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Miami Dolphins

Why the Miami Dolphins 2018 Season Failed

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wants to blame Adam Gase.

Everyone wants to blame Ryan Tannehill.

What no one wants to do is realistically assess their football team and realize that the majority of the players on the 2018 Miami Dolphins failed.

Their beloved legends. Their gritty youngsters. Their passionate veterans. Chances are, whether you were sporting his jersey throughout the season or not, your favorite player(s) failed you this year.

In a year in which the team was expected to rely on the growth of their young talent mixed with the reassurance of their “proven” veterans, the Miami Dolphins disappointed all of us. Not only as patient patrons yearning for a successful season (after an optimistic end to the 2016 season and a mockery of a 2017 season), but as fans clamoring for a bright and sustainable future – something that would give us more than one playoff game a decade (we’ve played in 3 this century).

Whether it was living up to large contracts, lofty expectations or evolutionary growth, most of the Miami Dolphins this season either regressed or plateaued.

Below is a breakdown of where each Miami Dolphins player “ranked” this season. And while this list is subjective, and players can certainly fluctuate between “categories”, I think you’ll notice there is a common theme here: disappointment.

Couple of notes:

  • order of players is random – it does not signify a ‘rank’ within the category
  • this list does not encompass every Dolphins player in 2018, but the ones we expected to contribute to a successful 2018 season
  • most numbers are through Week 16, unless otherwise stated

Bright Spots

Let’s start with something we can actually look forward to. Although most of this team stresses us out on a weekly basis, there are actually some bright spots currently on the Dolphins roster. All of these players are (currently) on their rookie contracts and are core players that are worth building around. It would be harder to argue why these players aren’t the best within their position group than to debate why they are. These are the players Miami got right….even when all they seem to do is get it wrong:

Laremy Tunsil:

This might be dramatic, but it isn’t far-fetched. Laremy Tunsil is going to be the next Orlando Pace or Jason Peters. As long as Miami doesn’t screw it up contract wise (and as long as Tunsil’s health isn’t as detrimental as Jake Long’s), Tunsil is going to be an elite left tackle for a long time. After being snubbed of a pro bowl nod after a stellar year at left tackle, Tunsil has shown he can protect the most vital position on the offensive line without worry. For all the sacks Ryan Tannehill absorbs each week, leading into Week 16, only 1 was Tunsil’s fault. He is an island all his own and should see a contract extension either this offseason (if Miami is really ambitious, which I doubt) or after the 2019 season. You keep players like this around.

Xavien Howard:

After a rough beginning to Xavien Howard’s career – one that teetered on him being labeled as a “bust” – Howard has proven why the Dolphins traded up to select him in the 2nd-round of the 2016 NFL draft. Howard was selected to his first Pro Bowl after recording 7 interceptions and 12 passes defended on the year. Miami will have a tough task ahead of them, though the decision should be an easy one to make. Howard will be entering the final year of his rooking contract. Unlike Jarvis Landry, Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller before him, it would be wise for Miami to pay the player now rather than wait and let his value balloon out of Miami’s market. How much Miami is going to pay the young corner will be interesting to see.

Although Howard has been sensational, and fits the mold of a #1 cornerback, it must be noted that he has missed some time throughout his NFL career. Out of a possible 47 games, Howard has played in 35 of them (74.4%). While that’s not enough to deter me from extending Howard, it’s something I want to keep in mind at the negotiating table.

Jerome Baker:

There was a ton of hype surrounding the other Ohio State linebacker this season, but no one further exceeded expectations this season than Jerome Baker. Originally touted as being “too small” to be an every down linebacker, Baker has proven his skeptics wrong and has shown he easily belongs in the NFL. Though he only participated in 629 snaps (61.25%), Baker was able to record: 1 interception (a pick-six), 3 passes defended, 2 sacks, 72 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss and 3 QB Hits. While everyone was paying attention to all of the plays Kiko was making, it was easy to overlook how solid Baker played this year. If he exhibits any kind of growth going into year 2, he could become the first linebacker we exude any kind of confidence in since Zach Thomas.

Minkah Fitzpatrick:

Does it matter where you play him? He’s going to be extremely productive regardless of where he lines up on the field. All this hoopla about where Minkah Fitzpatrick was going to play in the NFL was a blessing in disguise for the Miami Dolphins. While productive players like Derwin James, Calvin Ridley, Leighton Vander Esch, and (*gasp*) Lamar Jackson were available, the Dolphins pounced on the 4-year starter on Nick Saban’s vaunted Alabama defense. Between learning three different positions (safety, slot corner and boundary corner) and adapting to the NFL, you wouldn’t have thought this was Fitzpatrick’s rookie year. He looked like a veteran on the gridiron – and while he may not have had as many flashy plays as Derwin James, he comes as a hotter and more-versatile commodity that also has a higher ceiling. Statistics will tell one story, but if both of their careers parallel their rookie seasons, Fitzpatrick is in for the larger contract.

Davon Godchaux:

Davon Godchaux is the definition of a draft-day steal. Plucked in the middle of the 5th-round (178th overall) in the 2017 NFL draft, Godchaux has steadily outperformed his draft status, his contract and our expectations – even when they’re already high to begin with. The only downside to Godchaux’s playing ability is that he’s unable to transform into a brick wall and take up space for the entire defensive line. The way Godchaux moves double teams, disrupts the run and pushes linemen back at the point of attack is impressive for a sophomore player. I’d say Miami is lucky they drafted Godchaux, but they selected another bright spot for this team one round later.

Vincent Taylor:

Injury cut short what may have been the best season for any defensive tackle on the Dolphins. Vincent Taylor’s contributions on both special teams and on defense make for a promising back-half of his rookie contract. Taylor has already accumulated 2 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 quarterback hits and multiple blocked field goals throughout his two-year career. It may not seem like much for a player you expect to rely heavily on in the future, but that only came with 389 total defensive snaps.

As long as Taylor can come back from his foot injury unhindered, Miami should have a formidable tandem of cheap defensive tackles for the next two years.

Jason Sanders:

I wouldn’t say Jason Sanders belongs in the same category as Fitzpatrick, Tunsil or Howard. The rookie kicker is a “bright spot” mainly because he hasn’t done anything to warrant placement in any other spot. He isn’t as much of a commodity as these other players are, but he was nearly perfect for the Dolphins this season, and as a rookie under a cheap contract for the next 3 seasons, it’s nice to see they have the position locked up. This isn’t similar to Andrew Franks where we’re praying the field goal attempt is within 50 yards; Sanders has a legitimate leg and barring anything crazy happening in Darren Rizzi’s brain, Sanders will be here for the foreseeable future.

This is it. These are your bright spots. You have 7 of them and one of those 7 is only here because he’s a misfit everywhere else.

These are your building blocks to the future. You have two vital positions nailed down (cornerback and left tackle), but this leaves plenty of concerns elsewhere. Not every team is going to have an elite presence at every position, but elite teams have role players that handle their jobs well. Where do Miami’s role players fall?

Neutral/Apathetic

These are the players we have a hard time forming a concrete opinion on. This isn’t because the cat caught our tongue, it’s just that these players didn’t do anything to show that they’re a worthwhile building block. Or, we know they’re worth building around, but their performance this year had us thinking otherwise.

You’re going to find a lot of players you like in this category. And while you can’t get rid of all of them, you can make a case for just about any of them. The only thing that’ll keep some of these players on the 2019 roster is their contract status (dead money vs salary cap hit).

Ja’Wuan James:

Why can’t Miami get a Zack Martin or a David DeCastro or a Anthony Castonzo towards the back end of the first round? Why is it that we end up feeling hesitant with players like Ja’Wuan James or we get the lesser of the two Pouncey brothers? For once, it would be nice to draft a bonafide offensive lineman rather than a player we simultaneously know we need to pay out of necessity as well as pray for an upgrade. I guess Laremy Tunsil fits that bill, but he was projected to go #1 overall leading up to the draft, so I can’t really say Miami analyzed offensive line talent well with that one. The biggest skepticism was if Miami felt the public relations nightmare was worth the draft pick (it was).

Anyway, Ja’Wuan James will earn himself a nice contract somewhere because offensive line play is important and it is currently rubbish around the league. Depending what his price is this offseason, it may be best to let James walk. We were hoping he could have solidified himself as an elite tackle rather than an inconsistent one, but we’ve received much of the same. Problem is, releasing James means you need to use a valuable resource on a fix. Great.

Kenyan Drake:

Most of you are going to feel the urge to put Kenyan Drake in the “bright spots” category and I caution you to be so abrasive. Drake was a home run waiting to happen on every play. His shiftiness and agility gave the defenses something to fear. He was turning broken runs into touchdowns back in 2017, and was achieving miracles in 2018. There’s every reason to believe Drake should be a #1 running back in this league, until you realize he’s never been a #1 running back in this league.

How this coaching staff handles its running backs is one reason for Drake’s statistics, but the coach’s reasoning isn’t without merit. Drake handled 109 offensive snaps in 2016 (11.50% of the team’s total snap count), 475 offensive snaps in 2017 (45.81%) and 503 snaps in 2018 (58.56%) – none of which scream the workload of a #1 back.

Drake is the perfect complimentary back to a bruiser, which Miami obtained this year when they signed Frank Gore. As all the pundits scream for Kenyan Drake to get more touches, it should be pointed out that Gore averaged slightly more yards-per-carry than Kenyan Drake in 2018 (4.6 vs 4.5). From a fan perspective, we want excitement. But if you’re Adam Gase and you’re trying to run a specific offense that requires plays to move forward, you have more confidence running Frank Gore than Kenyan Drake.

Add in Drake’s persistent shoulder injury this season, and you have a plethora of reasons as to why Drake hasn’t panned out the way the team expected. Partly their own fault, but partly due to the circumstances Drake gave them. A nagging injury paired with average pass protection mixed with boom-or-bust run potential leads to a 35-year-old running back receiving more carries than the young playmaker.

Raekwon McMillan:

I was tempted to place Raekwon McMillan into one of the lower categories, but I had to hold back a bit. The sophomore linebacker was tasked with being the defensive leader in the middle of the field after missing his entire rookie season with an ACL injury. The thought was that McMillan could hold the middle while Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker would make plays on the outside. This plan could have worked, if not for one dominating flaw: Miami’s non-existent defensive line.

There are plenty of instances where McMillan was a step slow in coverage or he was washed out of a run, which is why he finds himself in this apathetic abyss, but there’s also plenty of potential that peaks out once in awhile, which is why he isn’t looked at entirely as a hole. If Miami was able to stop the run at the point of attack, we wouldn’t be talking about how the linebacking unit is gashed on a weekly basis.

Bobby McCain:

Miami’s most eccentric personality received a well-deserved contract extension this prior offseason. While he hadn’t shown elite potential prior to the extension, Bobby McCain was the perfect slot corner for any team. He’s smart, energetic, passionate and brings great team chemistry. Some “experts” might have viewed the contract as excessive – what kind of unproven slot cornerback deserves $6.75m a year? But if Miami’s defense didn’t blow up before the season started, McCain might be looking at a much more productive season than the statistics show (and the statistics are not pretty for McCain). His dead cap hit ($8.56m) means he’ll be on the team next year, and that’s not a problem – he shouldn’t be a liability. But, if we’re being honest, he regressed in 2018, and if he doesn’t improve well beyond his 2017 production, it’ll be the last year we see him in a Dolphins’ uniform.

Reshad Jones:

A soft spot for the Miami Dolphin all-time great may be what’s keeping him in this category. It wasn’t just his attitude that turned sour this season, his production fell along with it. There’s a lot to be said about Reshad Jones playing “out of position”, but is that the only reason Jones has gone from one of the league’s most overlooked safeties to being justifiably overlooked?

On the season, Jones had 69 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss and 2 interceptions. He didn’t record a forced fumble, he didn’t recover a fumble, he didn’t sack a quarterback; heck, he only hit a quarterback once this season.

A declining 30 year old player on the cusp of costing $17.16m against the cap next season is tough to justify. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miami move Jones’ contract for anything they can get (think a 7th-round draft pick in 2020 as a realistic option. And yeah, that’s not an exaggeration. Which team needs an expensive, aging player on the decline? You’re trying to shed salary cap space and teams know you’re desperate to get rid of a quitter).

Danny Amendola:

Danny Amendola is the epitome of doing nothing wrong and yet still being average. With the departure of Jarvis Landry, Amendola was brought in to be Ryan Tannehill’s new security blanket. He didn’t actually have a bad season all things considered. He accumulated 549 yards on 55 receptions (a 10 yards-per-reception average) and caught 1 TD. Between injuries and veteran emotions, the Dolphins had themselves a mess at wide receiver this season, and amidst all of that trouble emerged Amendola as the generically average receiver. His reliability and surprising durability are the main reasons why Amednola is neutral, but if we’re looking at players we can build off of or replace, Amendola fits the ladder category.

Kenny Stills:

A leader I would want any child to emulate, Kenny Stills is a fascinating human being. Not only is he dedicated to helping people around the world, but he’s also extremely dedicated to his craft. His work ethic is something younger players (looking at you, DeVante Parker) should emulate and his bravery is something to commemorate. That said, Kenny Stills cost $9.75m against the cap this season; he’s going to cost another $9.75m next season. Nothing about a 34/526 stat line tells me this player is worth retaining at that cost.

The thought was that Stills wasn’t properly utilized last year with Jay Cutler. Reuniting Stills with Ryan Tannehill was going to lead to more fireworks like we saw back in 2016. Tannehill had debunked the myth that he didn’t have good deep ball accuracy, and Stills did a great job of deflecting the notion that he’s strictly a downfield receiver. But Stills didn’t grow this season. There were a few great tosses littered throughout the season, but as an overall, Stills was a non-factor. A lot may have to do with the offensive line and quarterback play behind him, but unless both of those units are going to drastically change in 2019, there’s no reason to maintain an unhappy player who isn’t positively affecting the outcome of each game.

Kiko Alonso:

Up until Week 16, Kiko Alonso had played every defensive snap for the Miami Dolphins. Although we’ve grilled him constantly for his liability in coverage, truth is, he’s been the most reliable and durable linebacker on the Dolphins. Maybe it’s the inconsistency of Raekwon McMillan next to him or his memorable adjectives about Ryan Tannehill’s balls that make us think more of the linebacker.

He’s a smart football player, he is able to routinely diagnose plays and has a crazy motor, but with all of that said, Kiko still has a knack for getting beat. If it weren’t for his bloated $9.66m cap hit this season, Kiko could very well be a bright spot for this team.

Though, how can I make someone a bright spot if there’s a solid chance the team cuts them this offseason? I expect both sides to renegotiate and extended the enigmatic linebacker.

Cameron Wake:

It actually pains me to put Cameron Wake in this section. Wake is one of the only bright spots this organization has had over the past decade. Who am I to categorize a Dolphins legend as someone I’m apathetic about?

After Wake’s performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, fans are hoping to see the 36 year old defensive end return next season. He’s set to cost $9.63m against the cap (and would cost $8.6m in dead cap money if released) – meaning he’s likely to be on the team next year barring a trade. It’s possible that Miami, once again, extends Wake for another season (think 2-years, $15m, $12.5m guaranteed).

Like Frank Gore, Cameron Wake does not play like his age, and he’s likely to still be playing (and be dominant) for at least another year. But how long can we rely on a 36 year old defensive end to anchor a line that has been more than underwhelming during his tenure?

Frank Gore:

Frank Gore was actually teetering on being a bright spot for the Miami Dolphins before going down with an ankle injury. Gore was reliable, durable, and well outperformed his contract and expectations. Given Adam Gase’s (lack of) trust in Kenyan Drake, and his desire to withhold both Branden Bolden and Kalen Ballage from partaking in meaningful snaps for most of the season, it was amazing to see Gore perform as exceptionally as he did. He wasn’t just barreling over defenders, he was juking and cutting his way to a 4.6 yards-per-carry average.

The argument will be made that re-signing Gore may prevent Drake and Ballage from getting more snaps, but at 35 years old, Gore shows no signs of slowing down. Drake is a hit-or-miss 4.5 yards-per-carry running back, and Gore is a reliable 4.6 yards-per-carry running back. I’m not saying you should have one and not the other…why not have both? For near the veteran’s minimum, there should no excuse to not re-sign Frank Gore.

Akeem Spence:

I mean, I guess we’re apathetic about him? How else are we supposed to think about Akeem Spence? As another former Detroit Lions defensive tackle coming over to Miami, Spence was expected to provide depth at the position while also taking some meaningful snaps throughout the year. His arrival was Miami’s cheap way of covering the hole left by Ndamukong Suh. Spence was admirable this season, though it’s hard to say the Dolphins want anything to do with him in 2019. He’s currently set to cost $2.5m against the cap and holds no dead money next season. His performance is in-line with a $2.5m player, and I don’t see why Miami wouldn’t retain him. Just make sure you’re retaining him for depth, because if he’s expected to be your starter once again, you can expect opposing offenses to continue to rush for 143.9 yards-per-game (30th in the NFL).

Walt Aikens:

You know exactly what you’re going to get in Walt Aikens. The special teams standout continued to shine as the captain of his unit, but was exposed in coverage while playing safety on defense. If he’s playing defensive snaps, something went wrong and the prayer is that he can hold down his position without giving up a big play. On special teams, however, you can expect a solid play almost every time from Aikens. A sure-tackler who’s usually spot on as a gunner downing kicks, Aikens seems to be the perfect player to receive the torch from Michael Thomas (who signed with the New York Giants this past offseason).

Matt Haack:

The adjectives “weapon” and “liability” were both used to describe Matt Haack’s punting this season. An upgrade over 2017 mostly by default, Matt Haack was booming 60+ yards punts as often as he was shanking them. It’s tough to say if Miami will have a different punter in 2019, but they definitely will bring in competition for the inconsistent lefty kicker.

T.J. McDonald:

Similar to Kiko Alonso, it’s tough to consider a player a detriment when they participate in nearly 93% of the team’s defensive snaps (2nd on the team behind Alonso). T.J. McDonald is a strong safety that was exposed a bunch in coverage this season. On occasion, he made plays (accumulating 3 interceptions, 5 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery and 1 tackle for a loss this year), but he was also a quarterback’s best friend while in coverage. Maybe it was Matt Burke and Miami’s pairing of two strong safeties that exposed McDonald more than he would normally be.

As much as you may want to move on from McDonald in 2019, he’s going to be a Miami Dolphin. McDonald costs $6m against the cap if he’s on the roster, and $6.5m in dead cap space if he isn’t.

Durham Smythe:

While Durham Smythe‘s receiving numbers aren’t promising, his performance as a blocker in the run game is enough to temporarily satisfy Dolphins fans. Drafted in the 4th-round this past draft, Smythe was selected to predominantly be a run-blocker rather than a receiving threat – and with that, he did a good job. He was exactly as advertised. Problem is, more-productive tight ends (in terms of receiving numbers) were selected after Smyth and Mike Gesicki, leading Dolphins fans to believe that the team got it wrong with their selections. And they’re right about half that duo…

Kalen Ballage:

The rookie running back that was a virtual replacement for Jay Ajayi showed that he can compete in the NFL, the only thing that’s left to see is how much of a workload Kalen Ballage can handle. His 75-yard touchdown run was impressive, but any running back could have made it through that hole.

Ballage’s versatility as a running back and general of the wildcat offense makes him more of a commodity than most players in this section, but the limited sample size has me hesitant to say he’s a genuine bright spot for this team. Maybe in 2019, but he most certainly wasn’t in 2018.

All things considered, Kalen Ballage for the next 3 years is better than Jay Ajayi’s deteriorating knees for the next season – this was one Miami got right.

Assuming all of these players are back for 2019, you can cross 16 “holes” off of your roster, but with that being said, how confident are you in any of the players on this list? Combine their performance this season with their contracts going into 2019 and you have to wonder if feeling neutral about these players is actually giving them too much credit. There’s a good chance at least half of these players are on a different roster next season.

So with 7 “bright spots” and 16 neutral possibilities, we have 23 players that the Dolphins can “rely on” next season. A roster needs to hold 53 players. So what happened to the rest of the team?

Regression / Plateau

They fall into these next two categories. One is damning while the other has been a damnation for this team. Before we get into this team’s lack of luck, we’ll get into this team’s lack of talent. Below are the players that not only failed to contribute to the team’s 2018 season, they were a detriment in the process:

Charles Harris:

This draft pick hurts (you’ll notice a theme with that statement). Miami identified that a dominant pass rush is the way to win football games. They’ve spent plenty of assets trying to assemble the most-menacing defensive line they could develop, and they’ve failed miserably all these years.

Charles Harris is a decent role player, but he’s not a first-round draft pick. He was selected (22nd-overall) because his position said he was more valuable than players who played at ‘less-impactful’ positions. I’m talking about Evan Engram (TE – selected 23rd), Jabrill Peppers (S – 25th), David Njoku (TE – 29th), or T.J. Watt (LB – 30th). This doesn’t highlight Miami passing on Tre’Davious White and letting him go to the Buffalo Bills at #27.

It’s easy to play this retrospect game, but this pick was questionable from the start. After a rookie campaign that showed promise, fans were willing to give Harris a chance to evolve in 2019. It never happened. Harris will be a fine role player for the next two seasons, but you can be sure he’ll be another 1st-round draft pick that doesn’t make it to their 5th-year option.

Jesse Davis:

While I have to give Jesse Davis a ton of credit for being the only offensive lineman to start every game and play every snap, I have to point out how disappointed we all are in the second-year offensive lineman. Davis was possibly the brightest player coming out of the 2017 season. The undrafted free agent came in and became the only reliable cog on a putrid offensive line. Pairing his performance with his contract, Davis was the kind of player that could make a team relevant by being successful and cap-friendly.

Then, 2018 happened, and Jesse Davis validated why he was an undrafted free agent. Davis was routinely beat on passing plays, and had trouble opening lanes on running plays. This isn’t to say Davis didn’t have his moments; I still believe he’s a good player, but no matter how promising you think Davis might be, it doesn’t wipe the abysmal performances he had this season.

If Ted Larsen weren’t the current whipping boy for this fanbase, Davis might very well be in hotter water than he currently is.

Robert Quinn:

I can simultaneously admit that Robert Quinn has had a decent second-half of the season while also realizing that Robert Quinn has been a complete detriment to this team.

As the most expensive player on the team (cap hit wise), you’re expected to change the outcome of almost every game. With 6.5 sacks on the year (5.5 sacks coming over the last 6 games), Quinn has been far from it. He gets beat on the edge on running plays, and provides minimal pass rush on most passing downs. His $11.44m salary cap hit is not only a waste, but it came at the cost of a 4th-round draft pick in 2018.

Quinn seemed like a prize acquisition this offseason, but it may have been the move that sealed Mike Tannenbaum’s fate as Executive Vice President of Football Operations.

Stephone Anthony:

And if it wasn’t Quinn that sealed Tannebaum’s fate, it should be Stephone Anthony. Even if a 5th-round draft pick isn’t too much, it can’t be excused.

The Dolphins have drafted Bobby McCain, Tony Lippett, Jay Ajayi, and Davon Godchaux in the 5th-round during Tannenbaum’s tenure. The New York Giants recently traded Damon Harrison, one of the best run-stuffing defensive tackles in the NFL, to the Detroit Lions for a 5th-round pick.

I understand that Anthony came with additional years of cheap control, but he was an injury-riddled special teams player on a team desperate to shed his salary. To give them a 5th-round pick for such a failure is as criminal as biting on the temptation of a once-promising defensive end (Quinn).

Cordrea Tankersley:

I have no idea what happened here. Cordrea Tankersley looked like he would be a nice compliment to Xavien Howard as the team’s second starting cornerback. Instead, he tricked us into believing that Torry McTyer was a legitimate starter in this league. You could argue that failing to get any kind of contribution from the 2017 3rd-round pick sunk this secondary; the repercussions of starting multiple cornerbacks out of place and thinning out the team’s depth can’t be overstated. There are plenty of players that can compete with the 2nd-year cornerback for this title, but it’s possible that Tankersley is the most disappointing player of 2018.

DeVante Parker:

Another story of a stud college athlete that couldn’t transition to the pros. This is where the Dolphins consistently find themselves in hot water (see: Charles Harris). They believe that they can take a dominant athlete and develop them into a football player. There’s plenty of evidence to show us that DeVante Parker has been an underwhelming bust while Jarvis Landry, an amazing football player that fell to the 2nd-round because he wasn’t a prototypical athlete, proved to be one of the biggest steals of his draft. Five years later, and we’re still waiting for that “monster season” from Parker. Spoiler alert: it’s not coming (in a Dolphins uniform).

Ryan Tannehill:

A lot more will be said about Ryan Tannehill throughout the offseason, so I’ll save space in this piece and refrain from listing the plethora of reasons why Ryan Tannehill is or isn’t the answer in 2019 and simply state that Tannehill disappointed fans in 2018. It’s slightly unfortunate that he’s the poster child for this anemic offense, but as the quarterback, he’s the maestro behind the orchestra. His quarterback rating and statistics will say otherwise, but Tannehill disappointed us in 2018 – especially when there were MVP whispers earlier this season.

A bunch of promise that has led to a ton of disappointment: that’s your 2018 Dolphins season and your Dolphins 21st century in nutshell. Thing is, all of that disappointment is wrapped tightly in hope, promise, optimism and the opportunity for success; we just open it up to find that it’s (always) just a facade.

Blue Tent Blues

All of that hope and promise had to originate from somewhere. It’s not like we blindly assumed this team was going to be good this season. Our thoughts, hypothesis’ and playoff aspirations were shattered along with the 13 lucky players that landed on injured-reserve this season.

Jakeem Grant:

The speedy receiver was so bad at catching a football, he was nearly cut from the team. Originally an afterthought going into 2017, Jakeem Grant’s potential peaked towards the end of the season, giving fans a reason to believe the 5′ 6″ wide receiver could be a breakout candidate in 2018.

And lo-and-behold, it happened. Grant accumulated 268 yards on 34 receptions (12.8 yards-per-catch) and 2 touchdowns. He was a threat with his speed, and he was a menace when defenses realized they had to scheme for Grant, Albert Wilson, Kenny Stills and Kenyan Drake. The options Miami had were bountiful, and Wilson’s injury, Ryan Tannehill’s injured shoulder, and the deteriorating offensive line sabotaged what could have been a top-notch offense.

Albert Wilson:

A “player who had no position” made every skeptic look foolish on his way to 26 receptions, 391 yards (15 yards-per-reception) and 4 touchdowns…in only 7 games.

This play maker was the team’s MVP prior to going down with a hip injury in week 7. His yards-after-the-catch made Jarvis Landry look like a poor man’s Albert Wilson (Wilson had 331 YAC in 2018 while Landry has 215 – Landry has played in 16 games vs Wilson’s 7).

The only reason Wilson isn’t a “bright spot” is because we have no idea how he’s going to bounce back from his injury. By no means do we not want Albert Wilson, we’re just unsure if he’ll be the same player we witnessed in 2018. Say what you want about Adam Gase, but he recognized Wilson’s ability, identified that he was the perfect match for this offense, and convinced Wilson to sign with the Dolphins even though there were other suitors offering more for his services.

Don’t trust all of the perception surrounding a player. The media made us feel like Albert Wilson was ‘just another awful signing by the Miami Dolphins’. And while they have merit often enough (Mike Wallace, Andre Branch…) there are times when the Dolphins really are best in the business. Wilson’s signing is one of those positive occurrences.

William Hayes:

Watch, William Hayes is going to be back with the Miami Dolphins next season and all parties involved are going to be content with the signing. There’s no reason not to be; other than the fact that Hayes has landed on injured-reserve in both seasons he’s been with the Dolphins.

The only downside to Hayes’ tenure on the Dolphins is his availability. Hayes has been a productive player for this team, but due to various injures, has participated in just 13 out of a possible 32 games (40.6%). He is an exceptional run-stopper and has a knack for getting to the quarterback. In just 3 games this season, Hayes recorded 2 sacks and 3 tackles for a loss. Or in other words, a heck of a lot more productive than Charles Harris has been in 10 games so far this season.

Daniel Kilgore:

Another positive move by Mike Tannenbaum that will go unnoticed, Daniel Kilgore was a fortunate produce of a San Francisco 49ers mishap. Originally extended by the 49ers, Kilgore was deemed expendable when San Francisco signed Weston Richburg to be their starting center. At the cost of 4 draft spots in the 7th-round, Miami was able to relieve an unhappy and expensive Mike Pouncey in favor of Kilgore.

As fate would have it, Kilgore got injured in week 4 while Pouncey was added to the AFC Pro Bowl roster.

Josh Sitton:

Miami’s offseason prize, Josh Sitton was expected to finally anchor an eternally weak offensive line. While offensive guard isn’t viewed as a premium position, pairing Sitton next to Laremy Tunsil effectively protected Ryan Tannehill’s blindside from any threats. His injury during week 1 may not have been the most catastrophic loss this season, but there are plenty of “what ifs” surrounding this offense that might have been solved if the offensive line, once again, wasn’t putrid.

Costing just $500k more against the salary cap in 2019, there’s a good chance Sitton’s back and this offensive line finally looks respectable. There’s also a chance Miami moves on from the 32 year old offensive lineman fresh off of a season-ending injury. This will be a curious case to monitor this offseason.

MarQueis Gray:

The original domino to fall for the Miami Dolphins, MarQueis Gray‘s injury exposed the Dolphins lack of talent at tight end. Although he was never much of a focal point for the Dolphins, Gray was competent in the passing game and as a blocker. Though most people didn’t see this injury as too big of a loss, Miami’s inept offense throughout the entire season would say otherwise.

Miami made a habit out of placing players on injured-reserve, with 13 players on IR as of Week 17. While this group of players couldn’t play, the next group of players were able to participate throughout the entire season, they were just invisible while on the field.

Did Not Show Up

While these players may have “produced” more than others on this list, between the assets and empty hope, these players were invisible in the eyes of Dolphins fans; only to be seen when scorned:

Mike Gesicki:

Let’s get the caveat out of the way now and admit that it’s still too early to tell what Mike Gesicki is going to be in the NFL. But, overlooking this Olympic-sized failure in 2018 would be naive.

To put how poor Gesicki’s season was into perspective, the rookie tight end contributed less than Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron did in years prior. Remember how badly we wanted to move on from those two? We’ve talked in depth about how the void at tight end has been a major contributing factor to this offense’s lack of success, and Gesicki was expected to end that drought. Maybe it was fan hype that blew it out of proportion, but the Dolphins decided, once again, that selecting an “athlete” was better than selecting a “football player”. Dallas Goedart and Chris Hernon (and a plethora of other rookie tight ends) were successful and desirable factors in their team’s offense while Miami will be looking for another replacement in 2019.

Andre Branch:

His game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is actually going to give him meaningful statistics on the season, which only slightly clouds Andre Branch’s real performance in 2018. There wasn’t anything memorable about it, and yet, I don’t think anyone is going to forget it.

Andre Branch was a negative influence on the field. Constantly hit with inexcusable penalties and getting beat on almost every play, his biggest contribution to the 2018 season was shouting “bodybag” from the sidelines.

At $10m against the cap in 2018, Branch was expected to (at least) be a starting defensive end. Instead, the team had to waste a 4th-round draft pick (and spend even more money) to cover up the mistake that was Branch’s extension.

The two-most expensive players for the Miami Dolphins played the same position…and both need to be replaced. That all but sums up the 2018 season for you.

Miscellaneous Players

These players participated for Miami this season, though that never should have happened. They were part of the 2018 season, but were never part of the plan. I’d say I blame (or exonerate) these players, but it’s hard to express emotion towards them when they never should have been relied upon in the first place.

Brock Osweiler:

We all woke up once Brocktober ended. It was a fun storyline while it lasted, but there was a reason we kept saying Miami had only one quarterback on its roster when the regular season started. Brock Osweiler held his own and was able to lead the team to a 2-3 record; which, for a backup, is all you can ask for.

Osweiler also has the only passing game of 300 yards or more for Miami this season (380). In 15 games, Miami has one 300+ yard passing game. And it isn’t from the team’s starting quarterback…

Torry McTyer:

Is it really his fault he outperformed his expectations so well in training camp that he under-performed during the regular season? As Dolphins fans, we were ecstatic to believe that we had found another starting-caliber cornerback, but once Torry McTyer was on the field, it was revealed why he was an undrafted backup cornerback.

This all sounds negative for McTyer and it really shouldn’t be. McTyer is a solid depth piece to have on your roster and is fine playing for a few series if need be. Unless Miami gets a deep cornerback room next season, it’s easy to expect McTyer back as a backup cornerback in 2019. And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Brandon Bolden:

Is Brandon Bolden a bright spot? His statistics and performances say so. Kenyan Drake gets all the credit, but Brandon Bolden is the real reason the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots this season (ok, Bill Belichick outsmarting himself and Tom Brady screwing up the end of the 2nd-half and Stephen Gostkowski missing a couple kicks may be the real reason…).

But snarky Patriots miracles aside, Bolden produced well for the Dolphins in the limited touches he had. At $850,000, he was easily worth every penny and was a productive “bright spot” for the Dolphins this season, especially given his special teams production. It’s just hard to put him in that group when he only contributed 18 snaps on offense.

Senorise Perry:

Not really sure what to say about Senorise Perry. He’s extremely reliable on special teams, but he didn’t play a single offensive snap the entire season. With 4 other running backs active for the Dolphins most weeks (Drake, Gore, Bolden, and Ballage), it’s tough to justify Perry’s roster spot solely as a special team’s player.

Ted Larsen:

Ted Larsen performed just as we expected. He’s a backup offensive lineman who was thrust into the starting lineup very early in the season. I guess we have to give him credit for his contributions; he participated in over 80% of the teams snaps and had some moderate moments run blocking. Problem is, Ryan Tannehill was constantly pressured from his side. It’s easy to punch Larsen for all of the negative plays he racked up, but outside of a couple missed plays, he has soldiered through the entire season.

Travis Swanson:

Fans wanted Travis Swanson exiled from this team after his first two games, but the emergency fill-in for Daniel Kilgore performed in nearly 70% of the team’s offensive snaps and was, well, moderate. While he wasn’t the “best” center, he did just fine for a backup center who wasn’t on the team’s roster until September 3rd. If anything, Miami is kind of lucky he was still hanging around; who knows what would have happened with Wesley Johnson or Ted Larsen at center.

These are the reasons why the 2018 Miami Dolphins failed. It’s not (solely) because of Adam Gase. It’s not (solely) because of Ryan Tannehill. These two people were just part of the problem that was the 2018 season. We fully expected the Dolphins to evolve and instead they regressed…mightily. The hope is that 2018 is a fluke. Problem is, how do you explain an entire century of ineptitude?

Growing up a passionate Dolphins fan in Jets territory, Jason learned from an early age that life as a Dolphins fan wasn’t going to be easy. Previously the Sports Editor for his university newspaper, Jason has experience writing columns, creating game recaps and conducting interviews with Hall of Fame athletes (Harry Carson and Yogi Berra are two of his proudest interviews). When he’s not dissecting the latest sports news, you can find him perplexed over the Dolphins offensive line woes or involuntarily introducing music to his neighbors.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kevin Spencer

    December 26, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    really nice work

  2. Avatar

    pacificfinfan1

    December 27, 2018 at 1:15 am

    I really disagree hard about Tankersley and McTyer where you put them on your list. The DC Matt Burke deployed the secondary wrong and in the worst possible way. First Tankersley was our best CB ending 2017 he didn’t start till the London game week 4 vs Saints and injury cut it short. While he was on the field he got tested cause he was a rookie and much like Jerome Baker this year he played the opposite of his scouting report would lead you to believe. Burke decided to not use him so he could use McCain instead which was a disaster for the defense and for both Tank and McCain. Playing JOnes at FS instead SS getting in front of the mic every week saying the 2 positions are interchangeable and not getting fired for it made this team a laughing stock for real football people around the league. McTyer when he played wasn’t burned or abused like the reporters covering the team made it out to be. A play in the Bengals game was a perfect throw a few others were the safety help didn’t come like it was supposed to with most of those being McDonald breaking down the coverage. If Burke was a capable DC he would of started the season with Howard Tank at corner Minkah FS Jones SS then in the Nickel Move Kiko and Raekwon off bring in McCain and McDonald. Less big plays would have occurred Jones would of continued to make huge plays for us Minkah would of roamed between the hashes covering up mistakes made by both Tank and Howard and we most likely would be celebrating a playoff birth instead of writing/talking about who is leaving/staying. I think I disagreed with something else but I cant remember now I got long winded on Tank and McTyer who should of had bigger roles along with Jalen Davis. McTyer and Davis have special teams value not used as returners same with Francis Owusu who Rizzi was supposed to be high on but apparently someone on offense didn’t agree with.

    Good article don’t take my disagreements personal or as attacks I just am passionate about my Dolphins I think if I knew how to get into a GM job that that is what I would be good at but when I went to school in this small town its not something the guidance councilors had a clue about.

  3. Avatar

    Bob Barrow

    December 27, 2018 at 10:48 am

    A bit off topic, but if you really wish to know about the Dolphin’s failures, you’re looking at just a microcosm of the issue. And to go further, this can be traced in all 4 of Miami’s pro sports teams. The failures and successes can be pinpointed to one word, OWNERSHIP!

    Analyze the records, successes and failures of the 4 franchises against the ownership. There is a clear observation to be seen….Bob

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Miami Dolphins

Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts

Chris Kowalewski

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As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.

The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.

Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.

A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.

Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.

At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.

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Miami Dolphins

In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.

Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.

The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.

Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.

The Better Player Plays

With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.

In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?

We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.

Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.

Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.

Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?

I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.

Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.

Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.

Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.

There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…

Playoff Bound

The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.

Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.

A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.

In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.

And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.

Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:

  • Learn his way around the NFL
  • Understand the playbook better
  • Observe the game from the sideline
  • Gain chemistry with his receivers

Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…

I’m Sure He’s Healthy…

Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.

While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.

The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.

Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.

Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.

The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.

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Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.

A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.

Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).

Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.

Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.

It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.

We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.

 

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