A year ago around this time, the Miami Dolphins were getting ready to announce Ryan Tannehill was healed and ready to take part in the offseason programs. It was a happy time and everyone in the organization was agreed good things were about to happen because the healthy starting quarterback was back and on the cusp of taking a leap.
That was the narrative.
And amid that good news, there were things that raised red flags and other things that should have predictably been considered but weren’t. And those conspired to crash the 2017 season.
Specifically, the Tannehill return to health happened without the benefit of a surgery. He had partially torn his left knee’s ACL in December of 2016 and by late January it was already clear Tannehill wasn’t going to have surgery but rather was going to rehabilitate his injury back to health.
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And whenever that eyebrow raising concern was brought up, the Dolphins quickly said rehabbing was just as good as surgery in this case. And when the issue was raised multiple more times, the team grew tired of the “negativity.” Tannehill even said he was sick of being asked about the knee.
And I get it because that was about six months of tiresome questions from outsiders raising the same issue.
The problem, as we know now, is the skepticism was warranted. The doubts were on point.
Tannehill blew out the same knee again the first week of training camp and, although much effort immediately was put into reviving hopes, the 2017 Dolphins season was effectively dead on arrival.
So that’s the reason why the season was a disaster. right?
The reason the 2017 season was a disaster is the Miami Dolphins did not fully have a handle on the situation. They accepted one possible occurrence -- that Tannehill would be fine and play well -- and bet the entire season on that without systematically studying the matter and finding the most likely occurrence instead.
The Dolphins obviously did not expect what ultimately happened because they simply didn’t plan for what ultimately happened. Apparently no one stood up in any of those super important meetings the braintrust has and say, “Hey, guys, the data suggests Ryan, who didn’t have surgery on a torn ACL, will pop it again and we need a plan to mitigate that possibility.”
I know this was not said because if someone had said this, things would have been done differently last offseason.
Instead of celebrating how great the news of Tannehill coming back was, the Dolphins would have been desperately looking for a better backup quarterback.
But the Dolphins did not look at all for a better backup quarterback last offseason.
The team rolled with Matt Moore and camp arm David Fales to go with project Brandon Doughty.
And this, on the surface, seemed acceptable because Moore did fine the previous season when Tannehill got hurt. He started three regular-season games and won two of them.
So the Dolphins figured, hey, good enough.
Except, again, nobody stood up in that meeting. Because that would have forced coach Adam Gase to worry. And it would have forced executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier to worry because now Gase was worried.
Because the second Tannehill did indeed pop that thing again, everybody freaked!
They started worrying because they immediately knew Moore could not make it through a 16-game schedule as the starter. They knew this the second Tannehill’s MRI came back with the bad news.
They would have known it months earlier, too. It was obvious to them back then that Moore couldn’t play 16. But they didn’t play out the scenario with Tannehill to its worst possible conclusion because that imaginary staffer who stood up at that fateful meeting doesn’t actually exist.
So the Dolphins didn’t consider the full spectrum of whether Moore could play 16 games months earlier.
How do I know this? Because they didn’t do anything about it until the crisis was eating them alive.
Look, if the Dolphins didn’t do the exercise I just outlined above, covering all the possibilities, they flubbed it and suffered for it.
If they did walk through the exercise, reached the obvious disastrous conclusion that Moore couldn’t play 16 games, and still did nothing to guard themselves in case of such a dire emergency, they committed personnel department malpractice.
So which one, Miami Dolphins?
I chose to believe the Dolphins merely screwed it up because they didn’t and don’t often consider all the possibilities rated by order of likelihood. And so the Dolphins didn’t think about needing legitimate, experienced help beyond Tannehill and Moore, until the injury happened.
And by then the backup-type QBs who were capable of playing a season in an emergency were already on other teams,
Nick Foles had signed a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles March 13.
Case Keenum had signed a one-year deal with Minnesota March 31.
Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, Brian Hoyer, Matt Schaub and a slew of other subpar but experienced quarterbacks signed contracts around the same time in the spring.
The draft had come and gone in April.
It was now August. So too late for the Dolphins to address their QB problem the conventional way.
That’s when they were forced to go to the impromptu method -- signing Jay Cutler for $10 million. We know how that went.
(The Dolphins, by the way, do too much of this impromptu stuff. They were surprised by the shocking rise of guard salaries last offseason. And amid that, they found themselves going back to Jermon Bushrod who was cheaper, when their hopes had originally been to upgrade from Bushrod.)
Anyway, fast forward to Wednesday when Tannenbaum and Grier are talking about what they learned from 2017.
“Some of our depth was tested early and it didn’t respond as well as we had hoped,” Tannenbaum said. “Again, I think the three of us talked a lot about that – building a team for a long season knowing that the way our sport is now, all of these guys are eventually going to play and some may have to play sooner than others.
“Are we, within reason, prepared for all of those situations that may occur? We look at every year as an opportunity to get better and to learn, not just because we were 6-10; but we try to go through that process every year.”
So let’s decipher this. The team’s depth that didn’t respond early was primarily Moore. He didn’t get much of a chance because the Dolphins knew immediately he wasn’t capable of starting all year long. So the team had to reach for Cutler.
It was well within reason for the Dolphins to have been more concerned about Tannehill but they weren’t -- obviously not enough to address what to do if/when Tannehill went down. So that process was a failure.
The question now is what happens going forward?
Has this braintrust now learned to consider all the possible occurrences, including the ghastly possibilities NFL people hate to consider? Have they learned to broaden the possibilities, considering the odds and angles that normally get no consideration in an NFL meeting?
Has this group learned that if you consider a large number of occurrences, even though some luck is involved, one can still discover what is predictable?
Or have they hired that person who thinks that way?
The Dolphins need that voice.
Because right now and without even studying it much, I see potholes (plural) ahead. For example, I’m hearing a lot about how Raekwon McMillan is ahead of schedule on his ACL recovery and how the news is good and the team has a middle linebacker.
We’re going to do that again? Has McMillan played, you know, an NFL game?
He hasn’t lined up on defense even once and we’re being told everything’s good there? Well, it’s not good to trust everything will work out fine. It’s not good to go desperately shopping for a Rey Maualuga-type again next September if everything doesn’t work out fine.
It’s lazy to expect Mike Hull to fill the middle linebacker job if the grand McMillan plan hits a snag.
All the possible occurrences must be considered, stacked mathematically by order of likelihood, and then when that work is done, every single possible replacement or backup must be considered individually in like manner to find the most likely one that will succeed in case of an emergency.
It doesn’t end there. l can name five or six other issues the Dolphins have to seriously, seriously think through deeply this offseason (now, immediately) before going forward. And I haven’t really considered the whole roster and don’t know which way they’re thinking of going.
If I knew that, I’d be studying for weeks to uncover, again, the course most likely to succeed.
“You look at the teams still playing, to their credit, they had excellent depth,” Tannenbaum said. “For us, we’re always going to try to put the best team together, where we’re going to have players, not only in starting roles but in backup roles, that can go in and contribute right away. I think that there’s always a balancing act of trying to put a good team on the field but knowing that you’ve got to have quality backups behind them as well.”
The trick is knowing who needs the most attention by considering all the possible occurrences. And if the most probable occurrence suggests you better get help, then it’s time to identify the backup most likely to succeed.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero