Miami Dolphins

It's time to admit it: The Dolphins miss Brent Grimes (if not his wife)

Brent Grimes has been a very good player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Brent Grimes has been a very good player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. AP

On Sunday, the Dolphins will come face-to-face with their ex.

Brent Grimes (and presumably his wife Miko) will be back in Hard Rock Stadium for the first time since the Dolphins cut him in 2016.

There are plenty of reasons the Dolphins moved on — Grimes' age, his salary, his not-so-great 2015 season, and yes, his wife's antics.

The problem is, you can't replace somebody with nobody, and ever since shipping Grimes out, the Dolphins have had nobody who has matched his level of play. (Even though Grimes spent just two seasons in Miami, the Dolphins named him one of the 50 greatest players ever in 2015.)

It is not from lack of trying.

They traded for Byron Maxwell. They drafted Xavien Howard in the second round and Cordrea Tankersley in the third. They signed Alterraun Verner.

They even started a converted wide receiver at corner — Tony Lippett — in 2016, and probably would have again in 2017, had Lippett not ruptured his Achilles in training camp.

Nothing has worked.

While the pass defense has not been awful the past two years, their cornerbacks have consistently been the defense’s weak link. The Dolphins have the league's third-fewest interceptions (3) this year — none by their corners.

It's fair to say the Maxwell trade was a bust; while he played well in the second half of last year, the Dolphins cut him after a second benching in as many years.

The coaching staff keeps talking up Howard, but he was hurt much of the season last year and ranks dead last among qualifying corners in 2017, according to Pro Football Focus.

Tankersley has been decent in his rookie year — certainly better than Howard — but not great, either.

Coaches praised Howard and Tankersley as recently as a month ago, but that talk has tamped down after both were exposed in recent weeks.

“I think it’s two-fold. [Tankersley] is a rookie and he’s going to have his ups and downs,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “That’s kind of built in. Then [Howard], it’s funny. ‘X’s’ next step for me has to be locating the ball and getting the ball out, because if you actually pause the film, it’s not like you look at what ‘X’ is doing and saying ‘Man, he’s just getting roasted all over the place.’ He’s in good coverage, he’s just having trouble locating and getting balls out. I think that’s sort of his next step.”

Burke took part of the blame, saying the play-calling has left his corners without help too often. But corners at times will be asked to cover receivers one-on-one — and that has been a win for opposing teams.

Howard has been targeted 48 times this year, with quarterbacks completing 32 passes for 343 yards and three touchdowns with a 108.2 passer rating when targeted. But the most galling stat: He has committed seven penalties this year. That's all according to Pro Football Focus.

How about Tankersley? Quarterbacks are 20 of 31 for 238 yards and three touchdowns against him (120.1 rating). But he has broken up five passes with no penalties.

So how does that compare to Grimes, who has spent the last two years with the Buccaneers? Pro Football Focus gave him an elite grade in 2016, and while he has not been quite as good this year, he still has been better than any Dolphin boundary corner.

Opposing quarterbacks have had just a 76.2 passer rating when targeting Grimes this year, completing 23 of 37 passes for 318 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. In short, Grimes has proven he has plenty left at age 34.

“He does a good job and makes it really, really tough on the quarterback,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “The thing he does best is he makes quarterbacks feel like somebody is open. That’s why you see guys throw the ball at him and all of a sudden he has the ball. … He has a really good break on the ball. When he plays with vision, it’s a tough throw to make. You better be very accurate. You can’t miss by much.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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