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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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