In January, Miami Herald reporter Armando Salguero summarized the Dolphins’ plan for 2019 in one all-caps word:
In the months since his tweet, the Dolphins have proven him right in just about every way possible. The team isn’t going to be good in 2019, and — from the looks of it — that’s exactly the plan.
It’s not that the players will be trying to lose when they’re on the field. Roster spots are too difficult to get for players, and coaches have too much on the line to try to avoid wins. That’s why the Jets managed to get out to a 3-2 start in 2017 despite an offseason that looked a whole lot like a tank job.
The Jets still finished that year 5-11, because they just weren’t talented enough to hang in there for a whole year. And that sure looks like the kind of record the front office in Miami is aiming for in 2019.
It’s probably why Brian Flores got a fully guaranteed, five-year contract with the Dolphins — an unprecedented commitment for a first-year head coach. The team is buckling up for a bumpy road and needed Flores to know that he isn’t going to get a quick boot as a consequence.
Flores — like any coach in the NFL — is going to do his best to get wins. And in his mind, the goal is to be the best team possible.
“I think the term tanking, I think it’s disrespectful to the game,” Flores said at the NFL Annual Meeting, via the Miami Herald. “I really do. I don’t like that term. I don’t like when people use it. This game has done a lot for me personally. I’ve said this before, football really leveled the playing field for me as a person. It’s really the one thing that leveled the playing field so to disrespect the game and use that term, it stirs something inside of me — to put that nicely.”
But there’s a reason he got a five-year deal. It’s because there’s no reason to think the Dolphins aren’t going to STRUGGLE in 2019.
The Dolphins roster has already been stripped bare
Miami finished the 2018 season 7-9 — a remarkable record considering the team ranked No. 31 in offense and No. 29 in defense.
The Dolphins’ only Pro Bowler for the season was cornerback Xavien Howard.
With Adam Gase at head coach, Miami actually did a pretty good job at finding big plays and maximizing its offensive opportunities. But that’s about where the positives stopped.
That means there already wasn’t much talent on the roster even before the offseason began. Since then, the Dolphins have parted with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Danny Amendola, guard Josh Sitton, offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, and defensive ends Cameron Wake, William Hayes, and Andre Branch.
The team also traded Robert Quinn to the Cowboys. Quinn and Wake were the only two players on the team who finished 2018 with more than three sacks.
The cherry on top to the offseason was a trade a week before the beginning of the regular season that sent Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills to the Texans for a bundle of picks.
Miami’s starting quarterback in 2019 is expected to be Ryan Fitzpatrick — a 36-year-old journeyman on his sixth different roster since 2012. He may eventually cede the job to Josh Rosen, the Cardinals’ former quarterback who was acquired for a second round pick during the 2019 NFL Draft. Either way, it’s not an elite pair of passers to choose from.
The Dolphins have a pair of exciting running backs in Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage. Wide receiver Albert Wilson also looked like an explosive deep threat before a hip injury ended his season in October. But assets on the roster worth building around are few and far between.
Miami has built a bevy of resources
The good part about having few core players under contract is that the Dolphins will have a ton of cap space in 2020. Both Tannehill and Ndamukong Suh will be off the books and the Dolphins will have about $100 million in space.
Losing Tunsil and Stills was probably a tough call for the Dolphins, but now they are set up with draft picks aplenty.
Full terms of Texans/Dolphins trade, per source ...— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 31, 2019
Dolphins get: 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick, CB Johnson Bademosi, OT Julie'n Davenport.
Texans get: OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick.
In 2020, the Dolphins will also get an extra fourth-round pick thanks to the Tannehill trade. And if the tanking goes according to plan, Miami should be able to land a pick near the top of the draft order.
Altogether, the Dolphins are ready to clean up in the draft:
In the next two drafts, the #Dolphins have four 1st rounders, four 2nd rounders, and then two third-rounders with a potential third-rounder comp pick coming. That… is a LOT.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 31, 2019
And that’s really the goal of the team right now: To strip the roster, build up resources, and follow the blueprint set by the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns tanked to perfection
Sashi Brown didn’t even last two years as the Browns’ executive vice president before he was fired in December 2017, just before the end of a winless season. Then about halfway through the 2018 season, coach Hue Jackson was fired too.
There was a purpose to all that losing, though. It helped stage the construction of a roster that is now one of the most exciting groups in the NFL.
Brown made a few shrewd moves as the man in charge in Cleveland — even eating a $16 million cap hit in a trade for Brock Osweiler just to release the quarterback and get a second-round pick. After Brown was fired, the team had two picks in the top four of the 2018 NFL Draft and two more early in the second round.
If Brown used all the picks he acquired to pick better players, he probably would’ve been in Cleveland longer. He made a few great selections like Myles Garrett and Joe Schobert. But he also spent picks in the first three rounds on Corey Coleman, DeShone Kizer, Carl Nassib, Shon Coleman, and Cody Kessler — none of whom even made it to a third season with the Browns.
John Dorsey took over and used the resources at his disposal to draft Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb. He also signed Jarvis Landry, traded for Damarious Randall, and just landed Odell Beckham Jr. in a trade.
Altogether, it took the Browns about two-and-a-half seasons of horrible football and then the results started to come. Now the team enters 2019 with optimism through the roof.
Following Cleveland’s lead has never been a formula for NFL success, but — believe it or not — it actually looks like the Browns left a good blueprint for the Dolphins to follow. Ideally though, Miami probably hopes it doesn’t have to lose 31 of 32 games in the next two seasons like Cleveland did.
The Dolphins have made the playoffs two times in the last 17 seasons and are on a seventh different head coach since 2004. Being a terrible football team in 2019 won’t be fun to watch, but if the final product looks anything like the Browns’ roster, then it’s worth the tank.