The Miami Dolphins have been the NFL’s model for mediocrity over the last decade. At long last, they’ve decided to either sink or swim.
Christian Wilkins will be a veteran. Xavien Howard will be hitting 30. Laremy Tunsil will be into his second contract.
By the time we all know whether or not the Miami Dolphins hitting the hard reset will have worked or not, the NFL will be a few years older. It’s going to take time. But from this perspective, with the entire future unclear due to unselected draft picks and unspent cap money, it certainly seems like a venture worth making.
If the Labor Day weekend took you off the grid (good for you!) and away from the buzz of NFL news and roster cuts, you missed the final gutting of the Dolphins roster. You already knew good and well that Brian Flores and company were tanking for Tua (or is that Hurting for Herbert) in 2019 given the state of the roster, but no one expected them to make it this obvious.
Yet it’s also true that the Dolphins themselves didn’t believe they would deplete the talent on the roster this much. They only traded left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a likely Pro Bowler-to-be who is only 25, because the return was too great to ignore. When the Houston Texans called and offered two first round picks and a second along with other big parts, Tunsil was good as gone. A team already headed for last salivates over such an offering.
Through it all, the Dolphins have been chastised for being so Astro-ically obvious in their bottoming out. Others have praised them for fleecing the Texans in the deal. Either way is fine, but they’re all short-term judgment calls that pale in the face of what the Dolphins have become over the long-term: the NFL’s very model of mediocrity.
A Below Average Decade
Imagine rolling a 16-sided die (just go with it) 10 straight times and coming up with the following numbers: 7, 7, 6, 7, 8, 8, 6, 10, 6, 7. You would think the die was loaded. You might even toss it and ask for a new one. You’d have good reason for doing so.
Those aforementioned numbers are the win totals for the Miami Dolphins over the last decade in the NFL. From Tony Sparano to Joe Philbin to Adam Gase, the results were largely the same no matter the talent and no matter the head coach. What’s amazing is in the two years before that, the Dolphins won 1 game and then 11 games. Then came the 2009 season and suddenly the franchise went on autopilot with its course set for “Below Average.”
Life is tough behind the New England Patriots. Just ask the rest of the AFC East. Yet at least the others in the division—your Jets and your Bills—hit rock bottom enough to start over every now and then. At the very least, even if they end up busts in the end, the potential for a boom was in view for a while. In Miami, it’s a perennial choice picking at 10 or 13 or wherever the teams that bore you to death end up. A slow 16 game march toward another 7-win season. Go Fins!
Going for Broke, Even If It’s Broken
If I was a Miami Dolphins fan, I would be ecstatic with each move that brought further flexibility for the future. While losing Tunsil hurts both in the present and the future, the return was simply too great to turn it down. Now the Dolphins truly own their destiny. If they can get the front office right, and if those execs can mind meld with the coaching staff, some truly special things can happen again in South Florida.
The Dolphins have only a single playoff appearance in the last 10 years, and that’s only because Adam Gase was handed a ridiculously easy schedule in his first year as head coach. Even then it was a 10-win showing in second place that resulted in a quick wild-card loss—as if the powers-that-be didn’t realize the Dolphins had drifted from their annual 6-to-9 win allotment.
This season now becomes one of evaluation. Who is a part of the future and who is not? The Dolphins have 16 games to test their own players while consistently importing new faces to try out for the next four months. From there, the offseason will allow them to build a foundation with two picks in every round but the 5th and more cap room than they will even be able to spend. In 2021, the draft is just as rich with two picks in each of the first two rounds plus their own selections in each corresponding round.
In total, that’s 11 picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. Those are impact picks. Those are immediate contributors and hopefully starters. Those provide the Dolphins with very, very affordable impact talent to go with whoever they want to overpay in free agency to round out their roster.
Teams have bungled this process in the past. The Cleveland Browns have been “in control of their destiny” numerous times over the years with nothing to show for it (until John Dorsey arrived). The Oakland Raiders traded Khalil Mack and the jury’s still out as to whether or not the team is a basement-dwelling sideshow or slowly turning the corner toward contention. However at least these franchise are going somewhere—moving in one direction or another—versus being so obviously mired in the mud of mediocrity.
It’s time for the Dolphins to move somewhere, even if it’s further south than they already are, for the sake of being able to rise up in a division that will soon (likely) be without Tom Brady at the top. At the very least, after such a drawn-out decade, it’s worth a shot at something different.