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The Dolphins can win games and still tank

Miami didn’t have to finish 0-16 to call its tanking a success.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

It was always a long shot that the Miami Dolphins would finish the season 0-16. It’s happened just twice — by the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns — since the NFL switched to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

The Dolphins won’t be the third 0-16 team in the history books after beating the Jets and Colts in back-to-back weeks to improve to 2-7 on the year. Miami fell behind 7-0 early in a Week 9 matchup against the Jets, but rallied with three touchdowns passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick in the second quarter to build a lead that never disappeared. Against the Brian Hoyer-led Colts, the Dolphins intercepted three passes and kicked two fourth quarter field goals to win.

Despite the front office’s efforts to send away talent for cap space and draft picks, Miami was a competitive team even before its sudden win streak. It was a two-point conversion away from beating Washington in Week 6 and had halftime leads over the Bills and Steelers in the next two weeks.

And while the immediate result for the Dolphins is a small tumble in the 2020 NFL Draft order, victories really aren’t a disaster. Even if another win or two happens — which is possible with games against the Jets and Bengals still on the schedule — the tank job is in great shape.

The Dolphins are still in the hunt for the No. 1 pick and still have a ton of resources they can use to get better fast.

Picks and cap space are more important than losses in a tank

The Dolphins are going to have a chance to completely transform their roster over the next two years, regardless of how the rest of the 2019 season shakes out.

Miami has three 2020 first-round picks, two 2021 first-round picks, two 2020 second-round picks, and two 2021 second-round picks. The team also has over $108 million in projected cap space next offseason.

In the long run, the difference between the No. 1 pick in 2020 and one a few picks later isn’t much at all. The Dolphins are still going to have plenty of opportunities to find great players, and the success of their rebuild will depend on whether or not the team uses that draft capital well.

Yes, the No. 1 pick would be a great asset for a team that needs a franchise quarterback. But there’s no obvious choice to be the first pick in April, anyway.

Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has long been considered the best quarterback of 2020 draft-eligible players, but LSU’s Joe Burrow is nipping at his heels. Justin Herbert of Oregon and Jordan Love of Utah State aren’t that far behind either.

It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if the Dolphins waited until 2021 to address the quarterback position too. The rebuild isn’t a one-year project, and more young signal callers will be on the board another year from now — like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, perhaps.

If the Dolphins don’t take a quarterback in 2020, there are other intriguing options. They could take Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young to transform the defense, or maybe Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas to fill the void left by the trade of Laremy Tunsil.

The Dolphins are going to finish 2019 with a losing record and a selection that’s likely in the top five of the 2020 NFL Draft, maybe even first overall. After that, they’ll be set to pick four more times before the second round ends. That’s what really matters.

So Miami should celebrate its first win of 2019 for what it really is: A good thing.

It’s not that surprising that Miami won a couple games, anyway

Let’s first clarify something about the Dolphins “tanking” in 2019: The front office is the one leading that effort. First-year head coach Brian Flores and his team are trying to win.

The roster is in for an overhaul over the next few years and most of the players currently on the team won’t be there throughout. There’s no reason for a player like Fitzpatrick, who turns 37 in November, to intentionally play poorly so the Dolphins are in good shape to draft a quarterback in April. While second-year quarterback Josh Rosen didn’t play well in his three starts in 2019, he summarized how he views gamedays.

“I don’t think about it too much but I’m aware of it and the way that I’m sort of approaching this year is I feel like I’m really just trying out for the team,” Rosen said in October, via the Palm Beach Post. “I feel like I’m auditioning and I’m trying to put my best foot forward and prove to everyone upstairs and coach Flo and Mr. (general manager Chris) Grier that I’m the man moving forward.”

Rosen didn’t crush that audition, but his comments are probably how most Dolphins players feel about the season. Even if they aren’t long-term pieces in Miami, the 2019 season is a chance to audition for the other 31 teams too.

That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Dolphins have two wins. If anything, Miami has a roster that’s as motivated as any in the NFL. While the Jets are disappointed and frustrated that a season that started with high hopes is crumbling to dust in their hands, the Dolphins never expected to be a winner. Miami players are just looking for a chance to stand out.

And there’s the best part of the Dolphins winning. It shows that Flores has his team focused and ready, despite the talk about tanking. He’s not Hue Jackson, dragging down an already hapless Browns team that doesn’t know how to win. The Dolphins have a coach who’s maximizing his young talent, even when it’s outmatched.

Maybe that’s why Dolphins fans here at SB Nation are remarkably optimistic.

The future is actually pretty bright in Miami and winning games during a tank season really isn’t that bad.