This is what the Miami Dolphins think of themselves:
“I don’t see us as a rebuilding team,” coach Adam Gase said Tuesday during breakfast at the NFL annual meeting in Boca Raton. “I think we’re a team that has talent; we just have to put it together.”
That’s right. The team that was 6-10 a season ago, the team that fired most of its coaches and hired the 37-year-old Gase to his first NFL head-coaching job, doesn’t believe it is rebuilding and doesn’t accept that description of what’s happening this offseason.
“What we’re trying to do is get better,” owner Stephen Ross said. “We’re trying to win. I think we have a lot of great players. When you have a fifth-year quarterback, you shouldn’t be rebuilding.”
So this is what the Dolphins think.
They’re sure they are better now than they were a year ago.
“I feel really good and confident about the plan we have, the people we’re working with every day, and the direction we’re heading,” executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said.
“There’s a lot more work to be done. Obviously, we’re in the third week of March, we haven’t even had the draft. With that said, I’m optimistic, I’m hopeful. I see it every day in the building. You could feel the energy so I’m very optimistic about the trajectory of our team, not only this year but well into the future.”
This is good tidings stuff. This is glass-half-full. This is rose-colored glasses stuff. This is optimism after a vigorous offseason weight training program.
But is it plausible?
Is everything the Dolphins are selling — and at a pretty successful rate, by the way, because season ticket sales are ahead of last year according to president and CEO Tom Garfinkel — seriously worth buying?
Before I answer, I remind you this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this kind of talk. Without getting into the gory details, this team has promised big and delivered small dozens of times before. So keep that in mind because past performance is absolutely a predictor of future success.
And keeping that in mind, is what the Dolphins are saying about themselves possibly accurate? Is there a chance we’ll be saying they were absolutely right when we look back at the 2016 season sometime in January of 2017?
It indeed is possible.
But I have to tell you, just about everything they’re planning on happening has to happen just as they expect for it to be so.
That’s because this team has no margin for error. So many things the franchise is counting on to happen must happen that if this were poker, they’d be banking on completing an inside straight.
▪ The Dolphins are banking on Gase being a genius. Ross spent several minutes Tuesday discussing how much of Miami’s problems last year (and probably for several years) were directly tied to coaching.
“Obviously, we made a decision on the coaching, didn’t we?” Ross asked rhetorically. “I think that speaks for itself.”
And so Gase must somehow turn quarterback Ryan Tannehill into 2008 Chad Pennington. He must hide the flaws of an offensive line whose guard play so far promises to be in the hands of the same players who mishandled it last year.
Gase, with the help of friend and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, must also get the defense right after four consecutive years of steady and disappointing decline.
Adam Gase, in short, better be some kind of Bill Belichick nightmare.
▪ Next the Dolphins have to get great play from players who failed to deliver even good play a year ago. The team added Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, and Jermon Bushrod earlier this offseason, and all came with bad 2015 seasons on their résumés.
All had better years during their careers, and now, what must happen for the Dolphins to be better is for each of those men to play up to his past heights and not his recent lows.
▪ The Dolphins also have to have one of the best drafts since the early 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers. The team needs not one, but possibly two corners in the draft, including a starter out of the first round.
Gase says the first rounder, whatever position he occupies, will be a starter. I remind that is not a law. Sometimes stuff happens and players don’t start right away. Yet, the Dolphins plan has no room for such a misstep.
▪ The team also needs to find a defensive end. The team also needs to find a starting running back because re-signing Lamar Miller didn’t happen, signing C.J. Anderson didn’t happen and signing Chris Johnson didn’t happen.
So having failed at Plan A, B, and C, the Dolphins need to hit it out of the park with Plan D because Jay Ajayi, while intriguing to the coaching staff, will not be carrying the football 400 times in 2016.
The Dolphins are asking much of a lot of people, and one or two failures would cause the entire plan to collapse on itself. But the Dolphins don’t think that will happen.
“I think we’re doing what needed to be done,” Ross said. “I don’t think we’ve had any great, major disappointments.”