Three questions must be asked and answered to judge any NFL team’s offseason at this point in the roster shuffling that free agency brings:
How does the scale tip on what a team has lost vs. what it has gained?
How has the team done relative to its division rivals?
And, on the bottom line: Are you better today than you were when last season ended?
For the Miami Dolphins, the answers thus far to each are troubling.
I wish I could be a media cheerleader, accept the team’s outward enthusiasm on its face and simply forward it as gospel, but a more dispassionate look is required.
I learned an eon ago that the last place to find truth is from the lips of coaches and team executives, who seldom publicly acknowledge disappointment or failing. Everybody always has a great draft, makes a wonderful trade, has a fantastic recruiting class. Teams celebrate their offseasons with unbridled enthusiasm and optimism, because those are the drugs fans traffic in. This could be the year.
Now let’s see what reality looks like as the Dolphins, 6-10 last season, continue their long, arduous effort to escape the deep rut that has seen only two playoff appearances and zero playoff wins in the past 16 seasons. Babies born when this franchise was last any kind of relevant nationally are now weighing college choices. A generation has grown up waiting for the Fins to be great again and not remembering when they were. A friend of mine said this week, shaking his head, “It will always be the same.” Dolfans truly want to believe, but it is hard. Black humor and resignation have seeped into the collective DNA. Here we go again.
Question 1: How does the scale tip on what the Dolphins have lost vs. what they have gained?
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, receiver Jarvis Landry and center Mike Pouncey — all gone now. Include previously departed running back Jay Ajayi and Miami has lost arguably its four best players, all with Pro Bowl pedigree. Safety Reshad Jones and pass rusher Cam Wake, who is 36, are the only similarly accomplished players who remain. No NFL team has lost more star power, more talent and more personality this offseason than the Dolphins. You can yeah-but that however you wish by talking about salary caps and money saved or the nonsense of improved “culture,” but this team has taken a severe hit in lost top-tier talent — period.
The notable additions have been free-agent wide receivers Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, free-agent guard Josh Sitton and trade-acquired center Daniel Kilgore. On ESPN’s list of Top 100 free agents, the fast but unproven Wilson is 79th, Amendola is 80th and Sitton is 85th. These were not the highly coveted men at their positions. Kilgore? He was available because the 49ers upgraded by signing somebody better. Don’t get me wrong. Sitton, 32 in June, has made four Pro Bowls and is still a capable stopgap at left guard if he stays healthy. And the ex-Patriot Amendola, 32, is a proven veteran who’ll fill in productively for Landry, although I did have to smile at the snarky meme circulating around that pictures Tom Brady telling Amendola, “I’ll miss you on third down,” and Ryan Tannehill telling him, “I’ll miss you on every down.” Brady made Amendola’s career, certainly not vice versa.
The Dolphins have done what they can, and more moves may be in store (that’s important), but losing Suh, Landry and Pouncey (on top of Ajayi) is far more impact-talent lost than what we’ve seen acquired so far.
Question 2: How have the Dolphins done relative to their AFC East rivals?
The Patriots have been the most quiet in the division this offseason, but when your starting point is a team that has been in three of past four Super Bowls and won two and is still led by Brady and Bill Belichick, a pat hand is probably not a bad play.
The Bills, also better than Miami at 9-7 last year, notably added defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, No. 11 overall on that ESPN list, and a solid starting cornerback in Vontae Davis. Buffalo gambled by trading away quarterback Tyrod Taylor and hopes newly signed A.J. McCarron will become a star, a sizable if.
The very busy Jets have been most active in the division, with cornerback Trumaine Johnson (No. 10 overall via ESPN) the big free-agency get. But new QB Teddy Bridgewater will prove a bigger signing if he can recapture his promise and win the job from Josh McCown.
The Dolphins, considering the talent lost, cannot say they have gained noticeable ground on the Patriots or on the Bills, unless the latter’s QB gamble proves a bust.
Question 3: Bottom line, are the Dolphins better today than they were when last season ended?
No. At least not based on what’s happened this offseason and in free agency thus far. The best chance for that answer to flip to yes is if Tannehill, after missing all of last season injured, magically roars back to find another level of play. But isn’t that what we’ve been waiting for (and waiting for, and waiting for) since 2012?
Oh, hell. Maybe the Dolphins will win the draft next month — no, dominate it — and everything will be all better!