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Miami Dolphins

Under New Executive VP, Chris Grier, Dolphins Introduce Future Plans

Travis Wingfield

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When he woke up Monday morning Chris Grier was the General Manager of the Miami Dolphins. With the exact details of his responsibilities shrouded by the presence of an Executive VP, Grier likely didn’t know the potential wreckage he was driving into on his Monday commute.

Unexpected to most, Stephen Ross acted swiftly. Reports of Adam Gase’s dismissal became public knowledge around 10 A.M. EST. Still, a cloud of mystery hovered about the next moves this once proud organization would enact in the coming days.

Or, in this case, the coming hours.

Ross took to the podium with Chris Grier. The announcement was made that the former General Manager would take a promotion up to the head of all football operations.

The man whose job Grier takes over, Mike Tannenbaum, has been re-assigned to a non-football working role within the organization. Essentially, he’s Jack Barker from Silicon Valley. Or Milton from Office Space – whichever you prefer, probably age-dependent.

Grier sat alongside Ross as the pair answered questions regarding Miami’s vision and plan going forward. Ross, visibly weary, announced his intentions to be a hands-off owner. Entrusting everything on the football side to a scout that rose up through the ranks within the organization.

“When you talk to people in the NFL, he’s one of the most respected people in the league. He’s been here a long time and he’s earned the respect of everyone in the organization. I’m confident that I already have the best person for this job.”

Ross’ glowing review of Grier isn’t unique.

Grier, the son of former Patriots Executive Bobby Grier, has worked alongside some of the more illustrious names in NFL lore.

Beginning as an intern in 1994, Grier was promoted to a position as a regional scout from 1995-1995. Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll were each able to call Grier a colleague during his tenure with the Patriots.

Grier would migrate south to Miami for eight years (2000-2007). Then when his former boss, Bill Parcells, signed on with Miami, Parcells made Grier the director of college scouting.

With Parcells leaving the franchise three years into his contract, Grier remained in the same role through the 2015 season.

After being named General Manager in 2016, Grier is now in the same chair previously occupied by Tannenbaum and Parcells before him.

Walking down Grier’s memory lane serves a purpose. Grier, himself, addressed the media today to talk about his vision moving forward.

“I’m not [going to] just throw it out there for you guys, but look at who I started with,” Grier said about his roster building philosophy. “Parcells, Carroll, Belichick, Saban a lot of those guys influenced me and I still talk to them.”

As a fly on the wall during the Saban, Cameron, Sparano, Philbin and Gase eras, Grier has seen it all. And the breadcrumbs of those mentors brings his philosophy largely to one area.

Defense.

Seeing the failures of previously renowned offensive guru Adam Gase (and may as well toss the milquetoast Joe Philbin into that pairing), Grier figures to turn back to his roots. Parcells defines the old school while Saban, Belichick and Carroll’s programs are featured defensive stalwarts.

Miami has made quick work of identifying a list of coaching interviews to conduct over the coming days and weeks. Before we uncover those candidates, a few more quotes from the 12-minute presser from Monday.

Stephen Ross [paraphrasing]:

– The decision to move on from Adam [Gase] was made last night (Sunday).

Nov 4, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (left) celebrates with Dolphins president and chief executive officer Tom Garfinkel (right) after a game against the New York Jets at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

– Today, we are no further than when I bought the team. We have a good young roster and attacked the remaining issues with some older free agents and a few draft picks. But to continue to operate under that practice would be the definition of insanity. We’ve done the same things over and over since I’ve been here and it lands us in that 6-10 to 10-6 range – that’s not good enough. It’s time for the organization to take a different approach.

Tom Garfinkel has done a terrific job with making the game day experience great for the fans. With that, and the stadium renovations, we’re proud of that, but we aren’t proud of what we’ve done on the football field.

– We want to build a sustainable winner. Even if it takes some time, we’re going to look to build this thing the right way.

Chris Grier is more qualified to do this job than anyone we could’ve found. He will have total responsibility, make all the football decisions and report to me. The Head Coach will report to Chris.

Chris Grier [paraphrasing]:

– It’s important to have an aligned vision with the Head Coach. I’m not going to be rigid in my views and dismiss new ideas, but we need to have the same vision.

– It’s about knowing who we want to be and staying with that vision and building this thing the right way.

– The process begins immediately, as soon as we’re done with this press conference.

The term immediately shouldn’t have been taken lightly – Grier meant it. Since that press conference, the Dolphins have announced their interest in interviewing five separate candidates for the vacant Head Coach position.

Vic Fangio –

Tied to Head Coaching jobs in the past, Fangio has instead kept to his craft of coaching dominant defenses – and boy did he ever in 2018. Fangio will not be available until the Bears are eliminated from post-season contention (they play Sunday vs. Philadelphia), but his work transforming that side of the football was instrumental in Chicago’s first trip to the post-season since 2010.

Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Fangio does two things; chew gum, and built great defense – and he’s all out of gum. Fangio directed the number one defense in the NFL in 2018, up from his 2017 work where he had the Bears in the top 10.

Those big jumps took some time as the Bears ranked 20th and 24th in total defense in Fangio’s first two years. The 2014 defense Fangio took over was 30th in the NFL.

The story was the same in San Francisco prior to his arrival. A good defense in 2010 (13thoverall), Fangio’s four years brought back two second-ranked defenses, a third-ranking and a fifth-ranked squad in 2014.

Fangio was at the forefront of the coaching vacancies around the league in 2017, but declined to move on because of what he was building in Chicago. He also felt that coaching defense in Chicago was a privilege and something he didn’t take lightly.

Fangio spent one year at the college ranks with Jim Harbaugh (who brought him to San Francisco for the 49ers job thereafter). Prior to that, Fangio was on John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens staff in 2008 and 2009 (a holdover from Brian Billick’s Ravens’ staff).

Fangio, age 60, has been coaching football since the 1970’s. He’s never been the Head Coach anywhere, but neither was Bruce Arians until his Coach of the Year 2012 season with the Indianapolis Colts.

“He’s an evil genius.” – Khalil Mack

“He’s a mob boss – the godfather all the way.” – Aaron Lynch

“Lord Fangio,” as he was referred to in San Francisco, has the admiration of his players and coaches alike.

Eric Bieniemy –

The next in line from the recent lineage of offensive geniuses, Bieniemy is the latest apple to fall from the Andy Reid Tree. With the success of Matt Nagy in Chicago, Bieniemy will likely have his pick of Head Coaching gigs this off-season – if that’s what he desires.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Bieniemy just took a good offense and turned it into a revolutionary one in Kansas City. The running backs coach from 2013-2017, Bieniemy took over the offense along with new Quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Under Bieniemy, Mahomes threw for more than 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns.

His first year as a coordinator in the NFL brought back number one ranks across the board. Total offense, scoring percentage, scoring offense and yards-per-play, nobody outdid Kansas City’s 35.5 points-per-game in 2018.

A second-round draft pick in 1991, Bieniemy played for nine years before returning to his alma matter, Colorado, to coach the running backs. Playing with the Eagles in 1999 Bieniemy established a relationship with Andy Reid that would turn into a coaching job 13 years later.

Following up Reid’s mantra of being a teacher above all, Bieniemy is a stickler for the details.

And it works.

Eight of the 11 Head Coaches from the Reid Coaching Tree have gone on to make the playoffs. Three of them went to a Super Bowl (Ron Rivera) and two of them won it (Doug Pederson and John Harbaugh).

“He yells, he screams, he says funny things and it is awesome. We have affectionately termed these funny things Bieiniemyisms.”

“We rushed for 13 hundred yards last year, and don’t get me wrong, for the average back, that’s good year, but not for us. That’s extremely s——.”

Eric is a phenomenal football coach. I can’tcan’tspeakspeak for other people on that,butyougoout,openthedoorandtalktoeverybody. At the Senior Bowl, I talk to guys and say let’s talk some ball. As long as a guy loves ball, he’s got aptitude and is willing to work, I’m all in on it, man, and that’s what Eric is.” – AndyReid

Bieniemy won’t be available for at least two weeks – his Chiefs are onto the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

 

Mike Munchak –

The only man on this short-list with NFL Head Coaching experience, Munchak has earned the admiration of multiple teams in the league with coaching vacancies.

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Munchak took over the Pittsburgh OL job in 2014 after being dismissed from Tennessee (as the HC). During his time in Pittsburgh, Munchak has turned mounds of clay into one of the best offensive lines in the NFL – most notably with Alejandro Villanueva. The massive six-foot-nine, 320-pound tackle was a project after serving as a Captain in the US Army – now he’s one of the best in the business.

“What makes Coach Munchak, great first and foremost, is that he’s a great person. He’s a person that has a great set of values that works harder than anybody. He’s a person that truly understands the game from a technical aspect. He’s not going to really worry about things that just happen in football where other coaches might spend too much time thinking about those little mistakes.

He’s such a good person and he’s such an admirable man in every single way. The way he behaves, the way he carries himself. He’s very consistent, treats everybody the same. He’s always the same person. It gets to the point where you really don’t want to let him down. You want to play your best for him.”

There probably doesn’t need to be another character reference beyond that one.

Munchak was an underwhelming 22-26 with the Titans. He never found a quarterback (the team traded up for Marcus Mariota the year after his dismissal) and, frankly, never had a roster worth much more than the middling .500 returns he provided.

Brian Flores –

A member of Bill Belichick’s staff since the 2004 season, Flores has worked his way up the ranks. From a scouting assistant, pro scout, all the way up to the Defensive Coordinator in 2018, Flores is well-versed in the scope of an entire football operation.

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With a patchwork group on the defensive side, Flores coached the Patriots defense up to the 7th lowest yards allowed in 2018. Only five teams allowed fewer points than Flores’ defense.

Something this blog has harped on is the lack of teaching being done by Miami coaches. The first thing Bill Belichick references with Flores is his ability to do just that – teach.

 “I think Brian and our defensive staff has done a good job in teaching the players and installing our system,” Belichick said. 

“I’m excited for where he’s at right now,” said safety Duron Harmon. “He’s worked to put himself in this position.”

“Obviously, the football knowledge is 100 percent there,” Jordan Richard said. “But he has so many other qualities that you have to respect.”

Flores won’t be available for two weeks at the earliest – his Patriots have a first-round playoff bye.

Kris Richard –

Coordinating the defensive passing game and coaching the DBs in Dallas, Richard’s connection to Chris Grier goes through Pete Carroll.

Richard spent the first 10 years of his coaching career in Seattle. He was promoted to Assistant Defensive Backs Coach in 2009 when Carroll arrived and his ascension would continue at a rapid pace.

Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Richard became the Defensive Backs Coach in 2012 before taking over as the full time Defensive Coordinator in 2015.

Coaching the Legion of Boom could entice Richard to look at what Miami has to work with in the secondary. Xavien Howard (Richard Sherman), Minkah Fitzpatrick (Earl Thomas), Reshad Jones (Kam Chancellor) could make up an intriguing defensive scheme for Richard to build in Miami.

“He’s got a great presentation about him,” [John] Schneider said. “He’s got a great way of teaching guys like in a real, clear concise manner not like guys are having their heads spinning. That’s probably the best way to describe it.

“He’s had rooms where he’s had a lot of strong, alpha personalities, and he handled it.”

Richard’s Cowboys play the Seahawks Saturday in the NFC wildcard round.

 

As we know, both of the Harbaugh brothers bear a special interest to Stephen Ross. If the Ravens are eliminated from the post-season on Sunday, expect the rumors around a trade between Baltimore and Miami to resurface for the services of John Harbaugh.

Lincoln Riley is still nothing more than a hot name at this point on the college landscape. Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell declined an interview with the New York Jets, but remains open to the idea of a jump to the league.

Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule has been linked to some NFL jobs – he turned around a Baylor program that was headed for utter purgatory following a 1-11 season and its own scandalous nature.

Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern) is another name that has been mentioned for HC jobs in the NFL. Colts DC Matt Eberflus, Saints Assistant HC Dan Campbell and Dolphins Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi all figure to garner interest as well.

We’ll have you updated with any and all changes the Dolphins make in the coming days both on LockedOnDolphins.com and the Locked On Dolphins podcast.

@WingfieldNFL

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Daddio

    December 31, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    Thank you Travis for all your hard work and dedication. If only all our beloved Dolphins players were so professional, we would have had far more success over the last few decades.

  2. Jerry

    January 1, 2019 at 12:13 am

    Rizzi needs to stay right where he is. He’s just damn good as Special-Teams coach

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Sign Chris Reed

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Looks like the Miami Dolphins have begun replacing the plethora of offensive linemen they either released or let walk this past offseason.

According to the Dolphins official social media account, the team signed offensive guard Chris Reed.

Details of the contract are currently unknown, but with the losses of Ja’Wuan James, Ted Larsen, Josh Sitton and possibly even players like Jake Brendel and Travis Swanson, the Dolphins need bodies to fill out their roster.

After signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent out of the 2015 NFL draft, Reed was placed on the team’s practice squad and wasn’t activated until September, 2016. Over the past three seasons, Reed has been active for 25 games and started 8 of them.

You can’t expect too much from this signing, as Reed is simply expected to compete for depth on the offensive line and it’s possible he doesn’t even make the team out of training camp. Then again, Ted Larsen was originally supposed to be offensive line depth and he ended up playing 1,272 snaps over the course of his two-year Dolphins career.

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Miami Dolphins

Rebuilding Previous Rebuilds

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we have accepted the notion that the Miami Dolphins are going to start rebuilding their franchise in 2019 (and as a result, a lot of losing will incur), we have moved on to the optimistic hope that this team is going to build their foundation “right”.

Hope is about the only thing that will temper the frustration that comes with going 6-10 with freshly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as our starting quarterback, so over the next calendar year, you’re going to hear how most decisions are geared towards 2020.

Sure, Fitzpatrick will dazzle us with a couple 400-yard passing games and a few offensive performances that trick us into believing that we don’t need to desperately grab a franchise quarterback, but don’t let those extremely inconsistent anomalies fool you. Miami most definitely needs a franchise quarterback – one that leaves us with minimal doubts at the top of the draft.

Are they going to trade up for one in 2019? Or are they going to, um, conveniently lose in 2019 and attempt to save their assets for 2020, where there’s a chance that four starting-caliber quarterbacks come out of college – all of whom are possibly better than the top-2 quarterbacks in this class: Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray?

As Travis echoed on Sunday, the Miami Dolphins are building a treasure trove of draft picks that will allow themselves to navigate the murkiest of trade waters in either 2019 or 2020. With the trade of Ryan Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans netting Miami an extra 4th-round draft pick – along with the assumption that losing Ja’Wuan James to the Denver Broncos will return an extra 3rd-round pick as a compensatory selection – Miami will have the ability to tack on whichever mid-round picks are required to seal the deal for a top-3 draft pick.

But with all of these assets in mind, can we confidently assume that the Dolphins are just one year away from being a relevant franchise that can sustain success? No, not one bit.

Since Chris Grier took over as the Director of College Scouting in 2007, Miami has had 5 drafts in which they have had at least 9 draft picks to work with. Although it’s obvious that not every draft pick is going to pan out, the assumption is that a team should be able to identify enough cheap labor to fill their roster. You don’t need superstars in every round, though it would be nice if the Dolphins drafted even one of them.

Before you get ready to soak in the success of 2020, I’m going to remind you of the somber past we have together. Hopefully, Grier doesn’t allow history to repeat itself:

2007

Chris Grier’s first year on the job yielded Miami with multiple draft steals, but came with an ample amount of draft busts as well.

Whether the selection was general manager Randy Mueller‘s, head coach Cam Cameron‘s, Grier’s, or a combination of the three, the Miami Dolphins shocked everyone by selecting Ted Ginn Jr with the 9th-overall pick in the draft.

Choosing Ted Ginn Jr over Brady Quinn proved to be the correct choice, but was Ginn really the player you wanted to commit a top-10 pick to? Especially when he was coming off of an injury and was seen more as a dynamic kick returner than an elite, #1 receiver?

Here are a few players taken shortly after Ginn was picked #9: Patrick Willis (11), Marshawn Lynch (12) and Darrelle Revis (14). I was going to include Lawrence Timmons (15th-overall), but I don’t think Miami fans are going to think too fondly of that linebacker (though let’s be honest, he was still a better pick than Ginn).

But the Miami Dolphins had 10 draft picks in 2007, and should have been able to build a team with more than just a failed 1st-round pick, right? Alas, this is what they graced us with that year:

Paul Soliai in the 4th-round and Brandon Fields in the 7th-round ended up being phenomenal choices for the Dolphins, as both players combined to play 227 games with Miami. Even Samson Satele was a good selection in the 2nd-round; Miami just doesn’t understand their own talent and allowed Satele to be a good starting center for two other teams instead of their own.

The rest of that draft class? Combined to be active for 32 games with the Dolphins. All of which were off the team by the start of the 2008 season.

2008

Coming off of a 1-15 season that felt less like a rebuild and more like a purgatory, the Dolphins were now poised to genuinely begin their ascension with the 1st-overall selection in the draft.

The thing is, Miami’s biggest mistake wasn’t selecting Jake Long with the #1 overall pick, but bringing an archaic Bill Parcells on board to build a team for the future.

Parcells figured there was no sense having a franchise quarterback if there was no one to protect him (the opposite logic of what the Dolphins did with Ryan Tannehill throughout his career), and selected Jake Long to protect whoever’s blindside.

You might be able to excuse Parcells for selecting a potential hall of fame left tackle (for the first four years of their career) over Matt Ryan, since Miami did have 8 more draft picks that year. Instead, this is how the draft shook out:

Kendall Langford was a solid player on the Dolphins defensive line throughout his rookie contract, but other than Jake Long he was the only player to plug a hole on the roster. You can say Chad Henne played prominently for the Dolphins, but we all know he was a detriment more than a solution, and even forced Miami to pick yet another quarterback in the 2nd-round the following draft.

Phillip Merling gave us that exciting interception against Brett Favre and the New York Jets the year Chad Pennington led the team to the playoffs, but other than that, he was basically an extra 1st-round pick that ended up being a complete bust.

After two years and 19 draft picks, the Dolphins should have set themselves up to be a young team worth reckoning with. Looking back, there were really only 5 players that filled a capable roster spot: Satele, Soliai, Fields, Long and Langford. For reference, NFL rosters held 52 players…

2009

After two failed drafts and nearly 19 wasted draft picks, the Miami Dolphins actually got a draft right. This comes with the caveat that it’s the third-consecutive year in which the team is selecting a quarterback in the 2nd-round, so it tells you just how lost the Dolphins really are.

Pat White was a fascinating college athlete to watch, but he had no business being a quarterback in the NFL. The football community was stunned to see White selected so high, but the Dolphins envisioned a quarterback that could complete their wildcat offense and keep opposing defenses confused at all times.

The only confusion White caused was on Miami’s offense, because the playbook was extremely small for the limited quarterback, and the offense was stale at best.

Miami’s best selections came from Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. The team also envisioned having a pair of young, cheap, shutdown corners to give Tom Brady, Brett Favre and whoever the Buffalo Bills had hell. And they were really onto something for a little bit, but Joe Philbin‘s inability to handle egos mixed with some immaturity on the player’s side “forced” the Dolphins to trade Davis and allow Smith to leave in free agency.

At the time, this was a very good draft, but looking back at it, it’s just some more disappointment:

Brian Hartline received a contract extension with the team and probably outperformed all of our expectations. Maybe it speaks to the lack of playmakers the Dolphins have had over their history, but Hartline has the 7th most receiving yards and 9th most receptions in Dolphins history. We can knock the extension as a separate topic, but selecting Hartline in the 4th-round was a very good draft pick.

Chris Clemons ended up playing 80 games with the Dolphins and served as a valuable depth player for 5 seasons.

This can be deemed a good draft for the Dolphins, but the problem is, we’re excited the team was able to find 3 starters. While every team would love to say they found 3 starters in each draft, the Dolphins didn’t have much of a roster around those guys, which meant the team hadn’t rebuilt much of anything up to this point.

A budding franchise looking to sustain success is going to need more than a good #3 receiver to escape mediocrity.

2012

2012 was another very good draft for the Dolphins that saw virtually no sustained success going forward. This is the point where you have to wonder if the Miami Dolphins legitimately try to win or if they’re fine creating media headlines and bringing in ad revenue.

Ryan Tannehill was the first 1st-round quarterback the Dolphins selected since Dan Marino back in 1983. Between all of the excitement and optimism, fans were sold on the fact that Tannehill was going to turn the team around (after he firmly learned the quarterback position). His old coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, was set to be his offensive coordinator, so you know Miami was really building this thing right because, you know, “chemistry”.

7 seasons later, and there are no surviving members of the 2012 draft class. In fact, only one of them made it past year 4 (Tannehill) – which also happens to be the same number of players eventually arrested from this draft class (Jonathan Martin).

How can a team sustain success when the team doesn’t sustain any of their successful players?

Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller proved to be great risks that Jeff Ireland took. Coming right out of the Dolphins backyard from the University of Miami, Vernon and Miller were underclassmen that Ireland saw potential in. And he was right.

Both outperformed their draft status and earned themselves wealthy contracts in free agency. This goes back to the argument that the Dolphins are incompetent when it comes to signing their own draft picks, so overall, this draft doesn’t seem like much, but this draft could have been much more than a free agent payday for 3 of their selections.

Rishard Matthews was one of the best 7th-round picks in Dolphins history, but Philbin’s deadpan personality placed Matthews on the bench for most of his rookie contract rather than the starting lineup ahead of players like B.J. Cunningham and Legedu Naanee.

As of 2019, the Dolphins are still looking for a player at every position from the list of 2012 draft picks (QB, RT, DE, TE, LB, WR and DT). You can say Miami doesn’t need a running back, but that’s also the easiest position to find and it’s not even like the team currently has a solidified running back room anyway.

2013

Identifying a “can’t-miss” athlete in an inactive market, Jeff Ireland made one of the best draft-day trades of the century and traded the team’s 1st-round pick (12th-overall) and 2nd-round pick (42nd-overall) to move up to #3 overall. That kind of trade would be unheard of today, where those top picks are commodities that you have to pry away with current and future draft capital.

So what did the Dolphins do with their robbery? Select a stellar athlete with a history of demons that rivals that of Josh Gordon.

Dion Jordan was built to be a football player, but he never actually wanted to be a football player. He wanted to escape reality and realized this was a profession he was good at. Fortunately for Jordan, but unfortunately for the Dolphins, Jordan took 5 years to mature past all of those inner turmoils and emerge as a defensive threat.

But like the theme of this article, his success doesn’t benefit the Miami Dolphins one bit.

Dion Jordan wasn’t the only player to fail Miami’s expectations yet perform better elsewhere.

2nd-round pick Jamar Taylor was always hampered by injuries and was shipped to the Cleveland Browns for a 27 slot draft boost in the 7th-round (a farcry from #54 overall). Dion Sims was a solid backup and blocking tight end before cashing in with the Chicago Bears. Mike Gillislee was a decent kick returner who has seen a good amount of success as a running back with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Even Caleb Sturgis was viewed as a “bust” and has since played 36 games for other teams.

You could argue that Don Jones was Miami’s best draft pick behind Dion Sims that year, and that’s only because he was a very good gunner on special teams.

Truth is, the Dolphins have had plenty of opportunities to rebuild and yet, years later, here we are, still trying to rebuild. So now that Chris Grier has ultimate control, will this be the rebuild the Dolphins finally turn it around? 6th time’s a charm, right?

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Miami Dolphins

Free Agent Analysis: Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick

Travis Wingfield

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Buckle up, Phins Fans – the Fitzmagic Roller Coaster is coming to your town

Ryan Fitzpatrick is on his eight NFL team following a circuitous route that spans 14 seasons as a professional football player. The journeyman stopgap heads to America’s retirement home on a two-year contract that starts at $11 million and could escalate to $20 million if unspecified incentives are met.

Though details of the contract’s structure are not yet available, it’s a near certainty that the bulk of the money will be paid out in year-one. With the Dolphins eating a chunk of dead cap, and pushing assets down the road, this move not only helps Miami get closer to the salary floor, it secures a sturdy backup quarterback for the 2020 season.

Whether it’s Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm or any other quarterback prospect, Fitzpatrick has been heralded for his calm demeanor and approach to providing this very important element to his past teams.

Barring a trade-up for one of the top two prospects in this draft Fitzpatrick will be under-center when the Dolphins open the season on the second Sunday in September. Only one September ago, Fitzpatrick was on an unprecedented roll for a quarterback of his caliber – of any caliber, really.

After the three-game stretch of consecutive 400 yard outputs, Fitzpatrick throttled into a nosedive throwing for less than 250 yards in four of his next five starts. Cumulatively, his passer rating on the season was 100.4, but he failed to eclipse the 90.0 mark in all but one of his final six starts.

The strengths and weaknesses of Fitzpatrick’s game are abundantly clear. Where the flashes with Ryan Tannehill provided false hope, Fitzpatrick is an open book – it only takes a couple of games of all-22 to figure out exactly who he is.

First, the strengths. I’ve talked at length about the importance of a backup quarterback providing the locker room and huddle with a sense of comradery. Whether it’s this season or next, Fitzpatrick will eventually be relegated to the number-two QB. The Ewing Theory suggests that the rest of the roster can elevate its game when the backup enters the lineup, but that typically only applies when said backup is likable.

That clip also showcases the gamer-mentality of Fitzpatrick. With reckless abandon, he’ll take a hit for his team in a way you’d never want your franchise quarterback to play.

As for Fitzpatrick the starter, the strength of his game is also his biggest weakness. He trusts his eyes as much as any quarterback going right now and will let ‘er rip without hesitation. There’s a hint of Matt Moore in his game where he evaluates pre-snap and makes quick decisions based on the leverage of the defense.

The first touchdown of the season for Tampa Bay provides a terrific example of Fitzpatrick’s ability to move the defense with his eyes and hips. The clip also showcases his strength as a play-action passer when given a comfortable pocket.

There’s a reason he’s been on eight teams in 14 years, however. That anticipation, coupled with sloppy mechanics, gets him into a lot of hot water. If the defense is at all nuanced, and capable of disguising coverage, he’s going to turn the ball over a heck of a lot.

Randomly, the ball will sail as he is prone to rushing his setup and spraying bullets all over the field. Pressure in his face only amplifies this shortcoming.

All things told, this was the best veteran option available both in terms of playing time and veteran mentor to the inevitable draft pick coming in a year or two. There will be equal parts excitement and sheer frustration with Fitzpatrick playing in Miami.

As far as the Tank for Tua conversation, this signing likely solidifies that Miami will not be the worst team in football. I’ve argued that they would never reach those valleys to begin, even with a rookie or Luke Falk under-center. I believe too strongly in Brian Flores and the staff he has assembled for this team to lose a number of games in the teens. Fitzpatrick at least gets Miami out of the massive hole of unworthy NFL quarterback territory.

Ideally, the Dolphins find their quarterback straight away and never have to start Fitzpatrick. The more likely outcome is that he starts the season and puts the Dolphins in a tough spot regarding the playing time incentives in his contract.

This signing is great from a financial standpoint right now, but if the Harvard product (had to get it in) starts hitting those contract escalators, that would not be ideal.

@WingfieldNFL

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