Looking back, looking ahead, and everywhere in between ahead of a critical Miami Dolphins offseason
This publication has always fancied itself as an unaffiliated extension of the Miami Dolphins operation. In an attempt to arm fans with the researched clues about the team might do — and commentary on what they should do — we like to follow the same timeline as the coaches and decision makers at the facility in Davie.
The time for reflection is now. The coaching staff will be reviewing the 2019 season with an eye on self-scouting, and evaluating the job of every member that donned the Dolphins logo this past fall. The college scouting staff is buried in draft prep, and the pro personnel side is under water searching for potential free agent targets.
Since Locked On Dolphins is the most comprehensive Miami Dolphins outlet in existence, we’ll tackle all three subjects.
1. Reviewing the incumbents
2. Identifying free agent targets
3. Stacking the draft board
And we’ll do it for every position. It’s 10 days of offseason preparation, here on Locked On Dolphins dot com, as well as the Locked On Dolphins Podcast.
Defensive Line (Nose to 5-technique)
The modern day NFL is making positional distinctions antiquated — particularly on the defensive side. In a league full of complex, versatile schemes, few defenses are more ambiguous than Brian Flores’ approach. Name the defensive front, odds are the Dolphins ran it at some point during the 2019 season.
Because of Miami’s multiplicity, branding any player is difficult. For that reason, we’ll split the defensive front into two categories — the down defensive lineman that play anywhere from head-up over the nose, all the way out to the 5-techinqe off the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
The Dolphins had three players sharing significant reps across those varietal positions between the 0 and 5-techniques. Rookie Christian Wilkins, in the most fluid role, led the way in snaps. For long stretches, Miami would call on its Bear front, which utilizes a pair of 2-techniques (head-up up over the guard) and a nose (head-up over the center). Wilkins, Davon Godchaux, and John Jenkins were the pillars of those fronts.
For Flores and the Dolphins to deploy more of the creativity that exists inside that massive playbook, a true base 5-techinque is an essential need. On top of the help off the edge, Miami needs depth both inside and outside.
Stats: 75 tackles, 2 sacks, 18 QB pressures (7 hits), 33 run stops
PFF Grade: 64.6 (97 of 199)
Snaps: 717 (64.1%)
It’s difficult for a defensive tackle to regularly impact games or pop on the tape, but Godchaux shows up in the backfield with as much regularity as any interior lineman. Pass rushing still isn’t his strong suit, but he made strides in that area.
Whew boy. Davon Godchaux just gave Travis Fredric all he can handle. pic.twitter.com/Z7z1CgaxOs
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 22, 2019
Godchaux’s a run-stuffing maven, piling up better than two run-stops per game. He offers a strong initial punch and a powerful base to hold the point against double teams. He drew on his experience in a two-gap system in college to produce the best year of his professional career. Godchaux is a leader and loud voice in the locker room — he should be up for an extension this offseason.
Stats: 56 tackles, 2 sacks, 30 QB pressures (4 hits), 29 run stops
PFF Grade: 64.4 (97 of 199)
Snaps: 730 (65.3%)
Christian Wilkins lead all rookie interior defensive lineman in tackles, and made a profound impact on that team behind the scenes — he’ll be a cornerstone for this franchise for years to come. Wilkins is exceptionally quick off the snap and made considerable strides in the crucial hand-fighting department of the game. Wilkins played the back-side 1, front-side three, he lined up as a 2-tech in bear fronts, and played plenty as the 4-tech as a big defensive end.
Christian Wilkins whacks Brandon Scherff. The rookie is getting better every week. Also, Raekwon doing his thing being the strongest dude on the field. pic.twitter.com/rF28jqEMHK
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) October 13, 2019
He’s consistent, he’s durable, and he’s an infectious leader. On top of consistently bubbling the offensive line (pushing it back), Wilkins was always the first player to greet touchdown scorers in the end zone with a full sprint from the sideline. He also showed his versatility catching a touchdown pass as a fullback in the goal line package against the Bengals.
Stats: 8 tackles, 1 sack, 4 QB pressures (1 hit), 6 run stops
PFF Grade: 76.2 (22 of 199)
Snaps: 78 (7.0%)
Keep this name at the front of your mind heading into camp, Sieler can play. He’s huge. The two-man sled was invented for players like Seiler for his ability to shoot the hands, lock out, and disengage as he reads the flow of the play. He was simply unblockable in the Cincinnati game.
Omg Zach Sieler pic.twitter.com/eNgBTAMutM
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) December 29, 2019
Ravens fans weren’t too happy about moving on from Sieler, and his immediate impact showed us why that was. He has the good to play multiple positions and really excel within the type of line-play Miami wants up front.
Stats: 4 tackles, 0.5 sack, 2 QB pressures (1 hit), 4 run stops
PFF Grade: DNQ
Snaps: 51 (4.6%)
Perhaps the most forgotten name in Miami, Ledbetter climbed from undrafted rookie at the bottom of the depth chart to opening day starter — and he played well in his brief stint. Ledbetter is another ideal big defensive end type with the ability to condense inside on rushing downs.
Look at the heavy hands from Ledbetter. pic.twitter.com/uX5fx3foLO
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 9, 2019
This is likely an indictment on the rest of the Miami defensive line, but Ledbetter was the best pure edge run-defender on the team; his loss was impactful.
Stats: 2 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 QB pressures (0 hits), 2 run stops
PFF Grade: DNQ
Snaps: 19 (1.7%)
The former Hurricane saw minimal action and looked out of shape on those 19 reps. A developmental year that was split between the 53-man roster and the practice squad, Willis has an uphill climb ahead of him this offseason.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Stats: 34 tackles, 1 sack, 12 QB pressures (2 hits), 21 run stops
PFF Grade: 70.8 (49 of 199)
Snaps: 479 (42.8%)
Another gem discovered on the scrap heap for this Dolphins team, Jenkins is the quintessential role player that this team covets, and will need a handful of like-minded players to get the most out of the scheme.
John Jenkins will not be denied on this rep. Sheer power. Carradine won off the edge too. pic.twitter.com/c3fKJPVAU0
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 15, 2019
Jenkins isn’t going to wow anybody with his pass rush, but he’s strong and can play anywhere from the nose all the way out to the 5-techinuqe.
Free Agent Market:
The Guy — Jadeveon Clowney
The Dolphins were involved in the Clowney sweepstakes this summer, only to find out the former number-one overall pick wasn’t interested in playing for a team in transition. Now, if the Dolphins can sell the idea of a much more competitive outfit in 2020 and beyond, perhaps this idea re-circulates.
Jadeveon Clowney run-defense thread. Up first, Clowney works inside in a two-point over the nose and quickly disposed of him with a swim. pic.twitter.com/pDIJ5Al6LE
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 28, 2019
At his best, Clowney is the type of player this system was built for. An elite edge run-defender capable of holding the point, or completely collapsing the edge against strong left tackles, Clowney is far from a one-trick pony. He’ll stand up off the ball, drop in coverage as a two-point, and he’s even played interior ‘backer. His best trait is the early-down run defense, and the lateral rush ability he exhibits anywhere from the 7-technique all the way inside to a 2i-technique.
Clowney is the potential crown jewel, but he’ll cost upwards of $20 million per year — a risky deal for a guy that has missed games in five of six years as a professional.
The Reasonable Route — Shaq Lawson
It’s been a slow burn for Lawson to arrive as an impact player, but he showed up in a big way for the Bills this season. Lawson, like Clowney, has an inherent skill set to hold the edge against the run. He’s long (33-inch arm), thick (265 pounds), and uses his eyes and hands to keep his frame clean in a two-gap defense.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 28, 2019
Lawson measures similarly to former Patriots Edge, Trey Flowers. Lawson will likely call for second-tier money this offseason, and his connection to the defensive line coach in Miami puts the Dolphins on the list of potential suitors. Lawson played for Marion Hobby at Clemson.
The Sleeper — Danny Shelton
A different position than Clowney and Lawson, Shelton would serve a specific function for this Dolphins defense. After a slow start in Cleveland, Shelton made good on his first-round potential in New England. He saw a considerable jump in workload this season and justified his coaches for the promotion with his performance.
Piling up run stops, and even adding some pass rush to his game, Shelton is an ideal candidate to take 400 snaps in specific situations for the Dolphins.
Other Notable Free Agent Defensive Tackles:
|iDL Vernon Butler||Panthers|
|iDL Timmy Jernigan||Eagles|
|iDL A’Shawn Robinson||Lions|
|iDL Javon Hargrave||Steelers|
|iDL Adam Butler (RFA)||Patriots|
|DE Jabaal Sheard||Colts|
|DE Arik Armstead||49ers|
|DE Chris Jones||Chiefs|
|DE Mike Pennel||Chiefs|
The Guy — A.J. Epenesa
Epenesa comes back with a first-round grade before the tape even goes on. He’s massive with unrelenting power, and smooth enough transitions to twist, slant and stunt inside, or win on pure outside rushes.
AJ Epenesa’s impact is incredible. The Gophs stayed away from him as much as possible, as he was doing whatever he pleased against their LT. That didn’t stop him from doing this. pic.twitter.com/s5M2Uuz4X9
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 17, 2019
Iowa played Epenesa everywhere, including dropping into the hook zone in coverage. At 6-6, 280 pounds, he’s going to measure with the longest arms at the position. He can line up in a two-point, three-point, four-point and explode off the football, dent the edge or force it to bubble, and run through chips and doubles as well as anyone.
The Reasonable Route — Curtis Weaver
Another big-bodied edge that can play all over the line, Weaver has a thick, powerful base that presents a strong anchor against the run, and a quality bull rush move. He’s not the most-fluid edge rusher, but his get-off often oversets the tackle allowing Weaver to go to work with his heavy hands to get underneath inside.
I will not rest until Curtis Weaver gets the attention he deserves. The man is WRECKING offensive lines.
Among CFB edge defenders through Week 3 (per @PFF), Weaver has the:
– Most total pressures
– 4th highest pass-rush grade
– 5th highest pass-rush win rate pic.twitter.com/agLifdbZP7
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) September 19, 2019
He’ll need to work on his speed rush. Too many times Weaver runs right past inferior right tackles, and sometimes works himself out of the play altogether. In the NFL he’ll have to introduce more counter moves and stay true to his rush lane. Weaver is 6-3, 265 pounds.
The Sleeper — Bradlee Anae
Notice a theme here? Anae is another 6-foot-3, 260-plus-pound edge that Miami will covet in this year’s draft. He’s a refined rusher with multiple moves in the arsenal, and the ability to angle inside as a rusher to expand the stunt game on the defensive line.
Look at this chop-dip-rip by Bradlee Anae. Then flattens and closes for another violent finish. Some team is going to get a huge steal here. pic.twitter.com/nROSHbSMKu
— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) January 11, 2020
He’s not the most athletic rusher, but none of the guys in this portion are. New England never valued athleticism at end, and I don’t suspect Brian Flores will either. Dig-out or kick-out blocks are often a futile effort against Anae because of his long arms and ability to disengage quickly.
Travis Wingfield’s 2020 Down Defensive Lineman (5-tech and in) Draft Rankings:
|1. Derek Brown||Auburn|
|2. A.J. Epenesa||Iowa|
|3. Yetur Gross-Matos||Penn State|
|4. Neville Gallimore||Oklahoma|
|5. Curtis Weaver||Boise State|
|6. Javon Kinlaw||South Carolina|
|7. Bradlee Anae||Utah|
|8. Raekwon Davis||Alabama|
|9. Leki Fotu||Utah|
|10. Davon Hamilton||Ohio State|
This is Dolphins specific, so if you’re looking for Chase Young, K’Lavon Chaisson, Terrell Lewis and the like, they’ll be in tomorrow’s piece on stand-ups and on-ball linebackers.
This position group is loaded with plug-and-play options. Of the 10 on that list, there is a role on the Dolphins front to take 70-80% of the snaps straight away in the 2020 rookie campaign. Epenesa, Gross-Matos, and Weaver are first-round options — likely in listed order for each of Miami’s three first-round picks — to take on a similar workload that Christian Wilkins saw this season.
Those three players start outside at the five, and condense inside based upon the defensive package. Derek Brown is the best player out of all of them, and he spearheads a strong group of players that start inside — from play-side 3-technique to a back-side 1-shade, or straight up over the nose — and could fill valuable reps in Miami next season.
The depth of the class creates value. With all of Miami’s premium picks, and the need for versatile parts on the defensive front like the ones this draft offers, it would be a surprise to come away from Vegas without one of these college stars.
2020 Down Defensive Line Prediction (Listed in Order of Snaps):
1. Christian Wilkins
2. Shaq Lawson
3. Davon Godchaux
4. Bradlee Anae
5. John Jenkins
6. Zach Sieler
7. Bravvion Roy
Tomorrow: Edge (Ends, Stand-Up/On-Ball Linebackers)
Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts
Tua Tagovailoa has IT.
Brian Flores is THE guy.
And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.
After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?
Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?
Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?
Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?
Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.
Something special cookin’ down in Miami! 🤫 https://t.co/GDuC4Aogu5
— Jakeem Grant (@_TheDreamIsHere) November 9, 2020
Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Monday Morning Thoughts
Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for
Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.
tua’s first career interception? pic.twitter.com/GkSn8KGeBw
— josh houtz (@houtz) November 8, 2020
That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.
But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.
When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).
Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.
.@Tua said SEE YA
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) November 8, 2020
TUA WITH THE JUKES!!! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/FKScMk6wmR
— LasnerSport (@LasnerSport) November 8, 2020
If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.
Ted Karras on Tua
That one scramble where he split those guys was exceptional. I don’t think any moment is too big for Tua. He works hard and has earned the respect of everyone in that huddle.
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 9, 2020
Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback
After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.
He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.
Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.
Darrell Daniels took it BACK. What a TD! #RedSea
— NFL (@NFL) November 8, 2020
I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.
Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) November 8, 2020
But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:
Deep ball DIME from Kyler Murray to Christian Kirk.
— NFLonCBS (@NFLonCBS) November 8, 2020
With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.
Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating
Just please celebrate responsibly.
One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.
Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.
Teria sido Wilkins que machucou Williams? pic.twitter.com/RdR0rHfapJ
— Phins BR 🐬 (@PhinsBr) November 8, 2020
Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.
If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.
Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story
Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).
Xavien Howard has been flagged for pass interference 4 times now (3 accepted, 1 offsetting). It's the first time he's been flagged more than twice in a game.
Including the offsetting DPI, Howard's 4 PI penalties are the most by a player in a single game over the last 20 seasons pic.twitter.com/fanl15HP0i
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 8, 2020
The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.
According to @ESPNStatsInfo; DeAndre Hopkins has yet to be targeted; that has only happened one other time in his career where he wasn't targeted in the first half – ('13 vs. the Raiders).
— Mike Tannenbaum (@RealTannenbaum) November 8, 2020
A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.
The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way
Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).
Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.
We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off
Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.
Will take Austin Jackson time to get rust off; wasn't sharp there in that regrettable series. Though Jesse Davis is now at RG, I would expect to see Kindley again today. Fins trying to fit six guys into five spots, figure out what's best
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) November 8, 2020
Jason Sanders is a stud
Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).
The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.
Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.
The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah
I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.
Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.
Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.
The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises
Football is a team sport.
Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.
Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.
Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.
38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.
A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.
We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.
And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.
As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.
Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.
That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.
The Purgatory We Built
No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.
Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.
It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.
After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.
Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.
Miami undertook rebuilds in 2005 and 2008 under Nick Saban and then Bill Parcells. In both cases the decision was made that they needed to build a TEAM, and THEN get a QB. As a result of those priorities, they passed on Aaron Rodgers for Ronnie Brown, and Matt Ryan for Jake Long.
— Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) January 15, 2019
It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.
I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.
A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.
To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).
With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.
Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.
The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.
Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.
I love draft grades! A few From 2017
8. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina PanthersGrade: D+
10. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs Grade: C-
12. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans Grade: C+
22. Charles Harris, Miami Dolphins Grade: A
28. Taco Charlton, Dallas CowboysGrade: A-
— ThatsGoodSports (@BrandonPerna) April 26, 2020
Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:
- Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
- (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)
Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.
There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.
Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.
Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.
Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.
The Future We Created
But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.
First look at Tua Tagovailoa in a Dolphins uniform: pic.twitter.com/7N3Fh95Mqt
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) September 7, 2020
The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?
This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.
Interesting stuff here. At press time, the Dolphins are the 2nd youngest team in the NFL by .1 years of age (Jacksonville). After having the 7th oldest roster in 2018, Miami had the youngest in 2019 and now 2nd youngest in 2020. https://t.co/Ns5IoesIQd
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) September 6, 2020
"He's a really good player. One thing that's really special about Noah is his maturity," Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones said of Igbinoghene. "It's really cool to see a young guy like that come into the league and be so prepared."
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) September 9, 2020
With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.
After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.
If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?
Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.
NBC's Peter King picks Dolphins to win AFC East and be 4th seed, behind Baltimore, KC, Tennessee. And (if you missed this), CBS/NFL Net's Nate Burleson said Dolphins have best chance of any team of becoming a dynasty excluding KC: https://t.co/dOm5zhhVkV
— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) September 7, 2020
So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?
If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.
Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.
And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) May 4, 2020
The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:
Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.
The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:
- Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
- Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
- Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).
Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)
There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL
Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?
After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.
Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.
We’ve Heard This Before
Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.
After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.
That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.
The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.
I really though back in 2011 after the first opening drive of the season that it was the Dolphins year. This drive by Chad Henne was BEAUTIFUL. pic.twitter.com/dt7WlZoINy
— Cedrick Allen (@SeeCeddyRun) April 16, 2020
Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.
From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.
Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.
Great person, but terrible with people.
Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.
Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.
After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.
Jay Cutler really sold his involvement in the Wildcat 😂 pic.twitter.com/WsjyRHyzoC
— NFL on ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsNFL) October 1, 2017
Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.
So Why is This Different?
This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.
Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.
Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.
Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.
The 18th pick in April's draft turns 21 today! https://t.co/teEPyKtGSe
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) August 11, 2020
Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.
Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.
The Miami Dolphins have drafted a possibly transcendent QB, traded for an explosive, young, proven NFL RB, taken potential studs at LT and RT, added depth and strength to DL and interior OL and taken two talented, versatile DBs. How’s your draft going?
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 25, 2020
Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.
With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.
With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.
This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.
Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.
Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.
Austin Jackson is young. He needs time to develop his technique and his play strength. I don't think he's ready to start in the NFL right now. He's got the talent to develop into something special, but a bunch of these "high upside, raw technique" guys don't get better in the NFL
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) April 24, 2020
But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.
Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?
Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.
- Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts November 9, 2020
- The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises September 10, 2020
- There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL August 12, 2020
- Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts July 27, 2020
- In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game July 27, 2020