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The Three-Pronged Approach to Miami’s Rebuild – The Development Phase

Travis Wingfield

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The draft and free agency catch all the headlines, but these players stand to provide the Dolphins with the biggest boost of all

Worst to first is a common occurrence in the NFL. In a league of ultimate parity, overnight successes are becoming more frequent. And it’s no longer the Cinderella that backs its way into a home playoff game by winning a substandard division; the 49ers will play for a World Championship just 13 months removed from a 4-12 campaign.

The AFC East may very well be open for business again for essentially the first time since 2002. Yes, the 2008 Dolphins fit the criteria of a punchless darling come January, but Tom Brady would return the ensuing fall for an encore to the dynasty that covered the first half of the new century.

The Bills qualified for the playoffs on the back of a stingy defense. Their stay at the party was short-lived as Buffalo were bounced due in large part to a mediocre offense led by a shaky quarterback. Sam Darnold gets more praise than Josh Allen, but he’s been unequivocally worse in his two years as a starter.

For Miami to assert itself into the mix as divisional contender, it simply has to excel in three areas this offseason. Three areas that provide all 32 clubs with an opportunity to improve its caliber from the year prior. Those areas are:

1.) Free Agency
2.) The Draft
3.) In-House Development

The first two are self-explanatory. The draft is the heartbeat of an NFL organization. Free agency can be used to supplement a team on the cusp of greatness, but also to import ready-made scheme fits.

The only way to ensure those first two avenues bear fruit is through coaching and development. And that’s where the third bullet point checks in.

See, the Texans sold their soul for the right to get embarrassed by Patrick Mahomes in the divisional round. The future of that team, despite the presence of an elite quarterback, appears bleak – they have minimal resources to make the necessary upgrades to a defense that simply can’t run with the Mahomes and Lamar Jackson’s of the world.

Commend Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross for his introspective nature last offseason. The ability to take a step back and recognize that his modus operandi was not producing results, and taking the road less traveled to avoid a Texans situation is beyond admirable.

Where Houston have stacked division titles in a weak AFC South, their prompt playoff exits reveal the pitfalls of a plan built on shortcuts. Ross, like all owners, wants a program that sustains success. He avoided the temptation of instant gratification and put his trust in a head coach who in his first year unanimously earned the respect of the league.

Just like the 49ers with Kyle Shanahan, Ross has preached patience to allow Brian Flores to establish his program, and hopefully produce the same unstoppable cog that the 49ers have become as a conference champion.

San Francisco tapped into all three phases of our roster-building tripod to improve the operation. All-Pro Cornerback Richard Sherman arrived via free agency. Nobody else in the league would pay a fullback the cost of doing business with Kyle Juszczyk. His annual salary is more than double the next highest-paid fullback, but is still a drop in the bucket for a player so essential to Shanahan’s scheme.

The 49ers used the draft to curate a star-studded core led by a dominant front four.

Nick Bosa arrived requiring no development – an instant success. But that wasn’t the case for Arik Armstead. It wasn’t the case for 2017 UDFA Kendrick Borne. It wasn’t the case for primary interior offensive line backup Ben Garland, who replaced Weston Richburg in week 15 with almost no fall-off.

These players all satisfy the third, and perhaps most integral pillar of a successful rebuild – in-house development. Safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward both produced career-years with high-marks in snaps played. Go up and down San Francisco’s roster and you’ll find a cast of relatively unknowns elevating their respective games to new levels.

That’s where Miami can expedite the rebuild. We know the Dolphins will add blue chips via the draft and free agency. We know they’re going to round out the roster with better depth and produce an unquestionably better roster – in resounding fashion – than the one we saw last year.

Finding Miami’s equivalent of Bourne, Armstead, Ward and the like, requires a certain level of squinting for the casual fan. But for the astute fan, the evidence is there for a presumed jump from several holdovers from Miami’s 5-4 finish to the 2019 season.

LB Andrew Van Ginkel

After starring in training camp, Van Ginkel would spend the first 10 games of his career on the injured reserve. It was well within reason to assume that his rookie season would serve as a medical redshirt, until the final two games.

Van Ginkel played 125 snaps combined in the penultimate Bengals game and season finale in Foxboro. He doubled his quarterback hit-figure (2 to 4) and picked up eight tackles (three for loss). Van Ginkel always excelled blitzing off the edge and falling into the hook zone and flat in coverage, but his run defending raised plenty of questions. In the video breakdown, you see some examples of Van Ginkel absorbing blocks, disengaging, and making plays in the ground game.

In the New England finale, Van Ginkel registered an 89.0 coverage grade and all four of his tackles came within two yards of the line-of-scrimmage. The week prior against the Bengals, he graded a season-high 68.0 against the run, adding two more run stops (tackles within 2-yards of the LOS).

RB Myles Gaskin

An average of 3.7 yards per carry won’t keep a back employed in the NFL for long, but proper context demonstrates Gaskin’s value down the stretch. Kenyan Drake was at 4.5 YPC, and Mark Walton 3.8, but neither of those two matched Gaskin’s ability to create his own yardage.

Gaskin averaged 3.2 yards after contact (yards gained after forcing a missed tackle). Drake averaged just 2.49 and Walton 3.08. Both of those players departed Miami mid-season, leaving just Kalen Ballage and Patrick Laird in the backfield stable with Gaskin. Ballage rushed for 1.8 YPC and 1.49 yards after contact on average. Laird went for 2.7 and 1.8 after first contact.

Gaskin has been a production machine since he arrived on campus in Seattle at the University of Washington. Four straight years of 1,200-plus rushing yards were a product of his crafty running, excellent vision, and ability to change the angle on tacklers in a pinch. His production in impossible circumstances to close the season bodes well for his projection next year and beyond.

WR Isaiah Ford

The sun was about to set on Isaiah Ford’s career as a Dolphin late into the 2019 campaign, but as so many of his teammates did, Ford took advantage of the unique opportunity afforded to this young Dolphins roster. Every day in training camp, Ford was out with Kenny Stills taking extra reps at the end of practice, working on his timing with Ryan Fitzpatrick. It took a while, but that chemistry finally synced up in December.

Originally, it appeared the effort was all for not; Ford had two catches through 13 weeks. Over the final four games Ford caught 21 passes, and his efficiency was considerable for a player who’s production was primarily from the slot. He caught 72.4% of his targets for an average of 8.1 yards per target. His 2.00 yards per route ran ranked 43rd in the NFL and his catch-rate ranked inside the top 40.

iOL Michael Deiter

Rookie offensive linemen struggle as much as any other first-year players – it’s a massive adjustment. Deiter was drafted with the expectation of solidifying the left guard position, a tall order for a third-round pick. Amidst the struggles, Deiter showcased some strengths – none more notable this his durability. Deiter started 54 consecutive games at Wisconsin and would’ve been in the lineup for all 16 in 2019, but was benched for the Jets game.

There’s some nastiness to Deiter’s game. He’s proficient at the second level, primarily on combination blocks. Some seasoning, and better play on both his inside and outside post, should accelerate the learning curve of one of the best linemen in Wisconsin history.

DL Zach Sieler

Claimed off waivers from the Ravens, Sieler played the final three games for Miami, starting one in week 16 against the Bengals. Sieler went off in that game. He registered a sack, seven tackles, two passes defensed, five run stops and three quarterback pressures.

Sieler exhibits all the traits that translate to success in this Dolphins defensive scheme. He’s enormous at 6-6, 290 pounds. He’s long with 34-inch arms and an athletic profile that ranks in the 90th-percentile in most metrics for interior defensive linemen.

DL Jonathan Ledbetter

Playing his last down in week-one, Ledbetter is a forgotten man by many Dolphins fans. After earning a starting job through camp and preseason, the undrafted rookie produced from the word go. Ledbetter made four run stops in his lone showing, two QB pressures, and a sack in his NFL debut.

Ledbetter won in the same way Sieler did late in the year – length and strength. He’s a quality candidate to play the heavy end position, vastly improving Miami’s run defense on the edge.

DT John Jenkins

Jenkins might not belong on this list as he steadily contributed all year, but because it was mostly dirty work that goes unrecognized, we’ll give the big fella his due. He’s not a premier pass rusher by any sense, but he’s a tree stump that can slant and twist better than his athletic profile would suggest.

Jenkins’ 70.8 overall PFF grade ranked second on the Miami defense (of players with at least five games played).  He made 21 run stops on 274 run-play downs – a run-stuff percentage of 7.7%, per PFF.

DB Jomal Wiltz

The metrics will not bode well for Wiltz, but there’s plenty of tape to point to upside with this young defensive back. He played safety and slot, showcasing the versatility required to excel in Brian Flores’ defense.

Wiltz was a sure-tackler that could present value as the sixth defensive back in dime packages. He can play off the ball, come down and cover man-up, and his ability to rally serves the defense well on third-down-and-long.

CB Tae Hayes

The sample size is small, but Hayes showed the confidence and skills to play cornerback in the modern era. Hayes allowed three receptions on 16 targets in his two games with the team.

In addition to the coverage skills, Hayes made three tackles within two-yards of the L.O.S., and he defended two passes. Playing primarily on the outside (90 snaps), Hayes does play inside as well (16 reps in the slot).

DB Montre Hartage

A late-season practice squad call-up, Hartage took something of a redshirt year to learn a new position. A two-time All Big 10 cornerback, Hartage moved to safety early in camp working behind Bobby McCain.

His tackling grade checked in at a whopping 86.5 – the product of not missing a tackle in his 98 reps. Hartage allowed 34 receiving yards on six targets, showing a penchant for recognizing route concepts and beating the receiver to the football. He made a pass breakup on the Patriots final drive in that season-ending upset victory.

LB Sam Eguavoen

It was a difficult start for the CFL product. Eguavoen, the surprise star of training camp, struggled with the physicality of the NFL game early on, but started to flash in the areas we assumed he would late in the season.

Eguavoen is a passing-down specialist. He has enough burst to be effective as a blitzer (evident by his 23 pressures and 5 sacks on 232 pass rush downs), and he’s no slouch against the pass. Eguavoen allowed just 110 yards on 17 pass targets and had three positive coverage grades in the month of December.

It’s unrealistic to expect each of these players to make a noteworthy stride in 2020. Even if just half of that list takes its game up a notch or two, Miami’s ability to compete when the injury bug hits, to be flexible in its game plan from week-to-week, and to win regularly on special teams will improve dramatically.

What’s more, none of this accounts for potential steps taken by more high-profile players. Christian Wilkins in year-two is an exciting prospect. Vince Biegel – once his contract is sorted out – flashes a lot of promise. Mike Gesicki produced at a pro-bowl level post-bye week. Eric Rowe has a full offseason to prepare as a safety, where he was aces in 2019. Nik Needham can go from darling UDFA to bonafide number-two corner. Albert Wilson will be two years removed from the hip injury and Xavien Howard returns from the injured reserve.

If there’s one thing Brian Flores proved in his rookie season, it’s the ability to get a sum that is greater than its parts. Winning better than half of the final nine games is an accomplishment for most teams, especially one with a roster that resembled something the XFL will produce in its inaugural season. Flores’ work in his rookie year is the ultimate feather in the cap for a coach that was recognized across the league and media landscape.

The in-house development is the great unknown. Simple math tells us that Miami will find fits in the draft and free agency by the law of averages. Having that security in the player-development aspect of the program is the surest way to achieve Mr. Ross’ vision.

A vision that will produce an annual contender in South Florida.

@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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