or Blake Bortles‘ inconsistency? Look at how badly he’s holding down a Super Bowl caliber defense in Jacksonville.
Convinced Tyrod Taylor deserves a shot after falling out of favor with his past two teams?
If your answer is Derek Carr, then I wonder why you would want to bring in a more expensive quarterback who has under-performed with a team that features better skill position players than the Dolphins as well as one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
You also have to consider how long you’re signing this quarterback for. Is this a long-term solution that you’re investing close to $100m in? Or is this a temporary solution until you find your next quarterback in the draft?
Chances are, you’re looking for a quick fix while impatiently waiting for the 2020 draft class to hit. In that case, how many quarterbacks are taking one-year deals and how many of them will accept that contract for anything significantly less than Tannehill’s $26.6m next season?
The quarterbacks that are taking prove-it contracts are going to be in the most precarious of situations and will essentially select anything. Which means say hello to Trevor Siemian.
No one is saying Tannehill’s $26.6m cap hit is ideal, but when compared to the other options out there, it doesn’t seem as daunting.
Contracts Guaranteed To Make You Cringe
This is where Miami bites itself in the ass.
Ryan Tannehill will cost $13.4m against the cap if he’s cut (along with $5.5m in 2020), while costing $26.6m if he’s on the roster.
Taking into account the $18m increase in Tannehill’s cap hit from 2018 to 2019 ($8.6m vs $26.6m), it’s not like their cap space will be too dire. Below is a quick summary of the players likely to be released (and what it’ll cost the team) as well as the likely pay raises coming up.
Yes, the players you release will need to be replaced, but losing Andre Branch, Robert Quinn and Danny Amendola isn’t too much of a downgrade. And while Kiko Alonso has had himself a “good” year, he is also a liability and can be replaced at a much cheaper rate.
One of the most intriguing questions going into 2019 will be the status of Kenny Stills. He is set to earn $9.75m if he’s on the roster, but only $3.5m in dead cap space if he’s released. Stills is a wonderful leader and has a tremendous work ethic, but I wonder if Miami approaches him with the possibility of a contract extension in mind. Lower the rate for the next two seasons while giving him more guaranteed money. It’s also possible Miami does this with some of their other players, giving them more space to play around with in free agency.
Miami’s recent draft history gives me confidence that they can find at least 2-3 impact players on rookie deals.
It’s also not too far fetched to assume the Dolphins are capable of cutting Tannehill’s contract loose and eating the money – given what they did to Ndamukong Suh this past offseason.
Suh and Tannehill are different people and different players who are impacting different positions.
We saw how miserable the Dolphins run game was with Suh in the middle of the defensive line. It was better than what it is currently (so is everyone else), so Suh has that going for him, but he wasn’t enough to elevate this team to the next level.
Whether you think Tannehill is a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback or not is one thing, but the production Tannehill provides is abundantly better than a quarterback making less than $20m a season. We can throw $10m at Jay Cutler, but that was obviously a waste, and would have made more sense for Miami to go with a 720k Brock Osweiler than a slightly better option at $10m.
Wildcat Jay Cutler is the GOAT pic.twitter.com/itbuqmFapV
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 1, 2017
How far do you want to downgrade for being cheap?
For a team that likely won’t (realistically) address the quarterback position until 2020, retaining Ryan Tannehill gives you a winning combination with Adam Gase for 2019, and allows you to retain your assets for 2020 – should a rookie quarterback not be immediately available this offseason.
Or, if you’re convinced, bundle your assets and select a quarterback this year in the draft while retaining Tannehill for one more season. Allow your rookie to learn and grow while also developing a potentially hot trade chip to help recover some of those lost assets.
Ryan Tannehill is essentially on a one-year contract (at $26.6m) for 2019, with a $5.5m dead cap hit in 2020 (if released). Rather than continue to pay players that aren’t on your team, retain the contract you unwisely extended during the 2018 offseason and finish out the Ryan Tannehill era with a concrete answer.
Next year is Ryan Tannehill’s “prove it” year. Miami isn’t going to extend him any further (unless he chooses an extremely reduced rate with the intent of obtaining more guaranteed money. Think 2-years, $40m), and are poised to pounce on the 2020 draft class.
How Much Fun is Ross Really Having With His Marionettes?
With every situation comes a caveat, and that caveat rests in the ambitious and perplexic mind of the team’s owner, Stephen Ross.
At this point, Ryan Tannehill’s status is entirely cemented to Adam Gase’s tenure. If Stephen Ross decides to make a move for one of the Harbaugh brothers, or another splash hire he identifies somewhere else, then you can bet the new regime will look to utilize all of the draft picks and cash they have to build their own brand.
We still have another 6 weeks to go, and if the team flutters miserably, it’s quite possible Ross removes Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier in a complete upheaval. Though if the team stays competitive and ends up with at least 7 wins, it’s likely Gase stays, which means it’s likely Tannehill stays.
Find someone who defends you the way Adam Gase defends Ryan Tannehill.
Dolphins Live: Coach Gase meets with the media. https://t.co/SvryqaJAbX
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) November 1, 2018
Fast-forward to the 6:23 mark when Gase is asked about Tannehill as the future quarterback of the team. Look at his body language the moment the reporter begins to ask the question. Listen to the tone of his voice as he’s giving his answer. That’s a passionate response. That’s a head coach who has conviction in who his starting quarterback should be. Adam Gase remaining as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins is a separate topic for another time, but as long as he is the head coach in 2019, Ryan Tannehill will be his starting quarterback.
I believe that Adam Gase needs to focus more on being a head coach and less of an offensive coordinator, but there’s no doubt that Gase believes he has one of the better quarterbacks in the league already on his roster. No one can argue that Tannehill has all of the intangibles (arm strength, accuracy, speed/agility), but everyone is aware that he doesn’t have the “killer instincts” that are expected to come at the position.
I will also buy the notion that you might be skeptical of Tannehill’s shoulder. While I do not believe this will affect him in 2019, if there is any chance he can miss time leading into August, the injury is not worth the hassle and this all is voided.
But, if he is declared healthy, I will discard the narrative that Tannehill is injury-prone. Unless we consider the large gash of an offensive line he’s had to play with throughout his entire entire career as an injury, I’m not sold. Prevent defensive linemen from collapsing on his knee at full force or tugging his arm backwards as he’s trying to fire a 60mph football over 40 yards (one week after another 275lbs+ defensive lineman drove him to the ground and landed full force on the same shoulder) and you’ll see a perfectly healthy quarterback.
Don’t let this fool you, I’m all for finding a new quarterback. I would love nothing more than to set this franchise on the right path to success rather than muddling in mediocrity. Miami has missed on its fair share of opportunities and it has haunted this franchise for years. I don’t need to tell you about Drew Brees x2 or Aaron Rodgers or even the pain of watching Alex Smith go to the Washington Redskins this past offseason for a 3rd-round pick (though who’s to say Kansas City would have traded him in-conference).
You don’t need to be reminded about A.J. Feeley or Joey Harrington, who are substantially better than John Beck, Cleo Lemon and Pat White. I mean, when Gus Frerotte rounds out your top-three quarterbacks this century (and Jay Cutler is #4), it’s kind of easy to be numb to it all.
There is a lot of pain and frustration pent up inside every Dolphins fan. It has been 45 years since the Dolphins were Super Bowl champions, and yet, we’re not even talking about how frustrated we are that this team hasn’t won the big game…we just want to win a playoff game first.
This franchise needs a new course. Whether that’s a new coach, new general manager, new quarterback or new owner, it needs a change. It’s evident that the fanbase has become disgustingly tired of mediocrity, and wants the team to lead us down a path that’s more promising than the uncertainty another year of Ryan Tannehill brings.
There’s an entire generation of Dolphins fans that hasn’t witnessed success. Two decades worth of NFL seasons, and, frankly, your life, wasted on watching an average product. It’s time to take that next step. Just be bold…not stupid.
Adam Gase out, Dan Campbell in?
While it’s purely speculation at this point, every Miami Dolphins loss from now until the end of the season will only increase talk of coaching changes come January.
Matt Burke’s firing is almost a certainty at this point, the defensive co-ordinator’s two years in charge has not panned out the way everyone had hoped.
Head coach Adam Gase put everything on the line last off-season, doubling down on Ryan Tannehill staying healthy to lead this franchise to the post-season.
At 3-0, everything was trending upwards and fans even dared to dream about winning the AFC East.
Then Tannehill picked up a shoulder injury, players hit injured reserve like it was the hottest club in Miami and at 5-5, and some awful, awful performances on both sides of the ball over the last few weeks, Dolfans have lost patience with the former Denver Broncos playcaller.
Dolphins owner Stephen Ross may decide to keep Gase for another year on the provision that he drafts someone to compete with Tannehill, be it Teddy Bridgewater or a rookie.
However, the Stick to Football podcast believes Gase could be out of a job come Black Monday.
His replacement? Former interim coach Dan Campbell.
“This could be the Dan Campbell landing spot,” said host Matt Miller. “They are going to have to completely tear down that offence and rebuild it.
“I think Miami makes some sense for Dan Campbell as a candidate because that’s a hard spot and you need someone who can come in and probably work with a new front office, that’s the other side of this.
“I think we might see a complete blow up in Miami where you have a new general manager coming as well, so it’s tough to predict that hire.”
Campbell impressed in his 12-game stint as interim head coach of the Dolphins back in 2015 despite going 5-7 and learnt from the experience.
In an interview with Sportingnews.com back in May, Campbell said: “One of the hardest things for ex-players who are coaches is for them to really drive their players. They’ve been in their shoes. They know how hard it is and how bad some of this stuff sucks and the grind of it. And they somewhat feel sorry or empathy for those players they’re coaching.
“That’s the worst thing that you can do. It really is. I think that gets a lot of coaches who are not hard enough on them.”
Campbell admitted that he made that mistake during his brief time in charge but vowed to not make that mistake again.
“I didn’t hold them accountable all the time like I should have,” Campbell said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to.
“It’s kind of like when you’re in that position, you’re trying to keep some life in this team and you’ve got to be careful, because if you go full bore the other way you’re not gonna get anything out of them.
“They’d already lost a coach and you’re already in dire straits. So you’ve gotta try to keep upbeat and positive.
“But if I had it my way and I was going in fresh, I’d have been a little bit harder.
“Just call things out for what they were more than I did.”
Campbell is currently assistant head coach and tight ends coach in New Orleans but it’s unlikely he will be there for much longer.
Having interviewed for the vacant role at the Colts last season, expect him to much sought-after come January.
“He’s tough, he comes from that Bill Parcels, Sean Payton, like that type of mould,” Miller said of Campbell as a head coach candidate. “I know some people who speak very highly of him, he’s going to be a head coach soon and it might be this year.
“I think he might be tough enough to come in and be the dude that says ‘this is we do things.’”
Whether Miami comes calling remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain, something needs to drastically change at the Hard Rock Stadium for this team to be taken seriously going forward.
One of those changes may be a rebuild, something Miller believes needs to happen at the Hard Rock Stadium.
“Now you have four to five years to rebuild because you’re starting over at quarterback … now is the time to realise Ryan Tannehill is not your answer, use this as an opportunity to wash your hands of it all and start fresh.”
Starting again in the 2019 class may be difficult, especially as there is no stand-out QB to take in the first round of the draft.
However, putting the pieces in place to go all in for 2020 could be the best thing for this team and having Dan Campbell lead that charge could be the pathway to success.
Dolphins Personnel Inventory
Perched in the NFL’s middle ground for the better part of two decades, the 2018 season is an all too familiar movie for Dolphins fans. Miami’s .500 record, as Thanksgiving approaches, is a minor miracle given the state of the team’s medical report.
Outside of 2011, the Dolphins have been in the four-to-six-win range through 10 games every year since 2008. This position of purgatory puts fans on the fence between hoping for a run at January football, and clamoring for a total rebuild.
As is usually the case in football (and in life), the truth lies somewhere in-between the two extremes. Though 2018 feels different given the team’s lackluster showings against formidable competition, the pendulum feels more stuck in stagnation than ever before.
The NFL is a business of constant evaluation. A team of scouts and decision-makers mull the roster every day with an ear to the ground in search of improvements.
Six games remain in the 2018 rollercoaster ride through dreams of contention and utter despair. Wins in four of the six puts Miami in position to qualify for the post-season, but given the team’s health (or lack thereof) it’s difficult to imagine a December run.
So, with a bye week ahead, we’re going to categorize and take inventory of the Dolphins roster.
There are seven categories in this exercise. Arrows up and down, as well as blue and red distinctions, are the common practice for defining a player in the league, but we’re shooting for ultimate transparency here – thus the expansion.
Blue Chip Cornerstones – These are the example setters in the organization – the players that figure to play in multiple pro-bowls. For the sake of the exercise, we put age and experience restrictions into this category as well.
Established Veterans – Some of these names could climb into the cornerstone group. For a team that’s just as close to a rebuild as it is competing for titles, established players without a lot of room for growth fall into this section.
Core Foundation Pieces – Productive, young, and perhaps their best football ahead of them, this is the crop of players you rely upon to take your football team to the next level. The team’s improvement is dependent on their continued development.
Unknown Due to Medical – Injuries put everything on pause for some players – especially those on the wrong side of 30.
Role Players – Whether it’s depth or special teams value, these are the bottom of the roster players that have to ward off challengers every summer.
Greenies – Too early to make a declaration one way or the other, this list if full of rookies and second-year players.
Not in the Future Plans – The clock is ticking and unless something drastic occurs, these names are likely out the door in 2019.
Let’s start with Miami’s three prized possessions.
Blue Chip Cornerstones:
Laremy Tunsil – Miami’s 2016 First Round pick, Tunsil quickly ascended to the elite class of blindside protectors flourishing against the best pass rushers in all of football. Tunsil’s sudden kick-slide, smooth footwork and strong initial punch has fostered top-shelf production both in the run and pass game. Miami will certainly exercise Tunsil’s fifth-year option for 2020 before extending him on a lucrative deal.
Xavien Howard – Trading up in that same 2016 class, Miami nabbed its second consecutive cornerstone piece. Howard has premier cover skills, he’s scheme diverse and plays the ball exceptionally well. Howard’s contract is up after the 2019 season – expect Miami to make him a rich man prior to that expiration date.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – Earning this distinction through 10 career games speaks to Fitzpatrick’s skill set and football acumen. He has played four positions as a rookie, each better than the previous. Miami will have to figure out if they want the Alabama product to play corner or safety long-term – neither is a bad option.
Cam Wake – Still one of the game’s top pass rushers, even at age 36, Wake is an enigma. He feasts on slower-footed right tackles and has a chance to hit triple-digit career sacks this year. Wake’s contract is up at season’s end and nobody would blame him if he chased a title. But if Wake wants to come back, the Dolphins should welcome him with open arms.
Robert Quinn – This will be one of Miami’s most difficult decisions this coming spring. Quinn’s production hasn’t matched his impact, but he’s due nearly $12 million in 2019 and Miami simply needs more from its pass rush.
Reshad Jones – Jones could easily fall in the cornerstone category, but concerns over his durability persist on an annual basis. Injuries, a huge cap-figure and a tendency to freelance (leading to a first quarter benching last week) puts Jones’ value in limbo. At his best, he’s the NFL’s standard as a C-gap run defending safety, with ball skills to boot. Miami cannot get out of his contract, but he could be an interesting trade target this off-season.
Frank Gore – As he has done his entire career, Gore surprised everyone with another productive season. He surpassed 500 rushing yards for the 14thtime in his career – something nobody else has done. He signed a one-year deal, but all parties involved figure to have interest in extending the farewell tour another season.
Danny Amendola – The biggest medical risk among the group heading into the season is the only one left standing (Stills missed one game). He’s under contract for 2019 and it’s safe to assume he’ll finish out that deal.
Kiko Alonso – This was one of the more difficult players to place. The contract he received in 2016 was one of many curious decisions by Mike Tannenbaum and it would make sense that the team retains his services – though they probably shouldn’t. Alonso has a lot of shortcomings in his game that are masked by the occasional takeaway.
Core Foundation Pieces:
Kenny Stills – Shaky quarterback play has sent Stills’ production into a nose-dive the last two seasons. He’s one of the game’s best deep threats and an even better human being and teammate. Miami has an out on his contract at the end of this season, but Stills is well worth the $8 and $7 million he’s due in 2019 and 2020.
Albert Wilson – Flashing electric play-making ability, Wilson flat-out beat the Bears on his own. Though his season was cut short to an injury, he will return in 2019 as one of the focal points of this Miami offense.
Ja’Wuan James – Another tricky name to place, James could depart via free agency next spring. Given the depleted state of Miami’s offensive line, the smart money would be on an extension for the Right Tackle. Injuries and lengthy slumps could give the Dolphins pause on a multi-year deal.
Kenyan Drake – Sure to generate discussion, Drake lands in this group because of the inherent upside he offers. When he was the bell cow to close 2017, Drake was one of the league’s best backs. Relegated back to a secondary role, Drake’s big-play ability has almost vanished. He’s too dynamic in both phases of the game to be neglected like he has been.
Jakeem Grant – Like Drake, Grant has been criminally mismanaged. He’s another dynamic play maker that touches the ball far too infrequently. His added value as a return man solidifies his status in this group.
Davon Godchaux – A powerful tackle that can play a variety of techniques, Godchaux holds his ground at the point of attack in the run-game. As a two-down player he shouldn’t be too expensive to extend when his deal expires after the 2020 season.
Vincent Taylor – Had he finished out the season, Taylor could’ve climbed into the cornerstone group. He’s a dominant force against the run with a lot of upside as a rusher. In a league where they say, “the more you can do,” Taylor will block an occasional field goal. He might be the biggest upside player in this group.
Jerome Baker – Speed is the name of the game for linebackers in today’s NFL and Baker has that trait in spades. He’s a savvy player that understands leverage and gap integrity, he closes down on flat routes as well as anyone and he’s shown a penchant for the big play.
Bobby McCain – McCain’s run as a perimeter corner has likely come to an end – his value is in the slot. In the first year of a four-year deal, McCain is a team captain and leader of this defense.
Unknown Due to Medical:
Ryan Tannehill – The daily Tannehill saga continues. At press time, the hope is that Tannehill returns to play the Colts next Sunday. If he returns in impressive fashion, he’ll have a future on this team. That future, however, is shrouded in doubt as a cloud of mystery regarding the severity of his shoulder injury hovers over Davie.
Josh Sitton – Miami’s healthy offensive line was bordering on dominant through the pre-season and into week one, but things began to unravel when Sitton was lost for the season. He has missed games in each of the past three years and he’s due $7 million in 2019. The Dolphins can get out of the contract for a minimal penalty, but given the lack of options beyond Sitton, he’s probably back for one more year.
Role Players/Special Teams:
Nick O’Leary – Fulfilling the role previously occupied by MarQueis Gray, O’Leary has earned a spot on the roster as a complementary tight end. O’Leary is a free agent at season’s end.
A.J. Derby – Derby could fall into the undesirable “not in the future plans” category depending on what Miami does at the position this off-season, but he does offer value as a reserve.
Jonathan Woodard – Like Derrick Shelby and Terrance Fede before him, Woodard is the next “find” capable of playing in the defensive end rotation.
Chase Allen – A backup inside linebacker and an ace special teamer, Allen has shown some value between the B-gaps and as a nose-backer.
Stephone Anthony – In a similar vein as Allen, Anthony adds value to Miami’s special teams’ units. He has played limited reps on defense and a case could be made that he’s not in the team’s future plans. We’ll find out soon, Anthony is a free agent at year’s end as Miami declined his fifth-year option for 2019.
Mike Hull – Hull and Allen could force Anthony out of a job, but where Anthony gains ground is in the footspeed department. Hull missed half the season with an injury but has been a stalwart on Miami’s kick-coverage units.
Walt Aikens – Miami’s new special teams captain, Aikens was taken care of by the organization last off-season (signed a two-year $2.7 million deal this summer).
Brandon Bolden – Earning his keep as a key member of New England’s special teams’ units, Bolden has made an immediate impact in Miami. Bolden will likely have to hold off the next guy on the list.
Senorise Perry – A restricted free agent in 2019, Perry will find work in the league whether it’s with Miami or elsewhere. He’s been another core special teamer for Darren Rizzi’s superb group.
Greenies (Incomplete Evaluation):
Jesse Davis – Davis earned the Right Guard job late last year but has relinquished his stranglehold on the gig this season. He has the size and athleticism to excel, but he gets beat by the best three and one-techs in the league far too often.
Charles Harris – The injury that has cost Harris five games this year is one of the more prohibitive instances of the 2018 Dolphins’ season. The jury remains out despite a growing portion of the fan base pronouncing Harris as the dreaded “B-word.”
Raekwon McMillan – He’s only played 10 career games and flashed the looks of a quality two-down backer at times – but consistency has been an issue. Given his studious habits and work ethic, the smart money is on the former Buckeye developing in the coming years.
Jake Brendel – He played the best game of his career on Sunday in Green Bay. He likely earned the left guard job for the final six games and his performance, frankly, is one of the keys to watch for as Miami closes out the year.
Kalen Ballage – Only recently active on game day, Ballage has flashed the versatility that suggests he has a bright future.
Mike Gesicki – Green is the best way to describe the rookie tight end. He’s still finding his way as an in-line blocker, but his downfield play-making prowess has been constricted to the garage while he tries to develop into a complete player.
Durham Smythe – Smythe has barely played in 2018, though there are encouraging reps in the run game.
Cornell Armstrong – A physical, feisty corner, Armstrong could get some run down the stretch in his rookie season.
Torry McTyer – It’s been a rough 2018 campaign for McTyer. Giving up on second-year undrafted free agents that have shown some bite is poor practice, however.
Cordrea Tankersley – His ACL injury puts him behind the 8-ball. His status for 2019 is murky and he could go the way of Tony Lippett as a result.
Luke Falk – A sixth-round rookie QB on I.R., we won’t know what Falk is for at least another year.
Not in the Future Plans –
Devante Parker – Parker’s agent made a big deal about his client’s lack of playing time – then Parker got hurt, again. Without the fifth-year option and a medical history longer than his actual production, it’s time to part ways with the former first rounder.
William Hayes – Hayes has been terrific when he’s healthy, but he’s played nine games in two years with Miami.
Dan Kilgore – Coming off a triceps injury, on the wrong side of 30, Kilgore’s future is in doubt. His play in the four games he did play wasn’t enough to quell the aforementioned concerns.
T.J. McDonald – Owner of one of the strangest (and worst) contracts in the league, Miami can get out from that deal this spring.
MarQueis Gray – Gray was a low-key integral part of this team in 2018. Another serious injury and the emergence of O’Leary makes the versatile tight end expendable.
Leonte Carroo – Finding his way back onto the practice squad, Carroo has one last chance to redeem his Dolphin career over the next six games.
Brock Osweiler – (Space left empty)
David Fales – Unless Adam Gase surprises everyone and turns to Fales post-bye, it’s difficult to imagine he has a future in Miami.
Isaac Asiata – He was finally called up last week, but he’s been passed over by a lot of bad players. It’s safe to assume his technique never rounded into form.
Wesley Johnson – Johnson was a band aid on a broken o-line.
Ted Larsen – The next in a long line of failed left guard experiments.
Zach Sterup – The staff likes Sterup, but another year of un-rosterable tape brings his future into question.
Travis Swanson – Like Johnson, he’s nothing more than a band aid to finish out the season on a broken offensive line.
Sam Young – The swing tackle needs to be a viable option at both positions. Young can play right tackle, but his brief showing on the left side cost Miami a game in Cincinnati this year.
Andre Branch – The contract was never a good idea and Miami can finally get out of it after this season.
Akeem Spence – Spence’s splash plays as an aggressive one-gap penetrator have been few and far between. He’s too easily caught up in the wash.
Ziggy Hood – See Swanson and Johnson explanations, only on the D-line.
Sylvester Williams – See above.
This evaluation will be revisited in seven weeks when the season comes to its conclusion in Buffalo. The 18 players listed the final category would be about an average turnover for an NFL franchise, so Miami aren’t in bad shape as far as reshuffling the personnel for 2019.
The key, obviously, will be identifying the future at the quarterback position. Adam Gase likely gets one shot at finding his signal-caller.
The immediate future of the franchise depends on that one decision.