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Miami Dolphins

Winning and Rebuilding Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Travis Wingfield

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The Alternative to the Tank

Adam [Gase] wants to win now.”

Perhaps unintentionally, that comment, during Chris Grier’s introductory presser from Owner Stephen Ross, was the most telling tidbit from the 12-minute Q&A session.

“Hopefully it’s not 3-13, but whatever it takes to build a winning team that can sustain success is the goal,” Ross said.

Reading the tea leaves, it becomes rather apparent that Dolphins intentions are to rebuild the program this spring. Just because the dreaded “R” word is probably the correct course of action doesn’t mean the team can’t still win games in the interim.

Granted, the most glaring hole on the roster is at the most important position in all of sports, but there are options to either 1.) Bridge the gap to the future, or 2.) Accelerate the future to the present via the draft.

We have months to debate the merits of Teddy Bridgewater, Nick Foles, Dwayne Haskins and the ultimate dream – Kyler Murray, but this column isn’t just about the quarterback.

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

It’s about the current make-up of the roster. A roster who’s 2018 production was largely established on the work of cheap, young players not yet old enough to rent a car (under 25).

Teams in worse-off positions have made jumps that would reinvigorate a fan base starved for a winner. The 2018 Bears turned things around overnight. The 2016 Rams were the biggest train wreck in the league – now they’ll host a playoff game in the NFL’s “elite 8” after their second straight division title. The Texans went from last-to-first with a roster riddled with question marks.

Again, for disclaimer purposes, each of those teams made dramatic changes at the quarterback position. Which sets up nicely for my position that, dropping an all-star in at the quarterback position can suddenly turn a lackluster roster into an enticing one.

Whether it’s Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbet, Jake Fromm, Trevor Lawrence – whoever you’re partial too, getting that pick right will change the perception of the rest of the roster.

Because, frankly, the rest of the roster is a lot better than it’s been given credit for.

Just because Ross himself says they’re going to do things the “right way,” doesn’t mean the team can’t play good football en route to building an annual championship contender.

The owner said he doesn’t want to continue to flush resources into “older” free agents; patch the roster in hopes of sneaking in as a wildcard.

Great! Most of the production on this roster came from the young guys any way. So when the word “purge” is floated, it’s not referring to your all-pro, 25-year-old, league-leading intercepting cornerback. It’s not in reference to your already-elite left tackle – age 24. It’s about the pushing-30 veteran commanding a percentage of the salary for minimal contribution.

The savings are going to be massive. And while Miami might not be interested in going the way of the high-priced free agent ala Mike Wallace, Brandon Albert or Ndamukong Suh, the flexibility is there. Hell, using that money to keep their own established stars is the best organizational shift the franchise could undergo.

Miami is about to create a gaping hole at the defensive end position. Rather than paying Robert Quinn, the team could hand his annual salary to Frank Clark – the impending free agent of the Seattle Seahawks.

But it doesn’t have to be Frank Clark. It could be “Place Holder” for the purpose of the exercise. There is about to be an entirely fresh canvas in Miami. And that means the opportunity to change the narrative, or perhaps the earned reputation of this once-proud franchise is entirely existent.

Let’s lay the cards on the table and evaluate this team at present date – a state of the franchise, if you will.

We’re going to categorize team roster in four ways: The core, the cuts, the needs, and the priorities.

 

*Players age refers to age on opening day 2019

The Core:

Xavien Howard – Cornerback
Age: 26.2
2019 Cash Owed: $1.3 M
Club Control: Through 2019

For the second straight year Howard picked off seven passes. In 2018, however, he did it in just 12 games. He’s a physical specimen capable of locking down the game’s best receivers. He’s a safe bet to get a massive contract extension before the 2019 season kicks off – the superstar of this team.

Over the final four games, when Howard was sidelined with a knee injury, the Dolphins defense surrendered 134 points. He is the glue that held the defense together and a player capable of shutting down an entire side of the field on defense.

Howard’s passer rating against was a paltry 69.4 on the season.

Xavien Howard Film Study

Laremy Tunsil – Left Tackle
Age: 25.1
2019 Cash Owed: $2.1 M
Club Control: Through 2019

Another safe bet to see a big extension coming his way (elevating Chris Grier all but locks Howard and Tunsil into long-term deals with the Dolphins), Laremy Tunsil didn’t allow his first sack of 2018 until week 16.

The offense consistently trusted Tunsil to handle the opposition’s best pass rusher one-on-one, sliding the protection away from the game’s premier left tackle. Tunsil shut down the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack with utter brilliance in pass protection

He’s an effective run blocker too; be it gap, zone or on the pull, Tunsil can do it all.

Laremy Tunsil Film Study

Minkah Fitzpatrick – Free Safety
Age: 22.9
2019 Cash Owed: $1.2 M
Club Control: Through 2021

Fitzpatrick’s rookie year was a smashing success. His production tailed off towards the end as the season submerged beyond reprieve, but he was fluid and an asset at multiple positions.

Fitzpatrick’s 2018 rep count was as follows:

Perimeter Corner: 281
Slot Corner: 380
Free Safety: 166
Box Safety: 94

Without Fitzpatrick, a depleted secondary could’ve entered the depths of 2007 defensive backfield. A full year in the program, a chance to rest after a 2018 without an off-season (from National Championship game to the Scouting Combine right into mini-camp), Fitzpatrick’s sword will have sharpened and he’ll be ready to make a major impact on the defense.

Kenyan Drake – Running Back
Age: 25.7
2019 Cash Owed: $810 K
Club Control: 2019

One day, some coach, be it in Miami or otherwise, is going to base his offensive attack around Kenyan Drake and the Alabama product is going to produce mega-numbers. His 2018 season was right in line with his young career marks – highly efficient, a big-play machine, but not given an appropriate amount of work.

At 4.5 yards per carry, 1,012 total yards on just 173 touches, nine touchdowns (six coming from 20+ yards), Drake took advantage of minimal opportunities.

Now that Miami is set to turn the offensive reigns over to a new play caller, 2019 will be a statistical explosion for the former four-star Bama recruit.

Albert Wilson – Wide Receiver
Age: 27.2
2019 Cash Owed: $7 M
Club Control: Through 2020

One of the outliers, as far as salary goes, Wilson was on track for a record-setting year before a season-ending knee injury hit in week seven. Like Drake, Wilson is a threat to score every time he touches the football (evidence by his effort single-handedly winning the Bears game).

Heading into that game with the Lions, Wilson led the league in yards-after-the-catch and YAC average. He moved the chains as a ball carrier, provided a decoy on misdirection plays, lined up split wide, in the slot, nasty, in the backfield and even threw a touchdown pass.

Wilson was the Dolphins gem of the 2018 off-season – the only thing that can slow him from picking that pace back up, is a rather serious hip injury.

Vincent Taylor – Defensive Tackle
Age: 25.7
2019 Cash Owed: $640 K
Club Control: Through 2020

One of Chris Grier’s late-round gems at the position in 2017, Taylor has developed his game at a more rapid pace than anyone anticipated. Like too many others on this list, Taylor’s 2018 season was cut short by an injury.

Prior to the injury, few DTs were stuffing the run with greater frequency. Taylor added another blocked field goal to his resume, a pair of sacks and a handful of additional pressures.

Jakeem Grant – Wide Receiver/Return Specialist
Age: 26.9
2019 Cash Owed: $720 K
Club Control: Through 2019

The only player in 2018 to return a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown, Jakeem Grant continues the theme of young, electrifying game-breakers on this offense. Criminally under-utilized, Grant’s impact was rounding into form late in 2017 and in the beginning of 2018, before being banished to back-up duty in an unwarranted fashion.

After Wilson was lost with an injury, Grant’s workload went down. Inexplicable.

Jerome Baker – Linebacker
Age: 22.8
2019 Cash Owed: $654 K
Club Control: Through 2021

With three sacks, three passes defensed and an interception brought all the way home for six, Baker’s play making prowess took off immediately in his rookie season. He’s athletic, savvy and a sure-tackler.

As a blitzer, Baker is effective taking proper angles and maintaining gap integrity. As a run defender, he’s aggressive and seeks out contact. In coverage, he’s athletic enough to match any tight end across from him.

Davon Godchaux – Defensive Tackle
Age: 24.8
2019 Cash Owed: $645 K
Club Control: Through 2020

A sturdy run-stuffer, Godchaux has been eating up double teams since the day he arrived in Davie. With an extremely low pad-level and tree trunks for legs, Godchaux can control the point of attack, disengage from blocker and make stops at the line of scrimmage.

Raekwon McMillan – Linebacker
Age: 23.8
2019 Cash Owed: $892 K
Club Control: Through 2020

After tearing his ACL on the first play of the 2017 pre-season, it was a slow climb back for McMillan. As the trust in his lateral movement returned, so did his instinctive and explosive nature. McMillan is a between-the-tackles banger that, along with Davon Godchaux, can provide solid run defense in base downs.

Bobby McCain – Slot Cornerback
Age: 26.0
2019 Cash Owed: $5.6 M
Club Control: Through 2022

After McCain’s breakout 2017 season, 2018 brought about new challenges – challenges he, perhaps, wasn’t cut out for. Injuries forced McCain to move around the secondary and out onto the perimeter. There, the skillset that made him one of the game’s premier slot corners did not translate.

Fighting through injuries and playing out of position might have fans down on McCain, but he is an unquestioned leader of this team. He plays with his hair on fire and is more than willing in run support. McCain will be fine, just put him in the slot and leave him there.

Kenny Stills – Wide Receiver
Age: 27.5
2019 Cash Owed: $8 M
Club Control: Through 2020

Stills’ dip in production can be attributed to two factors – 1.) A mid-season injury and, 2.) An abject disaster at the quarterback position. When Stills had his QB1 with a healthy throwing shoulder, he was producing right on par with his career average through the first month of the season.

With three touchdowns and 184 receiving yards through the Dolphins 3-0 start, Stills became a forgotten man when Brock Osweiler took the reins.

There is an out in Stills’ contract for a small dead cap hit, and a trade is worth exploring, but unless it’s a considerable offer, Miami would be wise to retain the services of this big-play, locker room leader.

Kalen Ballage – Running Back
Age: 23.7
2019 Cash Owed: $480 K
Club Control: Through 2021

Ballage certainly doesn’t have the resume as everyone else on the list. But it was the flashes of potential late in the season that reminded folks why he was so highly thought of coming out of Arizona State.

With 5.3 yards per carry, and a role as the trigger man in the wildcat, Ballage showed the versatility that made him a standout at last year’s Senior Bowl.

 

Of the 13 players listed, 12 would be expected starters in 2019. That doesn’t include the veterans on the other side of the age paradigm (Reshad Jones, the biggest name of note).

A lot of Jones’ veteran counterparts, however, figure to follow Adam Gase with a one-way ticket out of town.

The Cuts:

Andre Branch
2019 Cash Due: $7 M
Cap Hit: $2 M

After robbing the Dolphins, via Mike Tannenbaum, for $18 million the last two years, Miami can get away from their overpaid rotational rusher for a minimal loss. Branch sacked the quarterback just six times in the first two years of his big contract extension ($3 million per sack).

Devante Parker
2019 Cash Due: $9 M
Cap Hit: $0

Still waiting on Parker’s breakout season, the Dolphins have an easy decision to make on their 2015 first round pick. Parker scored only one touchdown in each of the last two seasons, took on multiple injuries and still doesn’t seem to understand what being a professional is all about.

Kiko Alonso
2019 Cash Due: $7.9 M
Cap Hit: $5.7 M

Dirty hits, embarrassing spy efforts, shooting the wrong gap, woeful coverage, there isn’t much else Alonso could do to earn his way onto this list. He made the big play early in 2018, and there’s value in that, but his mental lapses were evident by the number of poor run fits on the defense, but also by his inability to learn the new rules in football (spearheading sliding quarterbacks – not too smart).

Robert Quinn
2019 Cash Due: $13 M
Cap Hit: $0

This one is the trickiest of the bunch. Quinn didn’t produce like a $13 million sack-master, but six of his seven sacks came in the back half of the season. He was a quality run defender more times than not, he’s still just 29 and it’s not likely you’ll find better value on the open market.

Danny Amendola
2019 Cash Due: $6 M
Cap Hit: $0

Now that Gase is gone this shouldn’t be a concern, but let’s not give the new HC any opportunity to give Grant and Wilson’s snaps away to an inferior player. Amendola was a progress stopper to two of the most talented skill players on the roster, not to mention a lackluster season in his own right.

Ryan Tannehill
2019 Cash Due: $17.5 M
Cap Hit: $13 M

Miami could try to trade their quarterback, but those contract figures could make that difficult. Even if the Dolphins are send Tannehill elsewhere for a conditional pick, it would be wise to pull the trigger.

Ted Larsen
2019 Cash Due: $1.9 M
Cap Hit: $400 K

This requires no explanation.

 

That’s nearly $50 million in savings on a sextet of veterans providing very little by way of production. When Stephen Ross mentioned the free agent stop gaps, those are the players he was referencing.

The Needs:

Quarterback: Pro Football Focus claims Ryan Tannehill was the worst quarterback in 2018. That’s absurd. But he did regress in a way that was rather unexpected. Now, the Dolphins look to find the future in a class that doesn’t offer many options.

Dec 29, 2018; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray (1) runs against the Oklahoma Sooners during the third quarter of the 2018 Orange Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Kyler Murray is far-and-away the best potential option, but his future is unclear at press time. Dwayne Haskins has yet to declare, but he’s the clear QB1 when he does. Beyond those two, it’s a lackluster crop of free agents and middle round prospects. Teddy Bridgewater or Nick Foles, coupled with a second round pick on Drew Lock, might be the best route.

Defensive End: Cam Wake is set to hit free agency and the 37-year-old future Hall of Fame pass rusher will have a market. He doesn’t want to leave Miami and would probably come at a reduced rate.

Even with Wake, Miami has some serious work to do at the position. Branch and Charles Harris were abject failures, Quinn might be too expensive and this draft class is littered with elite edge rushers. The Dolphins figure to double down at this spot, as well as attack the interior DL position.

Cornerback #2: Playing Torry McTyer, Cordrea Tankersley and Cornell Armstrong for stretches spelled bad news for the Dolphins record setting defense – and not the kind of records you want to break.

If Fitzpatrick moves back to safety, Howard and McCain take two of three corner spots, there is one clear void in an otherwise solid group.

Offensive Line: This two-decade-long need might not be as bad as perceived. Tunsil and James (we’ll get to that shortly) give Miami a pair of bookends as good as any. If Josh Sitton returns to play left guard, and Jesse Davis at right guard, center is the only glaring need.

However, Miami would be foolish to usher out that group of five and call it good. Depth would be paramount behind Sitton and at tackle. Miami has to hit on an interior lineman in this draft – they just have to.

 

The team could use another wide receiver, linebacker and probably a tight end, but those are bridges to be crossed after the above has been resolved.

The Top priorities:

Kyler Murray – Stay with me here. I realize he isn’t even committed to football at the time of this posting, but practically everyone outside of his baseball agent thinks he’s choosing football. If he does, he’s the one ticket this off-season that can reshape the complexion of this franchise immediately in 2019.

Re-Sign Ja’Wuan James – He stayed healthy from camp through the end of the season (sans one missed game week 10). He has stretches of dominance in pass pro, and he consistently gives the Dolphins an edge-seal in the running game. He can pull to the play side and erase linebackers (the Dolphins averaged seven YPC running behind James) in the ground game.

Sink Multiple Resources into Edge Rushers and Interior DL – We’ve already saved millions of bucks by trimming the fat. If Miami wants to spend free agent money, this is the position where that should happen. Maybe not the bell of the ball in Frank Clark or Demarcus Lawrence, but a reclamation project like Ezekiel Ansah or Dante Fowler could be a bargain.

Additionally, this draft class is ultra-deep all along the defensive line. If the QB plan doesn’t work out, this is likely the position Miami targets in round-one.

Whichever of the six coaches gets the gig, it’s a busy off-season ahead for [enter coach’s name here] and Chris Grier. Another year of significant roster turnover means fans will have to get to know a lot of new names, but it doesn’t mean the team has to bottom out.

The attraction of the bottom-out, the “tank” if you will, is the illustrious glimpse of the 2020 NFL Draft class at quarterback.

Perhaps, for the first time in a long time, Miami are in a win-win situation.

@WingfieldNFL

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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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