In retrospect, this disastrous Dolphins season was not just expected, but inevitable.
There were flashing red lights from the very beginning, if people cared to see them.
The tone was set, of course, when Ryan Tannehill tore up his knee in the second week of training camp, ending his comeback attempt before it began.
But there were other, less obvious, warning signs.
Like when Raekwon McMillan, the Dolphins’ most promising rookie, mangled his knee on the very first preseason snap of his pro career. The salt in the wound? McMillan was hurt when colliding with his own teammate.
From there, the adversity just built.
Hurricane Irma postponed the opener and canceled Miami’s midseason bye. An assistant coach was caught on tape snorting white powder. Rey Maualuga was arrested on battery charges for his alleged role in a nightclub altercation — which occurred at breakfast time, just hours before a Dolphins practice. Thirteen players finished the year on injured reserve. The five-game losing streak. Jarvis Landry and Adam Gase yelling at each other on the sidelines.
In retrospect, the Dolphins were fortunate to win even six games.
“It’s disappointing,” said tight end Anthony Fasano, cleaning out his locker for perhaps the last time. “Everyone had higher expectations. What the major factor was was distractions. We couldn’t handle distractions.”
That’s on coaching, to a degree. And Gase can expect some uncomfortable reflective moments in the coming months.
But it’s on the players, too. In 2016, they rose to most every challenge.
In 2017, they shrunk in similar moments.
The greatest example? How they choked away a gift chance to get into the playoffs.
The Dolphins would be getting ready for the postseason right now had they won their final three games.
Instead, they lost all three by a combined 30 points.
So does Miami’s 6-10 record accurately reflect how the team played?
“No, it doesn’t,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “People talk about talent. This team has a lot of talent, but talent don’t get you anywhere. But this team does, we do work hard. The season didn’t go how we wanted, we all know that. We had a lot of ups and downs.
“But at the end of the day, we have to come back this coming season and know that things gotta change,” McCain continued. “We’ve got to put a stamp on it.”
Changes are coming, particularly on the personnel side. Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Adam Gase will have to decide what they want to do with their 17 free agents, a class headlined by Landry. Nine players who started games in 2017 will be free to sign elsewhere if the Dolphins do not lock them down by March.
The organization is expected to clear tens of millions of dollars in cap space ahead of free agency, so Miami should have the financial latitude to improve its roster.
And the Dolphins need to — fast.
Many of their best players — Ndamukong Suh, Reshad Jones, Mike Pouncey and Cameron Wake, to name a few — are probably closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
The window for them to win a championship here might soon close.
“I think I still have a lot of good football ahead of me,” said Jones, who plans to play in the Pro Bowl after being selected for the second time. “I would like to make the playoffs and do bigger things. But you’ve got to deal with the cards that have been dealt.
“I’m not sure what we need to change but something has to change,” Jones continued. “I can’t put one finger on it right now. I’ve got to kind of take a moment to evaluate the whole season and look at a couple of things but I think we’ve got resilient guys in this locker room, we’ve got the right pieces in this locker room, it’s just a tough league to win in.”