Two months ago Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he’s prepared to do what is necessary to make his team a winner over a sustained period of time.
He set that as the marching orders for the men who run his franchise. He said both privately and publicly he is committed to his people, including 37-year-old head coach Adam Gase, even as they learn and grow.
Ross made it clear he wasn’t interested in building a team that could rise suddenly from the depths of a 6-10 season only to fall back with a thud because open wounds were treated with Band-Aids rather than surgery.
Ross’ first year as part owner of the Dolphins, you’ll remember, was 2008 and that’s when the team made a dramatic turnaround from 1-15 and last to the playoffs. But that team was a mirage. And the Dolphins have failed to have a winning season since.
That’s not what Ross wants to repeat.
So, when these Dolphins launched out into this offseason by signaling or outright confirming they might lose significant players such as Brent Grimes, Brice McCain, Lamar Miller, Rishard Matthews and even Olivier Vernon, it sounded like we were about to see the team rebuilt.
And that’s fine. Teams that are 6-10 should be blown up. They are, after all, 6-10.
But the Dolphins’ planned demolition is starting to take a curious shape in that Miami is so far getting rid of its problematic, undistinguished or overpaid players, and replacing them with someone else’s problematic, undistinguished or overpaid players.
The Dolphins are in a couple of instances — with running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Vernon — taking a course that suggests they’d rather not overpay for their homegrown players but would explore the possibility of doing that with someone else’s.
Consider, for example, what is about to happen at defensive end:
The Dolphins on Tuesday signed Mario Williams to a two-year deal after he failed last season to fit into Rex Ryan’s new system in Buffalo. He became so disenchanted, teammates say he simply quit on them.
Is Williams talented?
But the Dolphins are now paying a player who quit on his team in 2015. And the move means they probably won’t be able to keep both Cameron Wake and Vernon, two try-hard players who have never played for any other NFL team.
Miami is either going to get rid of the team’s active sack leader in Wake or not going to match whatever offer sheet Vernon signs as a transition player.
And why not keep all three?
Because carrying a $12 million cap cost for Ndamukong Suh, a $9.8 million cap cost for Wake, a $5-million-plus cap cost for Williams and a $7 million-to-$9 million cap hit for Vernon is not a tenable position for Miami.
Or any team.
Something has got to give. And, unless the Dolphins pull a very pleasant surprise, the most likely player gone will be Vernon, whose agent David Canter has made it a personal mission to get his client a huge deal in free agency.
So the rebuilding Dolphins in this scenario would be losing the 25-year-old player while adding the 31-year-old and keeping the 34-year-old who is coming off an Achilles injury and last year was on a restrictive snap count before the injury.
Oh, yeah, and the team will likely add another defensive end in free agency, albeit someone most fans have never heard of because Derrick Shelby has to be replaced, too.
None of that is rebuilding in the classic sense.
This isn’t drafting well, keeping your own, letting lesser players graduate in free agency, and replacing them by drafting well again. Green Bay’s Ted Thompson would scream if he studied what the Dolphins are doing.
They’re moving pieces around with sights set only a year or two down the road when Wake is no longer playing and Williams is shopping his final contract to the highest bidder.
Vernon, meanwhile, will be 27 years old.
Now this must be said: The Dolphins are going to approach free agency with the idea of getting better now, not tomorrow or two years from now.
They’re expecting to be aggressive in addressing the defense to make last year’s poor unit whole and the guard position on offense better.
They don’t want to break the bank but the goal is indeed to get as good as possible as soon as possible.
And what about Ross’ desire to build a team that can sustain for years and years at a high level?
For now, the Dolphins seemed focused on 2016.