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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 Week 9 Monday Morning Thoughts

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa has IT.

Brian Flores is THE guy.

And I have to admit, Chris Grier has done a phenomenal job.

After an exciting 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals (5-3), the Miami Dolphins (5-3) solidified themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the AFC. Sure, you can say we’re getting a bit cocky – we’ve watched our team falter plenty of times before. But do you get the sense that these are the same Dolphins we’ve been watching this century?

Right now, are you skeptical or optimistic?

Do you have butterflies because you’re nervous or because you’re excited?

Do you think the Dolphins are trying to survive each game or do you have confidence that they’ll win?

Coming off of 4-straight victories, it’s easy to feel like we’re on top of the world, but this team looks different. It feels different. They act different.

Below are a few thoughts following Miami’s promising 34-31 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Monday Morning Thoughts

Tua Tagovailoa is the franchise quarterback we’ve been waiting for

Admit it, when they originally ruled that throwaway an interception, you saw shades of every failed quarterback to come since Dan Marino.

That play was so comically bad that it easily could have defined Tua’s career if it didn’t pan out. Thankfully, it was ruled that the receiver’s foot was out-of-bounds and it was an incomplete pass – but imagine the memes that would have been unleashed if Miami lost this game and that play counted.

But, it didn’t count….and the Dolphins didn’t lose….and Tua Tagovailoa out-dueled Kyler Murray when it mattered most.

When the Dolphins needed a game-winning drive, Tua delivered. When Kyler Murray had an opportunity to tie it, he didn’t (along with an obscure Zane Gonzalez kick).

Tua’s elite pocket presence, accuracy, decision-making, and ball placement were all on display. And none of that accounts for the plays he made with his legs.

If you’re a Dolphins fan, you’re thrilled with what you saw. And though it’s only a small sample size, I think we can all exhale – he looks like he’s the guy.

Byron Jones is still a damn good Cornerback

After three-straight dominant performances, Byron Jones was a bit humbled this game. We’re so used to watching him shut down opposing receivers that a game like this really sticks out.

He was absolutely burned by Christian Kirk on a beautiful deep ball from Kyler Murray late in the first quarter, but that wasn’t his worse play.

Dolphins fans and Byron Jones both thought he hauled in his first interception since October, 2017. Instead, Darrell Daniels’ first career touchdown reception is one of the highlights of the year as he snatches the ball right out of Jones’ hands.

I mean, Byron Jones had that ball in his hands for an interception, and before they hit the ground Darrell Daniels steals it into his possession. AND somehow had his knee down so it would count as a catch. Crazy.

Miami’s (really, it’s Brian Flores’) now infamous “zero” boom-or-bust scheme is susceptible to the long-ball, as our corners are expected to cover their receivers 1-on-1; with no safety help behind them. So far this season, it has worked tremendously to their advantage (as seen below)

But, if your coverage isn’t on par, this will happen:

With all of that said, Byron Jones is still a great cornerback in this league. Was this a bad game? Definitely. But I don’t expect this to become a trend. Lets not take for granted the elite secondary we currently have.

Christian Wilkins should NOT stop celebrating

Just please celebrate responsibly.

One of the reasons Dolphins fans adore Christian Wilkins is because of his infectious personality. He’s notoriously running in and celebrating every offensive touchdown with his team. His trash talking is innocently intimidating. The way he pumps his team up is perfect for any locker room culture. On top of the fact that he’s a pretty good defensive tackle.

Which is why I want him to keep celebrating – and I want him to continue celebrating excessively.

Preston Williams‘ unfortunate injury during a touchdown celebration is a huge reason why professional coaches like to contain their million-dollar players. Not just on the field, but off the field as well. It makes sense, they’re valuable commodities, but Wilkins’ spirit is too valuable to douse.

If something like this happens again, then we can talk about stifling his excitement, until then….celebrate smarter.

Xavien Howard’s “penalties” tell half the story

Xavien Howard was tasked with shadowing DeAndre Hopkins, and he ended up accounting for more penalty yards (43) than receiving yards against him (30).

The real testament to Howard’s coverage throughout the game? DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, didn’t see a single target in the first half of the game.

A couple (terrible) penalties shouldn’t overshadow the fact that Xavien Howard and Byron Jones may be the best cornerback tandem in the league.

The Miami Dolphins need a Running Back in the worst way

Jordan Howard‘s 8-yard run on the last drive of the game – which helped seal the victory – was his biggest play as a Miami Dolphin. Up to that point, I was kind of rooting for Howard to continue his 1 YPC average. If you take away that 8-yard run (EASILY his longest of the year), Howard has gained 25 rushing yards on 27 rushing attempts (0.93 YPC).

Rookie Salvon Ahmed had a solid game, with 7 carries for 38 yards (5.4 YPC). I’m not sure how reliable he is, but he can’t be worse than Howard. If Matt Breida is available for next week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers, I’m sure Howard will once again be inactive, giving Ahmed another shot to prove himself.

We probably should have given Austin Jackson the week off

Austin Jackson returned to the lineup for the first time in 4 weeks (due to a foot injury) and was “ok”. He was beat on a few plays, but it’s evident he wasn’t 100%. I wouldn’t make any presumptions based off of this game; if anything, the reps help from an experience/mental perspective.

Jason Sanders is a stud

Jason Sanders connecting on 56 and 50-yard field goals are that much more impressive when you take into account that weird Zane Gonzalez miss (where he was short from 49 yards).

The conspiracy floating around is that the ball died (on Gonzalez’s kick) because the roof was open. Yet, Sanders made his 50+ yard field goals with room to spare.

Today’s the day we will never take Jason Sanders for granted as he surpassed Olindo Mare‘s franchise record of 19-straight field goals made.

The Miami Dolphins are going to “have to” extend Emmanuel Ogbah

I think we all would love to see a contract extension, but it’s bordering on a “necessity” at this point. Not just because we want to lock up a top-notch defensive end, but because he’s going to (rightfully) demand more financial security.

Though it always felt like he was on a one-year deal, this is technically the first year of a 2-year, $15m contract for Emmanuel Ogbah, but there’s no guaranteed money tied to 2021 – and there’s no way he’s playing like a $7.5m defensive end.

Jordan Phillips averages $10m a year with his recent contract, and I think it’s fair to say that Ogbah is worth more than that. Expect a holdout if the Dolphins don’t give him a raise and an extension this offseason. That’s not to say we should be concerned – I think Miami will look to make this extension a priority – but if they don’t see eye-to-eye expect a holdout to occur.

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Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins – A Tale of Two Franchises

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Football is a team sport.

Wins don’t individually define a quarterback’s success.

Yet everyone agrees that the only way to win in the NFL is to have a quarterback that is better than (just about) every other franchise in the sport.

Once you have an upper-echelon quarterback, then you can talk about the nuances of creating a team. Whether it’s surrounding that quarterback with the proper talent, ensuring you’ve built the right scheme around them, or complimenting them with a staunch defense to complete a championship run, developing an entire roster means nothing if you don’t have a quarterback that can lead you to the playoffs.

38 years ago, the Miami Dolphins selected a quarterback that would revolutionize the NFL.

A man decades before his time, the immediate success Dan Marino brought us – after 13 championship-caliber years with Bob Griese – shielded us from the horrors of football purgatory. Maybe it’s this curse of #13 that has us clamoring for football relevance after almost 50 years without a Super Bowl Championship.

We watched our franchise devolve from the model of perfection to a team without an identity; floundering desperately to find a viable quarterback for two decades.

And with one swift decision, the Dolphins simultaneously expunged their football idiocy of years past and exhibited the type of football prowess that should lead them to salvation.

Image Credit: South Florida Sun Sentinel

As we’re destroying the team for wasting 2nd & 5th-round picks on Josh Rosen, we’re praising them for building the foundation for future success. Gone are these false prophets of yesteryear, as the real prodigy we’ve all been yearning for is one step closer to leading the helm.

Once Tua Tagovailoa was selected 5th-overall in the 2020 NFL draft, Rosen’s exile was cemented. He was never going to have an opportunity to make it here, it was always going to be Tua Tagovailoa backing up Ryan Fitzpatrick. The grizzly, 13-year veteran handles the nuances of a young football team while the young, energetic and extremely talented rookie spends valuable time learning and developing.

That move…that single transaction…will forever symbolize the moment the Miami Dolphins transitioned from football purgatory to football relevance.

The Purgatory We Built

No one remembers the cost of a successful trade.

Off the top of your head, what did the New York Giants trade to swap Philip Rivers for Eli Manning? How much did Carson Wentz cost the Philadelphia Eagles when they traded up for him? I bet you all remember the litany of picks the Washington Football Team paid for Robert Griffin III, or how badly the Chicago Bears missed on Mitch Trubisky when they gave up a bunch of picks to move up from #3 to #2.

It’s because mistakes are always magnified for franchises that fail. As a fan base, we’ve been groomed to remember all the negative aspects of our favorite football team, because that’s all we’ve known for the better half of our adult lives.

After trudging through this wasteland for so long, we are finally ready to move past all of the detrimental mistakes that have cost us 20+ years of our lives – including the Josh Rosen trade.

Sure, you have your classics like failing to draft (and then sign) Drew Brees, drafting Ronnie Brown over Aaron Rodgers with the 2nd-overall pick, drafting Jake Long over Matt Ryan with the 1st-overall pick, and trading a 2nd-round pick for A.J. Feeley.

It’s not that the Dolphins haven’t tried, it’s just that they have failed almost mightily when doing so.

I respect that Miami was aggressive in their pursuit of Josh Rosen – or for any of the other quarterbacks they’ve attempted to put under center – but their aggression was either misguided, ill-informed, or even desperate at best.

A year prior to Rosen’s draft-day trade, another draft-day trade was occurring – one that would transcend the Baltimore Ravens organization for the prolonged future. With the 32nd pick in the draft, the Ravens selected Lamar Jackson – a quarterback some Dolphins fans wanted with the team’s 11th-overall pick.

To move back into the first round and secure a quarterback with the 5th-year option, all Baltimore had to give up was an additional 2nd-round pick (see the full trade at the end of the article).

With their draft-day trade, the Baltimore Ravens landed an MVP.
With their draft-day trade, the Miami Dolphins landed a quarterback that was released for nothing.

Again, I don’t fault the Dolphins for being aggressive, but their pursuit was often awry.

The frustrating part of all of this may be that this team actually “spent” both in assets and money, they just didn’t seem to take that extra step at the right time.

Spending 2nd-round picks was fine 3 years in a row (with Chad Henne, John Beck and Pat White), but spending 2nd-round picks then became “too much” when they could have moved up in the 2017 draft to select Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson – instead, they stayed put at #22 and drafted Charles Harris.

Think about it, Miami’s best quarterbacks since Dan Marino were:

  • Castaway by the New York Jets (and subsequently got his shoulder destroyed like everyone predicted)
  • (Allegedly) Forced upon us by Stephen Ross because he knew what a new quarterback would inject into a flat-lining brand (ie: making $$)

Between Chad Pennington and Ryan Tannehill there is 1 playoff appearance and 0 playoff wins.

There are definitive reasons why the Dolphins are executing a rebuild in 2019-2020 – after attempting to rebuild numerous times already this century – and you can say that lots of it has to do with the Head Coaches that have been in place.

Watching Ryan Tannehill lead the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship came was the most-conflicted I’ve felt in a long time as a Dolphins fan. I was thrilled he was able to prove himself, but frustrated that my team was once again watching from the couch.

Heck, for all the praise we give Brian Flores, he couldn’t get Minkah Fitzpatrick to buy into his system – ultimately losing a near-Defensive MVP player to an organization that has been breathing success since the Dolphins’ perfect 1972 season.

Miami hasn’t lacked talent – it’s why they’re constantly hovering around 8-8. The problem is, they lack the most important piece on the football field combined with the right leader to mold them. Which explains why they constantly sit around 8-8.

The Future We Created

But thoughts of perpetual 8-8 seasons are a thing of the past. The Dolphins may have drafted their future franchise quarterback back in April, but they officially rolled out their #1 prize just a few days ago. Coincidentally, just 3 days after Rosen was released.

The timing is likely coincidental, but who says omens have to be a bad thing?

This Dolphins team is young (thanks to Chris Grier), determined (courtesy of Brian Flores’ mindset), talented (after accumulating so many draft picks) and they’re wise beyond their years.

With a bounty of draft picks at their disposal once again in 2021, and with a franchise quarterback seemingly set to take over by season’s end, the future for the Miami Dolphins looks EXTREMELY bright.

After most “experts” predicted the Dolphins would go nearly winless – some even calling for criminal investigations to be conducted – Flores showed off his leadership and led Miami to a 5-11 record.

If the worst roster in the NFL can win 5 games, what can an improved roster accomplish?

Last year, there were too many holes on the roster to count. Now, you’re desperate to find a missing piece. In 12 months, we’ve gone from cringe-worthy to dynasty-bound in some expert’s eyes.

So have the Dolphins finally returned to football relevance?

If this team really identified the right Head Coach, and if Tua’s hip can stay healthy, then there’s no reason why the Miami Dolphins aren’t about to embark on a successful crusade that takes the rest of the NFL by storm.

Earlier this year, we lost one of the greatest leaders to ever bless our organization. In honor of the all-time wins leader, the Miami Dolphins will wear a patch signifying Don Shula’s record-setting 347 career wins.

And who knows, maybe this renaissance is Shula’s last gift to an organization – and a community – that he spent his life already giving so much to. The symbolism would be all-too coincidental otherwise.

The Baltimore Ravens/Lamar Jackson Trade:

Yes, I understand every other team passed on Jackson. I also understand the Ravens passed on him once when they selected Hayden Hurst with the 25th-overall pick that year, but Baltimore has built a championship-caliber organization over the past two decades, while the Dolphins have accomplished one playoff win – I think they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt here.

The Lamar Jackson trade can be broken down like this:

  • Baltimore traded pick 52 (2nd-round) to move up to 32nd-overall (1st)
  • Baltimore also sent Philadelphia pick 125 in the deal, but they received pick 132 in return – a downgrade of 7 spots in the 4th-round.
  • Otherwise, all Baltimore spent was a 2nd-round pick in 2019 (which ended up being pick #53).

Full trade:

Eagles Receive Picks: 52 (2nd), 125 (4th) and pick 53 (2nd) in the 2019 draft
Ravens Receive Picks: 32 (1st) and 132 (4th)

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Miami Dolphins

There’s A Fine Line Between Being A Genius & Being Dumb in the NFL

Jason Hrina

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Image Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Think Brian Flores & Chris Grier aren’t smart?

After successfully navigating through all of the pre-draft smokescreens better than teenagers can survive the high school rumor mill, the Miami Dolphins are in a position to flourish for the next decade.

Yes, it’s something we’ve said before almost annually, but this time, there’s a clear foundation that will allow the roots of this franchise to prosper.

We’ve Heard This Before

Tony Sparano blossomed under the Bill Parcells‘ coaching tree in Dallas, bringing with him an aura of prominence and a pedigree for smash mouth football.

After a miraculous 10-game turnaround that took Miami from #1 overall in the draft to division winners, fans felt they had the proper leadership in place.

That was soon debunked when the Dolphins followed an 11-5 (2008) season with 7-9 (2009), 7-9 (2010) and 6-10 (2011). It’s not that any of us feel that Sparano was a bad coach, but it was more-than-evident that he was handicapped at the quarterback position.

The Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 because their quarterback was the runner-up in the MVP race, and they falter to 7-9 after that because they decided to build around Chad Henne.

Good coach, but poor coaching decisions.

From there, the Dolphins hired one of the best human beings on the planet – Joe Philbin. The notorious problem with Philbin was: he couldn’t lead a football team.

Failing to rein in Vontae Davis‘ hangovers, everything regarding Richie Incognito, the Chad Ochocinco saga (check out this damning ESPN article from 2012, which gives you a glimpse into how the player’s felt about Philbin early on), and all of the Mike Wallace drama. Those football teams had some decent talent, yet were never better than a mediocre 8-8 in Philbin’s 4 years.

Great person, but terrible with people.

Adam Gase then took a 1-4 season and made the playoffs at 10-6. All the optimism surrounding Ryan Tannehill seemed justified, and we were ecstatic for the future. But we came to learn that Gase’s coaching talents resembled more of a glorified offensive coordinator, which left players feelings ostracized and without a sense of direction – especially those on defense.

Like Philbin, Gase wanted a group of players that followed him, rather than developing a strategy that tailored to his players’ strengths. He traded away (or failed to re-sign) productive players drafted by Grier in years past, just because he couldn’t handle them.

After a 10-6 start to his coaching career (2016), we watched our hopes dwindle to 6-10 (2017) – accompanied with $10m worth of embarrassing Jay Cutler highlights – and then 7-9 (2018) after the “quarterback guru” couldn’t get any production out of a 2019 Pro Bowl & AFC Championship quarterback in Ryan Tannehill.

Offensive visionary, but he couldn’t see past his own shortcomings.

So Why is This Different?

This would be the definition of insanity….if it meant that we were following the same trend.

Yes, we understand the eternal caveat that we won’t know for sure until we see the results, but after a successful 2019 – and a stellar 2020 draft that features plenty of starting potential – we’re not going too far out on a limb to say that they have our trust.

Going into a vital 2020 NFL draft where the team held 3 first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins’ future rested solely on the leis of Tua Tagovailoa. For months we were on edge, because, as Dolphins fans, we just figured they would screw it up. But once they secured their quarterback of the future, the plan was simple: protect him.

Not only was the plan to build a wall in front of him, but Grier and Flores identified that some of these positions take more time to develop than others. Rarely do offensive and defensive linemen jump right in and become dominant players. The difference between pancaking teenagers in college to moving a mountain-of-a-man in the NFL is colossal.

Rookies go through such a strenuous process to improve their draft stock – immediately after completing a full college season – that they are burned out by the time their rookie year is over. That’s exactly what happened to Michael Deiter towards the end of last season; it’s no surprise we see their performance start to slide after putting in so much work throughout the year.

Drafting Austin Jackson (18th-overall pick), Robert Hunt (39th), and Solomon Kindley (111th) means Miami is giving their rookies time to grow before being asked to protect their most-important asset since Dan Marino.

Instead of a trying to learn the nuances of the NFL with a rookie quarterback, they can learn how an offensive play is properly setup, executed and audibled under a veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick.

When it comes time to protect Tua Tagovailoa in 2021, they won’t have to worry if they understood the protection, if they’ll make a rookie mistake, or if they’ll naively and unintentionally do something embarrassing or costly. They’ll be able to focus on executing the play properly, giving Tua an ample amount of time to handle his own “rookie” adjustments.

With Raekwon Davis, the Dolphins acquire another player at a position that tends to need some time to grow. This move makes me wonder what the future holds for Davon Godchaux, who is expected to receive a very nice payday in free agency after this season, but for now, Miami can rely heavily on Godchaux and their 2019 1st-round pick, Christian Wilkins. Davis has the opportunity to learn under these two as he prepares to take on a much bigger role in 2021.

With their final 1st-round pick, Miami selected another young player at a cornerstone position. The adjustments rookie cornerbacks need to make when guarding an NFL receiver are somewhat substantial, and Noah Igbinoghene will be able to learn and make these adjustments while covering the opponent’s third or forth receiver – with the added security that he has an array of established and Pro Bowl veterans behind him.

This might hint at an ugly and somewhat inconsistent 2020 season, as roughly half of this roster is new to the team, but all of these young players will start to excel as Tua begins to transition into our full-time starting quarterback.

Which means the Miami Dolphins are ready to make a legitimate playoff run in 2021.

Is it possible all of these risks falter? Of course! Austin Jackson just turned 21 years old, and he wasn’t viewed as the best left tackle in college last season – he is a projection. Noah Igbinoghene wasn’t viewed as a 1st-round caliber cornerback, as most “experts” think he’s restricted to covering the slot rather than becoming a boundary corner. And then you have the general, inevitable fact that some of these picks just won’t pan out.

But we watched players like Mike Gesicki, DeVante Parker, Raekwon McMillan, Vince Biegel and Nik Needham take the “next step” under Brian Flores stewardship. It only makes us wonder who he’ll coach up next.

Now that Flores is more-comfortable as a sophomore coach, and the team understands his “win no matter what” philosophy, Miami should naturally thrive in year two….right?

Like all of these other coaches before him, Flores is an absolute genius after year one. And like all those coaches before him, he’s one season away from looking like a dunce.

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