For Dolphins, it’s wait till next year
Draft-pick haul possible sign struggling franchise retooling for ’20 season
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.
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.
Could Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (top) or Oregon’s Justin Herbert end up in Miami?