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Miami Dolphins

The Bridge to the Future at Quarterback

Travis Wingfield

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Tuesday’s trade deadline came and went without participation from the Miami Dolphins. The ultra-competitive Adam Gase says this team, at 4-4, with the starting quarterback on the shelf once more, is in the thick of a playoff race.

Technically speaking, Gase is right – Miami is a game behind the sixth-seeded Bengals in the AFC wildcard hunt. This is a familiar place for the Dolphins, but the outside-looking-in standing is shrouded in doubt this time around as Brock Osweiler mans the controls for the immediate future.

A silver lining to the uncertainty of Ryan Tannehill’s shoulder injury exists. The optimist believes Miami could finally make a clean break from the 2012 first round draft pick after a failed 2018 season.

Physical traits have always been Tannehill’s saving grace. In addition to his mental processing progress coming along at the pace of slow crawl, Tannehill now carries the tag of a medical risk.

On top of the dubious nature of the injury to the seven-year pro’s throwing shoulder, if Tannehill loses any zip on his fastball, it’s difficult to imagine his career ever materializing beyond what it is today.

The greatest redeeming trait of Ryan Tannehill was the pinpoint accuracy to the short and intermediate portion of the field, and the ability to fit tight windows with an arm rivaled by few on this planet.

In life, there’s a yang to every yin, and that’s true of the football universe as well. If Miami parts company with 17, it comes in a potentially historically wanting off-season for quarterback-needy franchises.

The draft bears almost no fruit with top prospects Justin Herbert and Dwayne Haskins likely headed back to campus. The pair will join a positively loaded 2020 class of side-arms if that’s the direction the Oregon and Ohio State QBs take.

Even those names come with a distinguishable degree of uncertainty. On Tuesday’s Locked On Dolphins podcast, I spoke with Jon Ledyard of The Draft Network and the Locked On Draft Podcast and he put a wet blanket over the entire 2019 QB class (listen to that episode HERE).

That leaves trade prospects and free agency. Unless the Seahawks come to an unsalvageable point in their contract discussions with Russell Wilson, a viable option does not exist. Derek Carr is a lateral move from Ryan Tannehill and, like Carr, any other name thrown into the fray is merely speculation at this point.

So it’s onto the free agency board. The following material may not be suitable for children or readers with weak stomachs.

One name on that list, however, stands out above the others. One quarterback that will likely field starter-level money come the new league year in March.

Teddy Bridgewater.

I can hear your hemming and hawing through the monitor, or the screen of your smart phone, so allow me to walk you down this path – or rather…this bridge.

Not-so-clever puns aside, the Bridgewater interest is real. And it’s mutual. According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, the Dolphins contacted Bridgewater’s representatives in March to gauge the Miami-native’s desire to play professional football in his home town.

First, we go back to 2017 when Bridgewater was asked about whether he would welcome a trade to Miami following Tannehill’s season-ending injury in August.

In this investigative-style column penned by AJ Mansour, he detailed a collection of tweets from Bridgewater on that day. Bridgewater’s cryptic messages became a bit clearer when he “liked” a tweet suggesting Miami pursue his services.

Dec 21, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) is tackled by Miami Dolphins middle linebacker Jason Trusnik (93) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 37-35. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Bridgewater clearly felt that the Tannehill injury could be a precursor to a dream of his coming true – playing for childhood team, the Miami Dolphins.

Gase and the Dolphins opted to turn their attention towards familiarity by way of the walking meme that is Jay Cutler. Bridgewater was immediately relegated to the abyss of the Minnesota depth chart – he played only nine snaps all season, all in mop-up duty.

Fast forward to March 2018. Bridgewater’s rookie deal with the Vikings expired and he was set to hit the market. Once a first round quarterback with lofty ceiling, Bridgewater was hearing offers commensurate with that of a backup passer, including the Miami Dolphins.

With Tannehill on the mend, Miami’s interest in Bridgewater was in that exact vein, as a backup.

According to Salguero, Miami’s interest faded when they learned the asking price for the previously hobbled quarterback. Bridgewater’s representation knew an incentive laden-based deal was the camp’s best shot to maximize his earning potential.

With Tannehill entrenched as the unquestioned starter, Bridgewater’s only path to that $15 million pay day was to earn a starting role, and hitting specific playing-time and statistical benchmarks.

So, despite that mutual interest, Bridgewater signed with the Jets for a base salary of $5 million. With incumbent Josh McCown representing a place-holder position, Bridgewater’s competition would surface via the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

The Jets landed Sam Darnold and, despite an impressive pre-season showing, Bridgewater gave way to the rookie on opening day. As a result, Bridgewater became expendable, and the suddenly journeyman quarterback was placed on the back burner for another year.

Bridgewater landed in New Orleans via a pre-season trade.

Providing the Saints with injury insurance in the event that Drew Brees has to miss any time, Bridgewater is set to enter 2019 free agency as the most coveted quarterback on the market.

How much money he will command is anyone’s guess. The given, however, is the shared interest between Bridgewater and Miami. This time, the Dolphins will likely need a starter (assuming Tannehill’s shoulder and/or performance don’t return to form over the next eight weeks).

Assuming Gase is back for a fourth season (also a near-given provided Miami doesn’t play out the string with 10 consecutive losses), his approval is the final checkpoint standing in the way of this potential marriage.

Per the Salguero column, Miami contacted Bridgewater’s agent, and this only occurs if Gase himself signs off on the move (Gase has final say on the roster, and it can be assumed that the quarterback position is entirely left up to Gase).

So, with an opening and shared intrigue, the final step is to hammer out compensation. Miami offers Bridgewater an opportunity to prove his worth as a starter in the league, Bridgewater offers Miami a bridge (no pun intended) to the 2020 rookie quarterback class.

The best case scenario; Bridgewater becomes the quarterback many pegged him to be and the Dolphins finally have the long-term answer at the most important position in all of sport.

At that juncture, the only thing left to debate would be Bridgewater’s value and likelihood to succeed. Plenty of fans have written Bridgewater off because of a slow statistical start to his career. This tweet from Chris Kouffman, however, displays an encouraging number regarding Bridgewater’s only two years in the league.

Four rookie quarterbacks are starting in 2018. The passer rating high-water mark for those quarterbacks is Baker Mayfield at 78.9 – 29th in the league. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen rank 32nd, 33rd, and 34th respectively.

In this day and age, football fans want immediate results, but that’s hardly realistic. For every Patrick Mahomes, there’s a Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles – or even a Robert Griffin III, who shines one year and quickly disappears from NFL relevance.

If Bridgewater starts opening day (for Miami or otherwise) on September 9, 2019, it will have been 1,337 days since his last meaningful snap (the 2015 season’s playoff game against Seattle). Rust and chemistry are a concern with such a long layoff, but Bridgewater’s 2018 pre-season piqued plenty of interest around the league, and rightfully so.

The casual fan will dismiss anything that happens in the pre-season but, upon further review, Bridgewater showed multiple facets of his game that should quell concerns.

Up first, Bridgewater shows the nimble feet that becomes problematic for pass rushers closing down on the quarterback. A subtle step-up, a spring backwards, and Bridgewater is on the edge throwing past the sticks.

Here, he shows the mental aptitude for the game as well as perfect touch on a seam route. Bridgewater moves the defense with eye manipulation, comes out of his drop and throws a dime (ignore the receiver’s efforts).

Again, Bridgewater’s escape-ability is on display as he sidesteps a free-rusher, extends the play and dials up a first down strike.

The most important trait a quarterback can showcase is the foot-to-eye cohesion. Whatever the passer sees, he needs to be in a position to get the football up and out quickly, meaning the eyes need to be hard-wired to the feet. Here, Bridgewater eschews his option to the flat, meanwhile he knows this frees up his target to the corner. He finishes it off with a perfect ball.

The same idea here, Bridgewater manipulates the defense with his foot work, then comes back over the middle to extend a drive on fourth down.

Lastly, he displays an absence of fear under duress by buying crucial milliseconds, allowing the route to develop.

These plays are a mere glimpse at the progress Bridgewater made from his second year as a starting quarterback. More importantly, he showed off the agility that would’ve previously given decision makers pause due to the severity of his injury. And yet, despite everything he’s been through, Bridgewater will be just 26-years-old when the 2019 season begins.

Bridgewater is far and away the best option if the Dolphins want to go in a new direction under-center for the 2019 season. His intellect would be an attractive quality to Gase, and the mutual interest makes this a very real possibility.

It might work, it might not, but the upside alone should get Dolphins fans through another off-season of disappointment.

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Crash Course On 2019 Dolphins Defensive Scheme

Travis Wingfield

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

Enter Patrick Graham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@WingfieldNFL

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Mock Draft Roundup: A Kyler Murray Sighting

Skyler Trunck

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

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

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

 

Bleacher Report: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

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

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

 

CBS Sports: Greedy Williams – CB – LSU

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

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

 

The Draft Network: Kyler Murray – QB – Oklahoma

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

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

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

 

Drafttek: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

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

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

 

Pro Football Focus: Dexter Lawrence – DT – Clemson

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

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

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

 

SB Nation: Daniel Jones – QB – Duke

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

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

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

 


 

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

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Miami Dolphins

Why Football Won’t Be Funny in 2019

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Gase’s eyes may be the last thing we get to laugh at for a long time regarding the New York Jets/Miami Dolphins rivalry.

Monday afternoon was a pleasant day for Dolphins fans. Adam Gase was announced as the head coach of their bitter rivals, and the nation paid no attention to what Gase, owner Christopher Johnson and general manager Mike Maccagnan had to say about the franchise-altering move.

Everyone was either laughing too hard to listen, too curious to pay attention, or getting dizzy trying to follow Adam Gase’s eyes.

If there was any doubt that the Miami Dolphins made the wrong decision in releasing Adam Gase as their head coach, it was all but alleviated Monday afternoon.

Though I caution you, that feeling may only be temporary, as the permanent outlook for this rivalry is bleak for one, and promising for another.

Off-Broadway Production

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way and recognize that Adam Gase should no longer be heralded as an offensive guru or a quarterback whisperer. That lust and allure faded over the past two seasons with the Dolphins, even if some aspects (hurricanes, no bye week in 2017, QB injuries, offensive line woes) were out of his control.

That being said, Adam Gase is still very good at his job (as an offensive coordinator…). He was the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos when Tim Tebow transformed into an actual NFL player and took the Broncos into the Divisional Round of the 2011 playoffs. He was the quarterbacks coach for Peyton Manning’s 4th-best season in his career, and the offensive coordinator for Manning’s best and 3rd-best seasons of his career.

Gase didn’t really maximize Jay Cutler like most people claim; his 2015 season as the offensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears produced a top-5 season for Cutler, but that’s not saying too much. His body of work with Ryan Tannehill will be scrutinized, but he elevated Tannehill to a playoff-caliber quarterback in 2016 prior to his knee injury. Like Tannehill’s entire career, it’s hard to get a grasp on what 2018 meant. Statistically, Tannehill didn’t have a “bad” season, but we all witnessed how poor it really was.

Still, Gase has shown that he can get more out of quarterbacks than others have prior – even hall of famers. So to think that his knowledge and experience won’t rub off and benefit sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold is wrongfully optimistic.

Sam Darnold didn’t flash a pretty stat line in 2018, and Dolphins fans will remember his two games against Miami as less-than-flattering; so it’s easy to think that Gase won’t succeed with a quarterback trending towards being a bust.

But we’re all smart enough to avoid placing that “bust” tag on Darnold (or any player) this early, especially a 21-year old quarterback who was originally projected to be the #1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft. Baker Mayfield took the rookie-class by storm, dampening Darnold’s rookie season into appearing less-productive than the standard learning curve.

Do we quickly forget how most current top-echelon quarterbacks faired their first season?

  • Sam Darnold: 57.7% completion, 2865 yards, 17 TDs / 15 INTs
  • Cam Newton: 60%, 4051, 21/17
  • Carson Wentz: 62.4%, 3782, 16/14
  • Jared Goff: 54.6%, 1089, 5/7
  • Matt Ryan: 61.1%, 3440, 16/11
  • Deshaun Watson: 61.8%, 1699, 19/8
  • Matthew Stafford: 53.3%, 2267, 13/20

Darnold’s numbers appear on the lower end of these quarterbacks, but they aren’t that far off. He can easily trend into another Tannehill (58.3%, 3294, 12/13 his rookie season), but Darnold comes with much more pedigree and a higher ceiling than Tannehill ever did.

Gase finally has a young quarterback that he can actually teach and groom. Assuming Darnold is healthy and Gase isn’t thrust back into quarterback oblivion, the main concern should revolve around the rest of the offense – the most important position is already locked down.

That’s where the Jets need a lot of work…but don’t the Dolphins as well?

The New York Jets already have Robby Anderson, a younger (and more-troubled) version of Kenny Stills, and Quincy Enunwa (a more-reliable, yet, less-athletic version of DeVante Parker), under contract for 2019 (Anderson is a RFA that I expect them to re-sign). Their up-and-coming running back, Elijah McGuire, seems more productive and threatening than Kalen Ballage (especially in Gase’s tricky offense). Their young tight end, Chris Herndon, is MUCH better than Mike Gesicki, and their offensive line is just as putrid, so that position is mute.

Actually, the Dolphins do have Laremy Tunsil, which is a huge upgrade over anything the Jets have on the offensive line, but the Jets have one major advantage over Miami heading into the future, one that will allow them to address their team much better than the Dolphins will be able to, and that’s assets.

The New York Jets Are Asset Guys

We can laugh at the Jets ineptitude all we’d like, but we might want to put a mirror in front of ourselves before we crack up too hard.

Prior to reworking any contracts or extending any players, the New York Jets have $98m in salary cap space to play with in 2019. They have so much available cap space that they are most likely going to rollover more money than the Dolphins currently have in 2019 cap space, and that’s $14.34m.

While the Dolphins have a tall task ahead of them maneuvering contracts and making decisions on current players on their roster, the Jets can sit back and play the market however they’d like.

Want to splurge for Antonio Brown, who’s about to be released from the Pittsburgh Steelers? No problem! Want to pair him with Le’Veon Bell so you can try and create a pro-bowl offense? Go for it! These might resemble Mike Tannenbaum moves, and aren’t really wise for the Jets organization, but they have the luxury of both making the move and making the mistake.

If they feel they can contain the locker room culture (a big ‘if’), they can certainly contain the contracts.

The only issue the Jets have to deal with, that Miami has the advantage on, is the team’s 2nd-round draft pick in 2019. That’s the only remaining cost derived from the trade that netted the Jets the 3rd-overall pick in the 2018 draft. They traded their 6th, 37th, and 48th-overall picks in the 2018 draft, and their 2nd-round pick in the 2019 draft to get their franchise quarterback.

Miami has their 2019 2nd-round pick, but it doesn’t look like they have a franchise quarterback. Which means they’re going to need to spend A LOT more of their assets going forward.

Pair the cost of obtaining a franchise quarterback with the cost of establishing the rest of the roster and you begin to realize that Miami doesn’t have enough money or draft picks to do this all in one season. And even if they do try and rebuild towards 2020, you better hope they get each step of the way right, because you’ll otherwise find yourself spinning your wheels for another 18 years while the Jets and Adam Gase walk a smooth line they grooved for themselves.

Not so funny anymore, huh?

We can nitpick who has the better defensive players, which offensive players have a higher ceiling, and which staff has a better trajectory, but it’s hard to deny that the New York Jets are currently in a better position than the Miami Dolphins are.

I hope you enjoyed that Monday news conference, because the Jets are probably going to get the last laugh this 2019 season.

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