The Miami Dolphins won yesterday, a 16-12 upset victory over the playoff-hopeful Indianapolis Colts. It’s the second-straight victory for the Dolphins and the franchise’s first road win since September of 2018.
But if you were to head over to Twitter after the game, you wouldn’t see universal praise coming from Miami fans, as a large segment of the fanbase continues to bemoan each win.
The idea that the Dolphins are tanking the 2019 season has been part of the narrative since the summer, when Miami actively began the accumulation of draft assets and what they’ve described as a strategic roster reset.
While the team and coaching staff definitely said they weren’t “tanking,” both local and national media outlets have pushed that narrative.
So Dolphins fans were left with a Shakespeare-esque existential question, To Tank, or Not to Tank.
When Hamlet utters arguably the most famous line in all of English literature (“To be, or not to be” 3.1.55), he’s talking about death and suicide. For the Dolphins, the gutting of the roster and subsequent rebuild implied a football death, but this new coaching staff, lead by Brian Flores, has made it clear that a losing culture would be far worse than gaining the No. 1 overall draft choice.
“I’m so proud of this team,” said Flores after Sunday’s win. “We’re starting to come together.”
Miami continues to improve each week, and that’s a credit to the coaching staff. After a historically bad open to the season, the Dolphins have shown a competitive spirit that speaks to their effort and attention to detail.
Miami’s 49 penalties are the fewest among teams with at least nine games played (San Francisco has 47 penalties but still needs to play their Week 10 game). And they’ve held a lead at halftime in each of their last four games.
According to Travis Wingfield, of Locked On Dolphins, the defense has improved dramatically since the Bye week.
Dolphins defensive marks post-bye, and league rank.
Total: 326.2 – 8th
Passing: 203.8 – 5th
Rushing: 122.8 – 24th
Points: 21 – 13th
3rd down: 33% conversions allowed – 5th
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 11, 2019
Flores and his staff are doing this with a roster in constant flux considering trades, injuries and suspension. The Dolphins have rostered 17 undrafted free agents and 14 waiver claims. Some have said this roster looks more like a CFL or XFL grouping.
ESPN analyst and Hall-of-Fame quarterback Steve Young went so far as to say of the “tank”:
What the Miami Dolphins have done this year is put people’s at risk and it’s not right. You can’t be so irresponsible to people’s health.
Despite all that, the Dolphins have won their last two games, and will probably remain competitive for the rest of the season.
Are there still gaping holes on this roster? Yes, of course, with the quarterback and offensive line among the most glaring needs.
But if quarterback is the need, shouldn’t the team actively try to lose every game, considering the players most likely available to them in the draft?
I say no. I think at this point it’s more important to have a good (maybe great) coaching staff that can elevate talent, than to submarine any of those developmental efforts for a chance at maybe a franchise quarterback.
The NFL Draft is fraught with 1st-round QB busts. Since 2012, 24 quarterbacks have been selected in the first round and not a single one of them have won a Super Bowl.
The last first-round quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Joe Flacco in 2012 (18th selection in 2008). Of the 24 selected since 2012, only one has played in a Super Bowl (Jared Goff, No. 1 pick in 2016). Carson Wentz helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl in 2017, but he was lost to a knee injury in Week 14 that season.
So, despite the pedigree of quarterbacks like Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow, there’s no sure thing at the top of the draft, or even anywhere in the first round, when it comes to quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, No. 1 overall in 1998, is the last first-choice to win a Super Bowl.
Of the “franchise” quarterbacks people point to, not a single one of them (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, or Russell Wilson) was chosen No. 1, or even in the top-5.
And the reality is the Dolphins have struggled with finding a competent coach as much as with finding a franchise quarterback to replace Dan Marino (No. 27 pick in 1983).
Since Don Shula retired in 1995, the only coaches with winning records are Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt. Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, Tony Sparano, Joe Philbin, and Adam Gase were all under-.500 as Dolphins’ head coaches.
The question shouldn’t be why the Dolphins aren’t losing more. It should be, have they found a capable head coach?
Some would argue that Adam Gase seemed like that capable coach after his 10-6 rookie season at the helm, but that was ultimately a mirage. The team was undisciplined and quickly fell apart in wake of that initial success.
Tony Sparano’s first year saw the Dolphins go 11-5 in 2008 and win the AFC East, but they were led by savvy veteran QB Chad Pennington and aided by the Patriots, the perennial powerhouse, losing Tom Brady to injury. Miami regressed to 7-9 the next two seasons under Sparano.
What Flores is doing seems to show more staying power than the previous head coaches. And the proof is the development of a roster bereft of top-end talent.
What can Flores and his staff do with a roster that’s bound to have an infusion of talent via the draft and free agency this summer?
Miami is projected to have nearly $120 million in cap space in 2020, and that’s to go along with the treasure trove of draft picks, including four in the top 35 of the 2020 draft.
Miami has too many holes to fill to focus solely on one position. But they’re not completely out of the Tua sweepstakes yet.
At present, they’re slated to pick 4th, 21st and 26th in the upcoming draft. Most draft experts say Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow are the top prizes in this year’s crop, but there’s also edge rusher Chase Young, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, as well as a number of wide receivers and defensive backs.
Some mock drafts have Cincinnati choosing Burrow over Tagovailoa because he seems to be more of a system fit for first year head coach Zac Taylor. Mocks also have Washington, who chose quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the first round last year, taking Young, and the New York Giants, who chose quarterback Daniel Jones in the first last year as well, taking Thomas.
The Dolphins might very well have Tagovailoa waiting for them at No. 4. Or perhaps they can package some of their picks to trade with Washington to jump up to No. 2. While that’s not the ideal outcome, it would land them the so-called savior.
The fact remains, I think it’s more important that the Dolphins have a competent and potentially franchise-changing head coach in Brian Flores than it is to have the No. 1 overall selection.