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Miami’s Missing Identity

Travis Wingfield

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Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) takes the field before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Following a comprehensive playoff beatdown in Pittsburgh, Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier took to the podium for the end-of-season press conference in January 2017. Together they preached continuity, rewarding your own, and assured fans, and media members alike, that a clean bill of health would lead to another step forward.

Just a year later, the trio were fielding questions of an entirely different variety.

Following a disappointing 6-10 finish, a failed backup plan to replace the injured starting quarterback, and a defense that regressed as the year wore on, the continuity theme dematerialized.

The predominant question Gase fielded was a hypothetical regarding Ryan Tannehill. Time-and-time again, Gase made it known that losing 2016’s 12th highest rated passer put Miami behind the 8-ball before the season even kicked off.

That’s not to say one player will turn this team from afterthought to title contender. Could Tannehill’s return coincide with a return to the post-season? Absolutely. But it’d be awfully naïve to assume that health is the only thing this Dolphins team needs.

So, what is the theme for the 2018 Miami Dolphins? “The New Miami,” hashtag and all, faded as quickly as it was conceived. The answer to this question lies in the answer to another question:

What is this team’s identity?

Oct 1, 2017; London, United Kingdom; Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase reacts during the NFL International Series game against the New Orleans Saints at Wembley Stadium. The Saints defeated the Dolphins 20-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Is Miami a spread-it-out high scoring cog? Will the Dolphins resurrect the style that created a mini-dynasty in the 1970’s with a power-running game? Perhaps the defense is just a few pieces away from joining the likes of the surprise conference title game participants (Minnesota, Jacksonville and Philadelphia).

Whatever the choice may be, it would behoove Miami to commit fully to that decision. Every personnel decision ought to be filtered through the same proverbial funnel. The funnel that feeds each acquisition through the process with the bigger picture in mind.

Ideally, any team would be able to morph into any one of these identities during any given week of the season. Unfortunately, Miami doesn’t have the talent to pull off an ever-changing program. There are holes throughout the roster and while Miami has the resources to fill those holes, this roster isn’t suddenly going to become stacked overnight.

Returning to the post-season is the first goal, but there are paths that could lead to even greater accomplishments. Let’s explore those potential identities.

1.) Defensive powerhouse –

As odd as it may sound, this is probably the path Miami is closest to. Despite allowing franchise highs in points and yardage in recent years, Miami’s defense is the unit with the most building-blocks. Recent draft classes have flushed the stop unit with young, emerging talents, some of which took massive strides in 2017.

It could be argued that personnel packaging and coaching were the primary culprits for the Dolphins ultimate lack of success. Despite individuals putting forth encouraging performances, the team struggled. The bugaboos came in the two most important areas: the red zone and on third down.

Lost in the frustration of escorting the opposition down the field was the emergence of young talent. Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain had, far and away, their best years as professionals. Rookie corner Cordrea Tankersley flashed the potential that earned him a starting spot on Clemson’s National Title team.

Up front, Davon Godchaux was a valuable rotation player and Vincent Taylor produced in his limited action. The pair of day three rookies gave Miami some much needed depth along the interior of the defensive line.

Oct 15, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Miami Dolphins free safety Reshad Jones (20) celebrates with cornerback Xavien Howard (25) after an interception against the Atlanta Falcons in the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Fellow rookie lineman, Charles Harris, got stronger as the year went on. Along with the return of injured linebacker Raekwon McMillan, Miami feels it acquired two snap-eaters on the defense capable of contributing in a big way.

As far as veteran presence goes, Cam Wake is still a more-than-viable edge rusher, Ndamukong Suh is as dominant as ever, and the safety tandem of Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald is one of the better pairings in the league.

So why did this unit endure so many hardships in 2017? There are three reasons:

  • Big contracts given to unreliable players at key positions
  • Inability to make in-game adjustments and adapt packages
  • Bad offense equals a tired defense

The encouraging news is that two of these are immediately fixable. The in-game adjustment is something this staff has acknowledged and already made steps towards repairing. Bringing over Tony Oden from Detroit signals the willingness to incorporate more defensive backs, combating the poor third down defense.

Joining Tony Oden in the voyage south to Miami is Kris Kocurek. Kocurek was brought in to enact his knowledge in the wide-9 system, and get more out of an underachieving defensive line.

While Miami can’t mitigate issue number one by swinging the axe (cutting players), it can double down by changing how these players are taught and prepared.

That’s the plan, anyway. Make do with the players they have and get said players playing at a level commensurate with the contracts they received (Kiko Alonso and Andre Branch).

It’s not inconceivable that Miami would make moves to position these two players to backup roles, so it’ll be interesting to see the approach as the new league year approaches.

Bad offense isn’t typically something that can be fixed overnight, but when there’s an internal colossal upgrade at the most important position on the field, that changes the narrative.

Even with the return of Ryan Tannehill, a more concentrated running game, and the continued emergence of a young defense, there are still pieces missing.

Must have pieces:

Depth at defensive back – Miami can upgrade its third-and-long defense immensely by acquiring a third safety capable of covering deep center field. This would give the Dolphins flexibility with Jones and McDonald. It also gets faster players, with better coverage skills, on the field in these important situations.

Acquiring better match-up players – Covering tight ends and running backs has been an issue for the Miami defense for a while, particularly in the red zone. The theme of adding speed, and just better overall talent, at linebacker could have a resounding effect. Replacing Kiko Alonso in these roles he simply isn’t suited for would be a great first step.

A linebacker capable of consistently beating blocks – Alonso doesn’t do it, Timmons stopped doing it, and anything beyond that is a mystery. Alabama’s Rashaan Evans consistently displayed the ability to navigate around lead-blocks in college. If Miami found that this off-season, it would pay dividends immediately.

More pass-rushers – Cam Wake, as great as he is, tends to disappear. Andre Branch has never been known for his pass rushing prowess and William Hayes is an edge-setting extraordinaire. It’s paramount that Charles Harris makes significant strides in 2018 but, even then, Miami needs reinforcements.

How to execute it: With limited cap room and multiple needs, Miami would likely have to use both free agency and the draft to bolster a powerhouse defense. Creating cap space can be down by trimming the fat retained in the contracts of Julius Thomas, Mike Pouncey and Lawrence Timmons.

But that’s not all. Miami would likely have to spend a high draft pick on at least one of these areas. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James or Marcus Davenport would go a long way towards this vision.

This plan likely leaves you somewhat light on offense, but perhaps there are enough pieces to give you enough offense to compete with a top-level defense.

If that’s not your cup of tea, how about an alternative?

2.) Run-heavy, ball control offense:

In baseball, organizations will sometimes build a team conducive to the park they play in. For Miami, capitalizing on the early season advantage of heat and humidity could be compounded with a dominant ground game. We have seen teams wilt in the grueling September heat in South Florida, especially facing a dominant ground game.

Testing a team’s conditioning, limiting their offensive reps and opening up the play action game are all benefits of running the football at will. The Jacksonville Jaguars took this approach and rode it all the way to the AFC Championship Game.

This plan might require the biggest overhaul simply because of Miami’s current roster. The offensive line was constructed around it’s pass blocking prowess (although that hasn’t really materialized), and the Dolphins traded its most physically imposing back during the 2017 season.

Whether it’s a man-gap scheme, inside or outside zone, there is a variety of ways to incorporate this plan, Miami just doesn’t have a head start in any direction.

Playing most of 2017 with questionable guard play and a past-his-prime center made the ground game an uphill challenge. A lot of the yardage Miami gained on the ground was created by the acrobatics and speed of Kenyan Drake. 

Dec 31, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Buffalo Bills strong safety Micah Hyde (23) reaches for Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In the red zone, Miami essentially gave up on the ground game. Of Miami’s four rushing touchdowns, only two came from inside the 20-yard line.

Must have pieces:

A mauling, athletic, scheme-diverse left guard – Basically, the unicorn of an offensive linemen. Jesse Davis has hammered down the right guard position, but if Miami wants to fancy itself a power-running team, it’ll need a guard that can operate in space and create holes.

A better center – Mike Pouncey has always struggled with bigger nose tackles (Damon Harrison) and now that his athleticism has left him, he’s nearly a useless appendage. Like the left guard position, Miami would simply have to find a dominant player.

Inline tight ends – Plural, as in two, Miami needs far better production from its tight ends to pull this off. Julius Thomas couldn’t even get in the way as a blocker, Anthony Fasano didn’t work out and Gase seems hellbent on keeping Marqueis Gray as a part-time player.

Short yardage back – Again, I cannot state enough how highly I think of Kenyan Drake, but he’s not a short-yardage specialist. The problem with this position is that it can tip your play call based solely on personnel. Having a bruiser that moonlights as a pass-catching specialist allows ingenuity and aggressive play-calling.

How to execute it: Unlike the defensive side of the ball, this is probably a multi-year project. Unless Miami hits two homeruns on the offensive line, remakes the tight end group and pairs Kenyan Drake with a legitimate bruiser, this plan won’t happen.

The first move would probably be drafting Quenton Nelson, Will Hernandez or Isaiah Wynn with a high draft pick, finding a center in free-agency or early in the draft, and spending big at the other areas of need. Jaylen Samuels would fit the jack-of-all-trades back Miami would desperately need to make this work.

Again, this would probably be a two-year project.

How about the contrary to a power-running game?

3.) High-volume passing attack:

As far as selling tickets and gaining the admiration of the mainstream sports networks are concerned, this is the way to go. In 2017, fans want points and fantasy stats the way Aaron Rodgers conducts his Packers offense.

For Miami, that’s not the ideal track. Ryan Tannehill is capable of playing in shootouts, but that’s not the strength of his game. Coupled with Miami’s lack of depth at the receiver position and vacant pass catching threat at tight end, plenty of changes would be in order.

That’s all before mentioning an offensive line that consistently allowed Tannehill to be one of the most battered quarterbacks in NFL history.

However, this might be Gase’s ultimate preference. His offense worked at its peak in Denver when Peyton Manning directed the aggressive, quick-passing offense that used the aerial attack in most situations. Playing devil’s advocate, it’s a lot easier when there’s a Hall of Famer under center and a trio of star wideouts.

Miami has potential at the receiver position but the group has underwhelmed.

The first step in the process would be to retain Jarvis Landry. Moving on from Landry would almost certainly signal a change to a different type of offensive approach.

Dec 11, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (left) celebrates next to Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (right) during a game against the New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Additionally, Devante Parker must finally reach his first-round potential and become a true number one. Given Landry’s limitations, Parker’s development would be paramount to making this plan work.

Must have pieces:

A true #1 wide receiver – Parker was supposed to be this, but his vertical threat and leaping ability have been overshadowed by his unreliability. He drops way too many passes, misses way too many games, and winds up being a no-show at practice for minor injuries. Miami doesn’t have a player that can consistently beat one-on-one coverage, on the perimeter, on third down – that’s what number one wide outs do.

Athletic, rebounding tight end – A mismatch stalwart is one of the quickest ways to get production out of an offense, particularly in the red zone. Miami had one in Charles Clay, but has struggled to replace him since he signed with Buffalo. The free agent class is lacking in this regard (Eric Ebron is probably the best of the bunch) but the draft class is full of seam-busting tight ends.

Better pass protection – Laremy Tunsil is the left tackle, Jesse Davis is the right guard, but the other three positions are up in the air at this point. It’s not clear what moves would have to happen to improve this area, but the quarterback cannot keep getting hit the way he has for the last half-decade.

How to execute it: Like the defensive side of the ball, this operation is probably more obtainable. Miami has already partially built the required areas (receiver, quarterback and offensive line) they would just need to supplement those areas.

That could be done by retaining Landry and dedicating the first two draft picks to standouts in the passing game. The second-round figures to be a prime spot to find that tight end, and the first-round pick could be used to supplement the receiver room or offensive line – likely the latter.

Despite all these potential paths, Miami will likely stay right down the middle. Adding pieces inherently to position groups that need bolstering with little forethought. That has been Mike Tannenbaum’s free agency M.O. throughout his career, and I see no reason to expect that to change.

The best news might be that Miami is somewhat strapped cash wise, and they can’t afford to spend like crazy on the open market.

Identifying the kind of team they want to be, and making the moves to achieve that vision, that’s what the Dolphins need.

@WingfieldNFL

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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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