Let the Dolphins tank in peace; it’s long overdue for a franchise perpetually stuck in the middle

Leave the Miami Dolphins alone.

Let them be. Let this breathe. Give them a little space, if you don’t mind.

Whatever grand experiment that franchise is conducting – assuming, they are in fact, going through a drastically-needed metamorphosis after decades of being decidedly middling – is going to take time to manifest any results. And by time, I mean years. Plural. It’s not going to be a process that will always appear linear and, if done correctly, it’s going to involve being willing to absorb some particularly lean seasons. But it is desperately needed to break the six-to-nine-win vortex of mediocrity this team has been locked in for as long as I can remember, and it is going to require some significant losses if the Dolphins are to truly be positioned to be more than an occasional threat to secure a wild-card berth.

So whatever it is that GM Chris Grier – now in full control of the roster after being handcuffed by years where cap guy Mike Tannenbaum controlled the spending (and therefore the roster) – and rookie head coach Brian Flores are up to in South Florida, I suggest we take a step back for a bit before obsessing over each and every transaction, particularly because there should be a certain transitory, temporary nature to this 2019 roster.

Personally, I am going to give the Fins a mulligan for this season. Of course, that’s easy for me to do, as I have no skin in the game and don’t pay for their product and have no rooting interest. But I’d urge even Fins fans to do the same. Try to look at this as owner Stephen Ross finally, truly, hitting the reboot button on this perpetually-pedestrian franchise, and after years of doing things in fits and starts, finally accepting a rebuild. In which case, this offseason should be more about departures than additions and getting the team in line to feast on the 2020 and 2021 drafts and taking a longview with every decision that comes along.

Because if you take a step back, you’ll see this is the only way to go. And whether or not it works as well as the 76ers’ “Trust The Process” rebuild seems to be, or as the Browns‘ turnaround is expected to be, obviously, remains to be seen. But the road of continuing to win too many games to pick high enough (in the draft and waivers) while continuing to lose too many games to be anything close to an actual contender is a path to nowhere, and it’s time for the Dolphins to subscribe to one way of thinking for three years in a row, rather than meandering through each offseason as if it was totally disconnected from the previous two and the following three.

Neither good enough nor bad enough

Here is who the Dolphins are: 

In the last 15 seasons, since the demise of the Dave Wannstedt era in 2004, the Dolphins have one season of more than 10 wins and one division title. But they also have won less than six games only twice in that span (four wins in 2004 and one win in 2007), and in the last 10 years they have finished either second or third in the AFC East nine times. Not good enough; not bad enough.

The Dolphins last won a playoff game on Dec. 30, 2000 (back when there were five teams in their division!), knocking off a 23-year-old Peyton Manning and the Colts, 23-17, with starting QB Jay Fiedler going 19-for-34 for 185 yards with one TD and three picks, for a horrid rating of 44.4. Kinda sums up the Dolphins football experience since the millennium – even when it’s as good as it’s going to get, it’s hard to swallow without wincing.

The Dolphins leading passers, on a yearly basis, since Dan Marino bid them goodbye after the 1999 season: Jay Fiedler, Fiedler, Fiedler, Fiedler, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemmon, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, Henne, Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill, Tannehill, Tannehill, Tannehill, Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Tannehill, projected 2019 leader Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Totally unscientific suggestion to the Dolphins analytics guys – don’t let them draft a QB whose first name is Jay, or starts with the letter J, or includes a J in it, or is named Ryan, for that matter. And no more Chads, hanging or otherwise, in Miami, please).

How uninspiring a list is that?

You want to talk about a roadmap to mediocrity, at best, in a quarterback-driven league, there it is. Since Marino left they got one quality season out of Pennington before his arm gave out. The only two QBs to be the starter more than two years in a row in that span have a career quarterback rating of 87 (Tannehill) and 77 (Fiedler). The decision to pass on Drew Brees for medical reasons is well known by now, but the sad fact is that’s the only time this franchise has even come close to solving its quarterback riddle since Marino hung up his pads as the most prolific passer in this history of the game.

It’s been a QB wasteland. And that obviously has to change. And so if it takes one season of “We’re The Pits, With Fitz!” to get in position to land Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert at the 2020 draft, at this point, who cares? At least they have finally escaped the Tannehill experiment after over-drafting the converted receiver in the first place, and are clearly back with a Band-Aid starter on the cheap as they prepare for brighter days sometime in the 2020s.

Which only makes sense when you examine where they are drafting (13th overall), again in what normally amounts to no man’s land when it comes to QBs. Not high enough to land one of the top two quarterbacks without making a major leap up (and with Kyler Murray considered a lock for the first overall pick), Miami would perhaps have to move up all the way to third overall to get Dwayne Haskins. This is not a new phenomenon.

Since 2000, here is where the Dolphins have picked in the first round (three years they did not have a selection in that round): 26th, 19th, 2nd, 16th, 9th, 1st, 25th, 28th, 15th, 8th, 3rd, 19th, 14th, 13th, 22nd, 11th. They have had back-to-back top 10 picks just twice in that span, turning it into Ted Ginn, Jr. and Jake Long in 2007-2008, and then Tannehill and Dion Jordan in 2012-13.

How Dolphins can become interesting

If they do this thing correctly, they’ll be back drafting in the top 10 in 2020 and 2021, and perhaps ready to surpass the Patriots if/when Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are gone. But that’s what it’s going to take. Anything less than that commitment and they’ll be right back where they are again. And right now, that’s not a pretty place to be.

The Dolphins entered the league year with one of the worst cap situations, and now, in 2019, two of their top three cap hits will come for players no longer there – Tannehill ($18.4M) and Ndamukong Suh ($13.1M). They are carrying Robert Quinn at $13M in cap, and he should be trade fodder if possible now or in-season – and after that the Dolphins’ 2020 roster and cap are essentially a blank slate. Move on from Quinn and Reshad Jones by then, add a QB on a cheap rookie contract next spring and stockpile picks as much as possible.

I like them keeping DeVante Parker around on a team-friendly deal if he ever can stay healthy. Extend Laremy Tunsill ASAP, and otherwise take a few chances on other team’s recent drafts busts who are still on their rookie contracts, but largely save the $ and take as many Ls as you can.

With any luck, there will be many more than 12 of them ahead in the 2019 season. Which would make the Miami Dolphins a whole lot more interesting precisely a year from now, and a whole lot closer to potentially being an actual playoff factor for the first time in a generation.

Categories: National Sports

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