For Dol­phins, it’s wait till next year

Draft-pick haul pos­si­ble sign strug­gling franchise re­tool­ing for ’20 sea­son

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Maske

The Dol­phins aren’t on the clock. Not yet, at least. It just feels that way.

The Dol­phins put their re­build­ing project on fast-for­ward Satur­day. Their trade of left tackle Laremy Tun­sil and wide re­ceiver Kenny Stills to the Tex­ans for a king’s ran­som of draft picks, in­clud­ing two first-rounders and a sec­on­drounder, sig­naled that they have all but sur­ren­dered on a 2019 sea­son that wasn’t go­ing to be very good for them, any­way, and are all-in on re­tool­ing for 2020 and be­yond.

Tank­ing? Per­haps. But that’s such a loaded term that sug­gests that no one in the or­ga­ni­za­tion is try­ing to win games. Brian Flores, the first-year head coach of the Dol­phins, and those play­ers left on the ros­ter un­doubt­edly will do all they can to win as many games as they can this sea­son. Those wins and losses go on Flores’s head coach­ing re­sume, af­ter all, and play­ers will be play­ing for jobs. They just aren’t likely to be very suc­cess­ful at it.

Be kinder and call this a pru­dent re­al­lo­ca­tion of as­sets by GM Chris Grier.

The Dol­phins could have kept Tun­sil, one of the game’s bet­ter young left tack­les, and re­warded him with the sort of hefty new con­tract that he un­doubt­edly will re­ceive, post-trade, from the Tex­ans. They could have re­tained Stills and paid him the nearly $8 mil­lion due to him this sea­son un­der his con­tract.

But they still would have lacked a franchise quar­ter­back, with Ryan Fitz­patrick set to open the sea­son as their starter backed up by Josh Rosen, the former top-10 draft choice dis­carded af­ter one sea­son by the Car­di­nals when that team opted for Kyler Murray, this year’s top over­all se­lec­tion. And the Dol­phins still wouldn’t have been very good, stuck in the same cy­cle of dis­ap­point­ment that has seen them post one win­ning sea­son in the past 10 years. Yet in that 10-year cy­cle, the Dol­phins never were bad enough to be truly com­mit­ted to re­build­ing. Of those nine non­win­ning sea­sons, they went 8-8 twice, 7-9 four times (in­clud­ing last sea­son un­der Flores’s pre­de­ces­sor, new Jets Coach Adam Gase) and 6-10 three times. Throw in one 10-6 sea­son in 2016 (with a first-round play­off exit), and the Dol­phins have had be­tween six and 10 vic­to­ries in 10 straight sea­sons.

Never truly good, never truly dread­ful. They drafted quar­ter­back Ryan Tan­nehill in 2012 and watched him be good enough to keep his job and land a $96 mil­lion con­tract, but not good enough to re­turn the Dol­phins to NFL rel­e­vance. The once-great franchise last had a play­off vic­tory in late De­cem­ber of 2000.

Now the Dol­phins have bro­ken out of that cy­cle of medi­ocrity in a big way.

They traded Tan­nehill to the Ti­tans in the off­sea­son. Now they’ve traded Tun­sil and Stills. Fitz­patrick won’t have a stand­out left tackle or a re­ceiv­ing corps that puts any op­pos­ing de­fense on no­tice. If Flores, hired off Bill Belichick’s staff af­ter most re­cently serv­ing as the Pa­tri­ots’ de facto de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, gets this group to six vic­to­ries, he should re­ceive coach of the year con­sid­er­a­tion.

“We’re go­ing to keep build­ing it from day one,” Grier told re­porters at the an­nual league meet­ing in March, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­ami Her­ald. “We made the change. We talked about build­ing the foun­da­tion and build­ing it up the right way. So that’s all it is. There’s no tank­ing.”

Call it what you want. The Dol­phins now have four first-round picks and four sec­ond-round se­lec­tions over the next two NFL drafts. They should be able to get the quar­ter­back of their choos­ing, per­haps Alabama’s Tua Tago­v­ailoa or Ore­gon’s Justin Herbert, in next year’s NFL draft. If the Dol­phins aren’t bad enough to pos­sess the No. 1 over­all choice them­selves, they will have plenty in the way of draft-pick re­sources to trade up.

The Dol­phins also are ex­pected to have an es­ti­mated $100 mil­lion in salary cap space for the 2020 sea­son. The ros­ter must be re­built. Grier will have plenty with which to work.

Break­ing free from the cy­cle of medi­ocrity and be­ing hon­est-to-goodness bad this sea­son won’t hurt, not in the long run.

JOE CAVARETTA/SUN SEN­TINEL

New coach Brian Flores leads a Dol­phins team that is com­ing off back-to-back los­ing campaigns since mak­ing the play­offs in 2016. They open this sea­son against the Ravens.

PHO­TOS BY GETTY

Could Alabama QB Tua Tago­v­ailoa (top) or Ore­gon’s Justin Herbert end up in Mi­ami?

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