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Miami Dolphins 2020 Roster Building Preview – Offensive Line

Travis Wingfield

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Looking back, looking ahead, and everywhere in between ahead of a critical Miami Dolphins offseason

Foreword:

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.

Quarterbacks
Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Edge/Linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties

Offensive Line (Tackle and Interior)

The offensive line was always going to be an issue in 2019, even before the departure of Pro-Bowl Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil. Brian Flores spoke about the importance of the line playing as a singular unit, and a single star player having a marginal impact if the rest of the group isn’t up to the challenge.

Losing Tunsil blew open a massive hole at the blindside protector spot, and it took the Dolphins multiple weeks to recover; if we’re willing to call it a recovery, that is. The line cumulatively finished dead last in both pass protection and run blocking grades on Pro Football Focus, but the Miami offense produced in spite of the shaky front wall.

Jesse Davis played wire-to-wire for the second straight season, this year at right tackle (right guard in 2018). He’s the leader of the room and a conduit for the message from the coaching staff to the players. As a result, Davis was rewarded with a team-friendly contract. It’s a big year for Davis, and for the right tackle position in general; he’s owed an annual $3.5 million over the next three years, but there’s an out for just $2 million in dead money after the 2020 season.

The other four spots will challenge the acumen of the Miami brass. Michael Deiter played a lot, but the results were sub-par. There were glimpses of hope from Evan Boehm, which corroborated his 2018 film in Indianapolis; those two players could factor in across the interior three positions.

The starting left tackle and swing tackle are not on the roster, and a whole lot of development has to happen for anyone else to garner legitimate consideration for playing time in the fall.

The Incumbents

Jesse Davis (Right Tackle, Guard Experience)
Stats: 42 Total Pressures (5 sacks, 4 hits, 33 hurries)
PFF Grade: 58.9 (89 of 126)
Snaps: 975 (90.4%)

What started off as a learning experience became the lone encouraging development across Miami’s 2019 offensive line. While Davis averaged 10 pressures allowed per month, his five-game run to close out the year kept Ryan Fitzpatrick mostly out of harm’s way (three hits, no sacks allowed).

Davis played 110 snaps at right tackle in 2017 before moving to right guard in 2018. Speed rushers still give him fits. He made the initial kick slide a focal point of his development this season, and it came to fruition in two matchups with burners off the edge. Davis allowed only one hit combined in the games against Philadelphia and Cincinnati, and parlayed that success into a promising finish to the year. Davis has the size/athleticism profile the Dolphins like at the position.

Michael Deiter (Left Guard, Center Experience)
Stats: 44 total pressures (6 sacks, 15 hits, 23 hurries)
PFF Grade: 42.5 (113 of 119)
Snaps: 995 (92.3%)

The moment Miami announced the selection of Deiter in last draft’s third-round, every fan wrote his name in sharpie as the starting left guard. That’s exactly what happened come September, but a slow burn of a developmental-year eventually landed Deiter on the bench for one game. He returned for the final three games, but with more mixed results.

Reliability and quality college tape will keep Deiter in the fold, but he has to make an improvement in year-two. He never missed a snap, aside from his benching, proving his college durability to be no fluke (53 consecutive starts at Wisconsin). He’s technically proficient but can be coaxed into shooting his hands too early, and often gets out over his skis. He struggled with games (stunts, twists, slants, delayed blitzes), and fell off far too many blocks.

The hope is better, more consistent play next to him (at both positions) and a year of strength-training can return an improved product for training camp in July.

Daniel Kilgore (Center)
Stats: 19 total pressures (3 sacks, 4 hits, 12 hurries)
PFF Grade: 66.3 (19 of 50)
Snaps: 877 (81.3%)

The second-most reliable lineman after Davis, Kilgore provided Miami with a proficient communicator and trusted veteran in the middle of the line. Once the ball was snapped, however, that stability was as shaky as the other spots.

Power players give Kilgore a lot of fits, and reach blocks are problematic for a less-than-stellar athlete. The Dolphins can cut ties from the $3.5 million cash commitment to Kilgore this year with no penalty, and they can exercise that flexibility any time before the season — there are no roster bonus incentives in Kilgore’s 2020 deal.

Deion “Shaq” Calhoun (Right Guard)
Stats: 18 total pressures (2 sacks, 3 hits, 13 hurries)
PFF Grade: 44.2 (109 of 119)
Snaps: 471 (43.6%)

Sometimes undrafted rookies hit straight away (see Preston Williams). Most times, however, it’s a sign of a thin position, and that was the case for Miami and the right guard spot all season. Calhoun earned a promotion into the starting lineup early in camp, but never popped while watching tape.

Calhoun struggled to create any push in the running game. Any sort of nuance in terms of disguised blitzes, or gifted pass rushers for that matter, put the right side B gap in constant peril.

Julie’n Davenport (Left Tackle)
Stats: 31 total pressures (6 sacks, 9 hits, 16 hurries)
PFF Grade: 56.5 (98 of 126)
Snaps: 534 (49.5%)

Part of the lottery-sized draft haul return for Laremy Tunsil, Davenport checked off nearly all negative boxes in his debut season with the Fins. Davenport was injured multiple times — forcing him to miss eight games — and the performance left a lot to be desired.

Some of the pressures attributed to Davenport came from scheme and communication breakdowns, but he’s been beaten regularly throughout his career.

Keaton Sutherland (Guard)
Stats: 5 total pressures (0 sacks, 1 hits, 4 hurries)
PFF Grade: 46.4 (106 of 119)
Snaps: 93 (8.7%)

The replacement for Deiter in the Jets game, and frequent sixth-lineman to enter in heavy packages, Sutherland fared similarly to any poor soul that try to solve the right guard issue in Miami. Sutherland should be back for camp, but he’s got an uphill climb to make the roster.

Danny Isidora (Guard)
Stats: 5 total pressures (0 sacks, 1 hit, 4 hurries)
PFF Grade: 53.7 (85 of 119)
Snaps: 127 (11.8%)

One of the more intriguing members of the group, Isidora returned to his college stomping grounds, but was lost for the year after three games. The former Miami Hurricane was selected in the fifth-round by the Minnesota Vikings, but his development went so poorly that a team with a shaky line in its own right cut bait after two years.

Isidora is thick with sweet feet, but he struggles against any semblance of a bull rush. He has the makeup to develop into a quality player, it just hasn’t happened.

Adam Pankey (Tackle, Guard Experience)
Stats: 0 pressures
PFF Grade: 63.1 (DNQ)
Snaps: 12

He matches the size and versatility prototype for Miami — hence the decision to pluck him from Green Bay’s practice squad — but he’s tight in everything he does. He could move inside to guard (played three positions in college) but served exclusively as the sixth-lineman in heavy packages on his 12 reps. Pankey is listed as a tackle.

J’Marcus Webb (Left Tackle)
Stats: 39 total pressures (7 sacks, 6 hits, 26 hurries)
PFF Grade: 34.4 (126 of 126)
Snaps: 543 (50.3%)

Webb was an emergency addition after the Tunsil trade, and was quickly called into action in week two. He was PFF’s lowest-graded tackle in 2019.

Futures Contracts: OT Chidi Okeke, iOL Durval Neto

Exclusive Rights Free Agents:

Evan Boehm (Right Guard, Center)
Stats: 24 total pressures (1 sacks, 9 hits, 14 hurries)
PFF Grade: 47.4 (104 of 119)
Snaps: 595 (55.1%)

Boehm filled in admirably for Ryan Kelly in Indianapolis on one of 2018’s best offensive lines, but PFF didn’t like his performance this season. He was up-and-down, but his versatility and past success should make for an easy decision to bring Boehm back. He’ll compete for work at center and right guard in camp.

Evan Brown (Guard)
Stats: 1 pressure (hit)
PFF Grade: 60.6 (53 of 119)
Snaps: 38 (3.4%)

Another late-season waiver claim, Brown joins the glut of interior lineman heading into the offseason. Brown is a high-motor player that goes whistle-to-whistle, but his limited athleticism shows up regularly.

Free Agent Market (Tackles):

The Guy — Anthony Castonzo

The only premier left tackle set to his free agency, Castonzo has endured an up-and-down career, but with far more peaks than valleys. He has the size-length-athletic combination desired for a premier left tackle, and has done well to quiet the concerns over his lack of power at the point-of-attack coming out of Boston College.

Castonzo is going to fetch top-of-the-market money, whether it’s with the Colts, or on the open market. Given the quality of the left tackle draft class, it makes more sense for Miami to pursue its solution that way, and focus free agent dollars on the interior.

The Reasonable Route — George Fant

George Fant is a mountain of a man. A college hooper, his first snap with the Seahawks was his first organized football game since the eighth grade. At 27, it’s entirely feasible that he’s just now unlocking his true potential, though he’s been the Seattle swing tackle for the majority of his career.

Fant is Seattle’s swing tackle, though he’s filling in for the injured Duane Brown, and plays a lot in heavy-package personnel. He’s the mid-range free agent buy that should pique Miami’s interest as he can play both sides. Fant provides a nice surge off the edge in the ground game and has steadily progressed as a pass blocker.

The Sleeper — LaAdrian Waddle

Missing the entirety of 2019 with an injury, LaAdrian Waddle will come at a bargain this March. He last played in New England when Miami’s former Pats coaches were still with the organization. Waddle — a career backup — amassed over 2,200 snaps since his 2013 debut, committing just 15 penalties. During the 2017-2018 seasons, Waddle was flagged a combined three times.

Only 120 of Waddle’s career snaps came at left tackle, but he’s a capable swing tackle and starting right tackle in a pinch.

Other Notable Free Agent Tackles:

Player 2019 Team
Jack Conklin Titans
Andrew Whitworth Rams
Kelvin Beachum Jets
Bryan Bulaga Packers
Greg Robinson Browns
Marcus Gilbert Cardinals
Demar Dotson Buccaneers
Daryl Williams Panthers
Germain Ifedi Seahawks

 

The Draft (Tackles)

The Guy — Tristan Wirfs

Landing 2020’s best draft eligible tackle will require Miami to use the fifth pick. Wirfs is unicorn. He combines an unbelievably thick trunk with elite movement skills. He can washout or condense down the edge in the run game, and mirror and redirect on an island in pass protection.

He’s played both tackle positions in college (almost exclusively on the right side this year), and that experience shows up in the quickness of his kick-slide, and also how much ground he covers with his first step.

The Reasonable Route — Mekhi Becton

Watching tackle tape might not be the most entertaining for the casual fan, but Becton does his best to make it fun. He’s huge. This six-foot-seven, 370-pound monster somehow glides laterally like an elite pass rusher. He’s got plenty of reach, a powerful punch, and has some of the most comical tape you’ll see in college football when he’s out in space on poor, unassuming defensive backs.

Tua Tagovailoa is probably the favorite of the entire draft to wind up in Miami; Becton is second, for my money. He fits everything the Dolphins tried to find with all the tackle acquisitions last season.

The Sleeper — Lucas Niang

A potential first-rounder in October, Niang suffered a torn ACL, and will surely be available late on day-two, if not day-three. Injuries are a bit of a concern as he opened the season with a hip injury. Keeping up with the theme, he matches the size-length-athleticism profile that Miami will covet.

Niang has immense power at the point-of-attack and plenty of athleticism to pull play-side or come across on counter trey. His medical prognosis projects Niang will be available for camp, and that could result in an opening day starting gig.

Travis Wingfield’s 2020 Tackle Draft Rankings:

(Rank) Player School
1. Tristan Wirfs Iowa
2. Jedrick Wills Alabama
3. Andrew Thomas Georgia
4. Mekhi Becton Louisville
5. Lucas Niang TCU
6. Austin Jackson USC
7. Prince Tega Wanogho Auburn
8. Josh Jones Houston
9. Calvin Throckmorton Oregon
10. Jack Driscoll Auburn

 

Free Agent Market (Guards):

The Guy — Joe Thuney

If the Dolphins are going to make any day-one splash signings, it has to be the Patriots Left Guard. Thuney’s missed 15 snaps in the last three seasons. He’s one of the game’s best pass protecting guards, and his leadership and intelligence profile grade as well as any in football.

Thuney was advised to skip a portion on the 50-question Wonderlic exam given to every prospect at the combine. Thuney left 11 questions blank, but hit 1.000 on the 39 questions he answered. Given his familiarity with Brian Flores and several Dolphins coaches, this move makes as much sense as any potential offseason acquisition across the league.

The Reasonable Route — Graham Glasgow

It’s been reported that Glasgow will test the free agent market in March, and Stephen Ross might have some interest in bringing his fellow Michigan alum down to South Florida. Glasgow has 3,748 snaps under his belt in a four-year career, nearly identically split across left guard, center and right guard.

The 2019 season was his best. Glasgow committed four fouls, didn’t allow a sack, and only put his QB in harm’s way five times (5 QB hits allowed). Glasgow finished as PFF’s seventh-ranked run-blocking guard.

The Sleeper — Ted Karras

With the depletion of the center market (Creed Humphrey returning to school), Miami’s best course of action might be to stay the status quo and develop Michael Deiter and Evan Boehm for the position.

Or they can import another player familiar with the program from New England via Ted Karras.

Karras filled in admirably for the unavailable David Andrews this season, giving the Pats 1,040 snaps. He’s likely to find a starting job elsewhere, as Andrews will assume his original spot next year. Karras allowed 14 pressures and committed just three fouls on the season.

Other Notable Free Agent Guards/Centers:

Player 2019 Team
G Brandon Scherff Washington
G Andrus Peat Saints
G Mike Iupati Seahawks
G Ereck Flowers Washington
G Quinton Spain Bills
C Brett Jones Vikings
Stefan Wisniewski Chiefs
Jon Halapio Giants

 

The Draft (Guards/Centers)

The Guy — Nick Harris (Center)

Last year, Garrett Bradbury blew scouts away at the Senior Bowl for his football acumen, and incredible work in space. Harris might be even better operating in the open field, and in the football IQ department. He’s a three-year starter with guard and center experience, including three straight Apple Cup displays of dominance.

He’s squatty at a smidge over 300 pounds, but can unlock his hips and uses functional strength and flexibility to hit and hold reach blocks, and anchor against powerful pass rushers. Exporting Harris to a man/gap scheme would be limiting the traits that make him the best center in the class — zone player all the way.

The Reasonable Route — Shane Lemieux (Left Guard)

Shane Lemieux had the most impressive series for any guard I watch this season in the Arizona State game. He’s never missed a game, and that experience shows for his ability to perfectly execute combination blocks and climb to the second level.

Lemieux has seen all the exotic blitz and game packages a defensive front can throw at him, a product of his consecutive starts streak that spans four years and 51 games. He’s not the most-fluid athlete and probably won’t do a lot of pulling at the next level.

The Sleeper — Cesar Ruiz (Center)

Quickly rising up pundit’s boards in the post-season tape evaluation period, Ruiz arrived in Ann Arbor as the nations’ top-rated center recruit. His best trait is the ability to reset and anchor after the initial move of the rusher, and he pairs functional strength with plus-athleticism. Ruiz is an arrow-up player who improved significantly during his junior season.

Travis Wingfield’s 2020 Interior O-Line Draft Rankings:

(Rank) Player School
1. Nick Harris Washington
2. John Simpson Clemson
3. Cesar Ruiz Michigan
4. Darryl Williams Mississippi State
5. Lloydy Cushenberry LSU

 

This is the most critical area for Miami in a critical offseason — outside of the quarterback decision, obviously. If it’s Tua, or another QB the team uses the fifth selection to anoint as the savior, protecting said QB would be a wise decision.

There are scheme fits littered throughout the draft at tackle, a couple at guard, and minimal options at center. The free agency class is loaded at guard, but weak at tackle and center. The Dolphins have the resources to import a new line, and could conceivably do so utilizing both free agency and the draft.

Things are buttoned up pretty tightly in Davie these days, but it’s safe to assume some moves will happen up front. The offensive line, and backfield after injuries and trades, were the only portions of the offense that didn’t function at a level above league-average.

The Dolphins can, and should, fix that this winter/spring.

2020 Offensive Line Prediction:

Left Tackle — Mekhi Becton
Left Guard — Joe Thuney
Center — Michael Deiter
Right Guard — Shane Lemieux
Right Tackle — Jesse Davis
Swing Tackle — George Fant
Swing Interior — Evan Boehm
Off the Bench — Shaq Calhoun

@WingfieldNFL

Tuesday: Defensive Line

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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