The Ryan Tannehill era is officially over for the Miami Dolphins franchise. While Adam Gase was originally brought in to save Tannehill’s career in South Beach, the new-found Jets head coach was ultimately fired due to his inability to proficiently manage the team and get the most out of Ryan when he was healthy. It was time to move on from the recurring 7-9 seasons and make a big splash with their coaching hire, and general manager Chris Grier wanted a tough-minded and intelligent leader to take over. After years of mediocrity and false-hope, the new coaching regime in Miami decided it was time to blow the roster up. Call it rebuilding, call it tanking, call it starting over, call it whatever you want to. In reality, the Miami Dolphins are building their roster to compete for championships several years down the road.
One could write an entire essay regarding the players and coaches that were let go by the Dolphins this off-season. Starting from the top, Adam Gase and his coaching staff were almost completely dismantled this year and running back’s coach Eric Studesville is one of a select few that were granted the opportunity to stick around for 2019. Aside from the entire coaching staff being let go, a huge number of players were released and traded including the big names like QB Ryan Tannehill (traded to Tennessee), RT Ju’Wuan James (signed with Denver), DE Robert Quinn (traded to Dallas) and of course the Dolphin’s pass-rushing specialist for the last decade DE Cameron Wake (signed with Tennessee). Furthermore, Miami parted ways with some other key contributors including RB Frank Gore, leading WR Danny Amendola, DE Andre Branch, OG Josh Sitton, and G/C Ted Larsen. A majority of the players who were released were older veterans on relatively high contracts, something the front office and new coaching staff wanted to eliminate from the start. The Dolphins lost more starting-caliber players than any other team in the NFL this year, and for good reason. It was time to start fresh and bring in cheaper, younger, hungrier players who would be able to not only help the team on the field but allow the franchise to spend their big dollars on home-grown products.
Starting with the coaching staff, the Dolphins added former New England Patriots “de-facto” defensive coordinator Brian Flores as their new head coach. Flores has worked his way up the coaching hierarchy, beginning as an assistant in the scouting department and finally becoming defensive coordinator after a decade and a half with the Patriots. Sure, he may not have called the plays, but Flores was largely responsible for shutting down the potent Ram’s offense led by Sean McVay in the Super Bowl last year, holding them to just 3 points. Flores brought along a new staff including former Patriots wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea, Patrick Graham to run the defense, Jim Caldwell to help the quarterbacks and Dave Deguglielmo to manage the offensive line. With limited cap space available and a long-term plan to build the roster through the draft, the Dolphins were possibly the quietest team in Free Agency this year. The Dolphins didn’t want to pay big bucks for a star player like Trey Flowers or Ezekiel Ansah so, instead, they spent their money on low-risk, high-reward guys like Erik Rowe and Dwayne Allen, two former Patriots that the coaching staff has experience with. They also signed TE Clive Walford, G/C Chris Reed and T Jordan Mills, and all three of these guys are currently on the bubble and are fighting for a spot on the 53 man roster. The Dolphins went all-in on the draft this year. Not only did they select 6 players, but they signed over 15 UDFAs (undrafted free agents) to the roster to compete for a spot and prove what they can do to help the team. Key rookie additions include DL Christian Wilkins, QB Josh Rosen (traded for a 2nd round pick) and G Michael Dieter. There are a few promising undrafted rookies including DE Jon Ledbetter and OLB Terrill Hanks, along with the pre-season star WR Preston Williams. Oh yeah, and they signed some old guy with a huge beard named Ryan Fitzpatrick too.
The Dolphins are projected to be the worst team in the NFL this year by almost every major media outlet. ESPN, NFL.com, The Score, Bleacher Report, and many other national media outlets have the Dolphins picking #1 overall next year, and there’s a good reason why. In a “rebuild”, one of the first things a team must address is the trenches. The offensive and defensive lines are where you build a tough, strong football team capable of winning it all. The Dolphins neglected their offensive line and it has shown in the pre-season. Losing right tackle Ju’Waun James will hurt more than most people expect, and the front office didn’t do much at all to replace him. In addition, they still have huge holes at both guard spots, and Daniel Kilgore at center is not exactly a confidence booster either. If the Dolphins really want to evaluate Josh Rosen and see if he can be their only franchise QB since Marino, they’re going to need to figure out a way to protect him first. While the coaching staff seems like a smart, capable group, there is a significant lack of talent on both sides of the ball to think that this team could win more than 5 games. Miami has a severe lack of pass-rushers in a scheme that relies heavily on pressuring the quarterback, not exactly a recipe for success. This team will look completely different this season with a new quarterback, a new head coach, a new scheme on both sides of the ball, and a drastic culture change that has rid the organization of stars in exchange for young, cheap players with a lot to prove.
Right off the bat, the Dolphins will win less than 6 games this year; no question about it. Their floor has to be 3 games because even in the NFL anything can happen on any given Sunday. The ceiling would be right around 6 games, and this team has enough decent players to surprise some people and scrap their way to a few unanticipated victories, but let’s not get carried away. Brian Flores and Chris Grier have publicly stated, on numerous occasions, that this team will not be “tanking,” or purposely trying to lose games to draft a quarterback at the number one spot. However, it is fairly obvious to anyone who follows the NFL that this is a team that isn’t necessarily keen on making playoffs and fighting for a Lombardi trophy this season. This year will be about evaluating the roster and it’s best players, and determining what pieces need to be added to form this group into a serious contender in the near future.
With that being said, the Dolphins schedule is middle of the pack in terms of difficulty. After the first quarter of the season, expect the Dolphins to be sitting pretty at 0-4. Name a more difficult schedule week 1 through 4, where Miami is set to face Baltimore, New England, Dallas, and the Los Angeles Chargers in that order. All four teams made the playoffs last year and all four teams will destroy the Dolphins. From then on, Miami’s most difficult games will come Week 8 against the Steelers, Week 10 against the Colts, Week 12 against the Browns, and Week 13 against the Eagles. Miami will lose every one of those games, probably by double digits. The AFC East is getting stronger and stronger by the minute, and though the Dolphins might be able to split the series with Buffalo or New York, the Patriots will have no trouble sweeping Miami this year.
For all those Phin’s fans out there, mark the calendars and save the dates for these 3 games, the ones where Miami has a legit chance at winning and might even be favored. Week 6 against the Redskins, Week 15 against the Giants and Week 16 against the Bengals. These 3 games are why the Dolphins floor is at 3 games, because though all these teams may have a more talented roster, the disparity is much closer than the rest of the teams Miami will face.
Expect Miami to finish 4-12 this year. Between the Jets and Bills both home and away, there has to be at least one victory. Take into account the Redskins, Giants, and Bengals and you have to think Miami could realistically finish winning four games this season.
The Miami Dolphins are not expected to win games this year. Yes, it’s true, their head coach said that they weren’t going to be purposely losing games this season but, other than trying to be competitive, there isn’t much else that this roster is capable of doing. This season should be titled “Evaluation Year” for Miami. Every single player will be scrutinized and corrected for every little mistake to see who has thick skin and who can improve and succeed in a difficult circumstance. Every player in the organization should be working their tails off because, in reality, many of them might not have the opportunity to come back next season. Rather than trying to win football games, Miami seems to be at the point where they are just trying to figure out who they can build this franchise around. There are some really promising young players on the roster including Laremy Tunsil, Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Kenyan Drake but, aside from those guys, it’s hard to imagine anyone on this team that is worth rebuilding around. There will be a whole lot of self-scouting in the Miami Dolphins organization this year, and this season will be more of a try-out than an actual attempt to be successful.