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Miami Dolphins

Is Mike Tannenbaum on Borrowed Time?

Travis Wingfield

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“Somewhere in that tripod, something is not working,” he said. “The mix is not right. Something along the line is breaking down, whether communicating with players or getting them to play or acquiring players or scouting or evaluation, something is off. At the top of the organization, they have to figure out what the hell it is. Other teams have figured it out.

Dysfunctional organizational structure was the politically correct labeling of Louis Riddick’s thrashing of the Dolphins’ brass back in November. The referenced tripod includes Head Coach Adam Gase, General Manager Chris Grier and Executive VP of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum.

Process of elimination allows us to remove Gase from internal scrutiny. As Simon Clancy said on his March 1stappearance on the Locked On Dolphins podcast, Ross believes he has found “his Don Shula.”

Chris Grier’s storied background as a well-respected scout lends credence to his hand in some recent fulfilling draft classes.

That leaves one fall guy. Stephen Ross’ right hand man for the more than three years, Mike Tannenbaum, has overseen the 22 victory and 26 defeat record since his arrival.

Assigning blame without intimate knowledge of the inner-workings of the organization could be construed as speculation, but connecting the dots helps uncover the mystery.

Mar 11, 2015; Davie, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Attracting the biggest free agent to hit the market since Peyton Manning was Tannenbaum’s signature move. Dishing out the largest non-quarterback contract in league history paid Ndamukong Suh $60 million for three years of service. While Suh consistently performed at a pro-bowl level, that allocation of resources crippled the Dolphins’ ability to properly fill out a competitive roster.

Tannenbaum’s connection to Suh’s agent, by way of his partnership with Priority Sports and Entertainment, was the lynchpin for the mega-deal. He pushed Ross to make the deal happen to help catapult the Miami defense to another level.

The next three seasons, the Dolphins’ best scoring-defense ranking was 18th(19thand 29ththe other two years). While Grier and his scouting department were filling out the roster with young starters like Kenyan Drake, Xavien Howard and Laremy Tunsil, Tanenbaum has been chasing his tail with substantial salaries for inconsequential players.

Andre Branch, Kiko Alonso and T.J. McDonald were all issued hefty paychecks within the last 15 months. Fast forward to the 2018 off-season and each of those players have been replaced. Barely a year removed from the Branch and Alonso deals, and eight months after the mysterious McDonald extension, each has been asked to take their place at back of the line.

Charles Harris was the team’s first round pick in 2017. The team’s best pass rusher (Cameron Wake) is 35-years old, so a contingency makes logical sense. But when veteran Robert Quinn, along with his $11 million salary, were acquired for a fourth round draft pick, that’s a self-prescribed mea culpa from the Dolphins’ EVP regarding the Branch contract.

One round later, Miami selected Ohio State Linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Fast forward another year, Miami doubled down on Buckeye ‘backers by drafting Jerome Baker. A pair of day-two picks isn’t a good look for the prized-pony from the 2016 draft trade back from pick eight to thirteen – Kiko Alonso.

T.J. McDonald got paid for his work in training camp and pre-season prior to serving an eight-game suspension. Just eight games later, the Dolphins decided the 11thpick of the 2018 draft would serve as his replacement.

The Ben Volin report suggests that Stephen Ross attempted to intervene with the drafting of All-American Safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick. Citing frugality and a desire to acquire more picks as the point of contention for Ross, Volin asserts that the man who has spared no expense in the spirit of winning wanted to pinch pennies opposed to making a selection with the 11thallotment.

Apr 26, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

That report flies directly in the face of every principle Ross has stood for since purchasing the Dolphins a decade ago.

What Volin may have not realized, however, was an inadvertent discovery of turmoil between the Dolphins’ owner and EVP of Football Ops.

Winning is the ultimate antibiotic in the National Football League – it cures every internal illness. The 2016 post-season appearance (the club’s first since 2008) permitted Ross to loosen the reigns on Tannenbaum, enabling him to break open Ross’ checkbook.

When Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season, it meant another $10 million from Ross’ pocket to pay for an atrocious fill-in at the quarterback position.

As a result of this spending spree, the Dolphins had to cut costs in the 2018 off-season. The marquee name joining the exodus was the man Tannenbaum implored Ross to pony up for in 2015, Ndamukong Suh.

Going full circle, a three-year run brought Tannenbaum from a position of emphatically banging the table for the future Hall of Fame defensive tackle, to spearheading his departure.

Known more for their “wins” in March than during the fall and winter, the Dolphins are annually putting chips in the free-agent pot. In 2018, however, there’s a different feel. Bargain buys, character and scheme fits and players that, on the surface, appear to be hand-selected by Coach Gase and Chris Grier, a changing of the guard appears imminent.

Stephen Ross isn’t interested in sacrificing wins to save money, but building a billion-dollar estate draws parallels to constructing a championship football team.

And you don’t arrive at either destination with bad investments.

@WingfieldNFL

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. FR

    May 8, 2018 at 4:43 pm

    Travis excellent review and conclusion. I liked what has been done this off season, Landry walks and they get 2 solid players a 4th and I believe a 7th.
    Suh gone his salary would be enough for 3 outstanding players.
    Tannenbaum should be gone

  2. Carlos Armendáriz

    May 8, 2018 at 4:44 pm

    Good read Travis, and interesting points, we may also have to add that Grier clearly stated (maybe jokingly or not so much) that they had to keep Tannebaum on check so he wouldn’t make any deals by moving up the draft, thats maybe why they stayed put on all picks for the first time since Tannebaum been here, that also signals a change of guard.

  3. Ronald Hiatt Jr

    May 8, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    Good write up Travis, you came to the same conclusion I did. I had this thought since the end of the season. My favorite picks this draft are Fitzpatrick, Gesicki, Smythe, Armstrong, and Ballage. Baker is a LB with athleticism but lacks instincts Griffin was twice the Lb that Baker could be, 1st Griffin has instincts can play either OLB spot whereas Baker is just WLB. Lance Zerlien wrote Baker is going to be an average backup or below average starter, he also states he is worried about the missing hand is why he graded Griffin so low. Ignoring everything and looking at production Griffin 33.5 tfl Baker 18 tfl Griffin 18.5 sacks Baker 7 sacks both 3int, Griffin 10 pd Baker 3 pd. So fear of 1 hand we pass and ignore our eyes.

  4. MiamiMike

    May 8, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Damn fine article, good read.

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Miami Dolphins

Pillaging the Pats

Travis Wingfield

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Taking From the Rich and Giving to the Phins

De facto Patriots Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores is set to take over the big chair in Miami at the conclusion of New England’s 2018 season. Rumored to be coming with Flores are a pair of Pats staffers.

A master of delegation, Bill Belichick constantly maintains the smallest staff in the league. Flores’ intentions are to bring with him Pats’ Consultant Bret Bielema and Wide Receivers Coach Chad O’Shea.

*We’ll have a comprehensive breakdown of the offensive scheme that comes with O’Shea should this move push closer to official. And we’ll do so in the same capacity as the Defensive Crash Course piece.

If Flores is able to extract both Bielema and O’Shea, he’s plundering 16% of the 2018 Patriots’ staff (that includes Flores). Belichick’s coaching tree has yielded less than desirable results in their new destinations, but Flores is described as “different” from the rest.

By now Dolphins fans are tired of lip service. If Flores is the exception to the many before him, great – we’ll find out on Sundays. Flores is, however, off to a unique beginning compared to the lackluster rest.

 

Coach (Year Left New England) Additional Migrating Staffers
Charlies Weis (2005 – Notre Dame) 0
Romeo Crennel (2005 – Cleveland) 0
Eric Mangini (2007 – NY Jets) 0
Josh McDaniels (2009 – Denver) 0
Bill O’Brien (2012 – Penn State) 0
Matt Patricia (2018 – Detroit) 0

 

Goose eggs. I didn’t expect that when I began this study, hence the table. Interestingly, the greatest dearth in the Patriots run came between the 2008-2010 seasons. That sentence is a house of cards for two reasons:

1.) It’s sort of hilarious to call two playoff appearances and a combined record of 35-13 a dearth. Those three seasons were the last time New England weren’t participating in the Conference Championship – they’ve qualified for eight consecutive title games since.

2.) It’s something of a strawman to suggest New England’s 14-2 season was cut short at the divisional round because of a loss of coordinators. Not to mention the 2008 season that brought back 11 wins despite starting Matt Cassel for 15 games.

That three-year stretch did come after New England lost its offensive and defensive coordinators, and then Crennel’s replacement at DC (Mangini) two years later. No one is mistaking Flores, Bielema, and O’Shea for Weis, Crennel, and Mangini, but this would be a similar exodus – the difference being all at once opposed to three years.

It’s no secret that Belichick is a ruthless competitor that has no qualms about making enemies. The Patriots have blocked coaches from interviewing for outside positions in the past. Clearly, New England doesn’t block assistants from taking head coaching jobs, but the fact that zero staffers jumped ship might insinuate staffers are held hostage.

Maybe that’s where the idea that Flores is different from the rest comes from. His ability to separate himself from the Pats’ program. His intentions to implement his own initiative that doesn’t try to form as a carbon copy of Belichick’s well-oiled machine in Foxboro.

There are a million ways to splice this, but it all comes back to one conclusion: Brian Flores is beloved by everyone that knows him – even the heartless Hoodie.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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For a publication based primarily on analysis, these last two weeks have been a bit of a drag for content. We know the potential names but, as they say, potential doesn’t play on Sundays. In this case, the reference refers to the rumors and names linked to various positions with the Dolphins – rumors, meaning anything but finalized.

Enter Patrick Graham.

It has been reported that Miami, under Head Coach to Be Named Brian Flores, will tag the former Green Bay Packers assistant as the Defensive Coordinator position with the Dolphins in 2019.

Graham, a former staffer alongside Flores in New England, spent the 2018 season coaching the linebackers on Mike Pettine’s defense.

Another name linked to the vacant DC job is Bret Bielema. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach spent the 2018 season working hand-in-hand with Bill Belichick as a Consultant to the Head Coach.

And so, from this, we glean some potential defensive structures, schemes and principles that figure to be migrating south this winter along with Flores.

For Flores, Graham, and potentially Bielema, the task is tall. Redirect a unit that ranked 29th in points allowed each of the last two years under the inexperienced watch of Matt Burke.

We start first in New England. After all, Flores will be a master of delegation, but he knows this scheme as well as anyone. Few teams mix up their fronts with more frequency than the New England Patriots.

The prevailing theme among these slight variances of defensive schemes is the “Bear” front. A Bear front simply refers to six defenders up around the line of scrimmage. Two of those players are positioned in a linebacker technique while the other four are down linemen.

This variation of the Bear front is a 3-3 look using three down-linemen, two outside ‘backers shaded off the 9-technique alignment.

In this image provided by the Twitter account of James Light, we can see the variations from the nickel and dime packages (yes, Miami will FINALLY be running some dime defense in 2019).

The more traditional look aligns those six players in a 4-2 set.

Bret Bielema last coached (on the field) in 2017 at Arkansas, so he’s no stranger to the evolution of the college game and its integration into the NFL. There, Bielema’s defense was based in the traditional 3-4, but the tight splits inside look an awful lot like the classic Bear front (nose tackle over the center and two fellow linemen in a variance between 2i and 4 techniques). Bielema helped institute some of these principles in 2018 – his one season with the Patriots.

The common theme between all of these looks is to prevent specific run plays. The inside run becomes increasingly difficult with all the bodies down around the line of scrimmage. The even bigger factor (both literally and figuratively) is the beef inside.

Lining up with three down-linemen (pushing 300 pounds a pop) and defending one gap makes it nearly impossible to pull, which means the end of any gap-scheming.

The scheme is also designed to shut down inside zone, but also free up the linebackers with fewer keys and responsibilities. Instead of asking the defensive ends to set the edge on the way to their pass rush (the design of the wide-9) this alignment puts that responsibility on the outside linebackers.

The widened pre-snap alignment gives the linebackers a quicker, unimpeded path to outside runs. Only the Mike Linebacker has to weed through trash and take on blocks in this defense. Raekwon McMillan would likely serve as the Middle Linebacker. McMillan’s instincts and physicality at the point-of-attack would capitalize on the things the former Buckeye does well.

Then there’s the influence of the actual Titled-Defensive Coordinator, Patrick Graham. Working under Mike Pettine, Graham absorbed the principles of the Bear front and the 46 defense. Pettine spent time with Rex Ryan in Baltimore and with the New York Jets and, as we all know, Rex’s Dad Buddy was the originator of the 46 defense.

The imagine comes from the Patriots defense, but it’s along the lines of what you see in Green Bay with Pettine (and Graham). Four down-linemen condensed to create space off the edge of the linebackers. This means more pass rushing opportunities from linebackers.

Later, as it inches near official status in the way it has with Graham, we will dive into the potential principles and concepts of Jim Caldwell’s offense in today’s NFL. Much like the Dolphins inclination to bring an experienced consultant along with the young defensive boss, the play on the attack unit is heading in that direction as well.

These consultants figure in as prominent fixtures early in this experimental tenure of young coaches. Caldwell (63-years-old with 41 years of coaching experience) and Bielema (48-years-old with 22 years of coaching experience) can ease the transition to the Flores/Graham grouping along with whomever (possibly Chad O’Shea of the Patriots) Flores chooses as his Offensive Coordinator.

The offensive crash course will be posted just as soon as we have more concrete news.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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It is that time of year again.  Yes, the time of year where we all jump to immediate conclusions, argue and judge each other on projections that, statistically speaking, have a less chance of happening than winning the lottery or being struck by lightning multiple times.

It’s mock draft season!  Well – it’s been mock draft season since December 30th but who’s counting…

Let’s get started on what I hope becomes a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on how many updates are made) mock draft roundup for Miami’s 13th overall pick:

 

Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Greedy Williams, arguably one of the top corners in this draft — right up there with Washington corner Byron Murphy.  Someone to pair with all-pro corner, Xavien Howard, is a need for this Miami defense. Drafting or bringing in a reliable #2 corner also allows Miami to play players like Bobby McCain and Minkah Fitzpatrick in their proper roles, slot corner and safety respectively.

Williams is a tall corner, measuring in at 6’3”.  Add in the speed he possesses and simply looking at the metrics, he has what you want, physically, for a corner.

 

CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

Right off the bat, two mocks having Miami select LSU corner, Greedy Williams.  It’s hard to argue against this pick when you watch Williams.

For those looking for a quarterback, this mock draft saw four — yes, four — quarterbacks go before Miami’s selection.  In between those selections saw a lot of the top defensive line players taken – both edge and interior. Assuming this is the case, a player like Williams would be a solid pick as far as value and need go.

 

The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma

Now it’s getting exciting!  There isn’t a player in this draft with more hype than Kyler Murray.  As written here at Locked on Dolphins, Murray has the answers for this Miami team.

Some question if he will be available at #13.  As Ian Rapoport reports, maybe that idea isn’t so far-fetched.  Maybe it’s just early smoke-screens or maybe teams are actually concerned about his size.  Make no mistake, despite the round 2 or 3 grade, quarterbacks always find their name called much earlier.  Murray will be no exception.

2019 still may be a “rebuilding” year, but I promise drafting Murray would produce a season defined as anything but boring.  If you’re hoping for Miami to make a splash in the draft, drafting Murray would certainly be the biggest play.

 

Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

Dexter Lawrence did not play in Clemson’s final two games, which ultimately resulted in a national championship.  Although Lawrence wasn’t on the field, don’t misunderstand the impact Lawrence had on this Clemson team.

Lawrence has the size to play on the interior of a defensive line, coming in at 6’4” and 340 lbs.  He isn’t the quickest tackle in the world, but he can stop the run with the best of them and bring interior pressure to disrupt the quarterback.  Although I feel this is high for Lawrence and there may be more impactful positional prospects available at this pick (e.g. defensive end Jachai Polite, Montez Sweat), he would be a safe pick who would contribute day 1 for this Miami defense.

 

Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

This now makes two choices for Clemson star interior defensive lineman, Dexter Lawrence.  

What is interesting, in this mock, players like Houston’s Ed Oliver were still available.  Oliver, also an interior defensive lineman, has a different skillset than Lawrence, obvious by Oliver coming in measured at 6’3” and 292 lbs.

Is Miami looking for that big man in the middle who doesn’t get moved around (like Minnesota defensive tackle, Linval Joseph), or the quick tackle, more built for pass-rushing (like Los Angeles defensive tackle Aaron Donald).  Who knows, but if both are in the board, Miami’s plan for the future at defensive line will be clear with this pick.

 

SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke

It’s no secret Miami is in the market for a quarterback.  Although Duke quarterback, Daniel Jones, has potential, this would be a reach.  Jones doesn’t seem to have the high ceiling other quarterbacks slotted in the first round do, so why reach on a player who at best may be a slightly better version of Ryan Tannehill?  There are other options out there at a cheaper price.

When you thrown in Miami is supposedly eyeing the 2020 draft class for their franchise quarterback with the 2019 draft geared towards fixing the trenches, it only raises more questions at why this may be the pick.

All that said, it’s the NFL draft.  Smoke screens are a plenty and no one really knows what a team is going to do and how a player will or won’t turn out.  Pulling the trigger on your franchise quarterback is certainly alluring, but why not put your chips all in on a player who has the franchise-altering potential?  I just don’t see it with Jones.

 


 

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on who Miami should take at #13.  Follow me on Twitter @skylertrunck and let’s discuss.

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