The 2017 season was so profoundly disappointing for Dolphins tight end MarQueis Gray, he hesitated when asked if he wants to be back in 2018.
“Right now, just finishing out this year,” Gray said Monday. “We’ll see how things go next year. It’s the start of the off-season right now. We’ll see how things go from here.”
It’s a remarkable reversal from the Gray of late 2016, who could not smile wide enough after signing a two-year, $2 million contract extension.
But Gray then probably thought his role with the team would continue to grow. Instead, it was drastically scaled back.
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Gray had a career-low one catch on just three targets this year, and was on the field for just 127 offensive snaps — which was half of his usage rate from the year before.
“Up and down,” Gray said, when asked to evaluate his 2017 season. “Me being a competitor and not being able to be on the field as much as I want to. I understood why.”
Here’s why: The Dolphins added Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano in the off-season. So Gray knew that he would again slide down the depth chart.
What he could not have predicted: That the Dolphins would elevate A.J. Derby — a guy plucked off the waiver wire in November — over him for the last month of the season.
After Thomas got hurt, most thought Gray was in line for an increased workload. Instead, the Dolphins gave a prominent role to Derby, even throwing to him in the red zone in critical parts of meaningful games.
The Dolphins are so high on Derby, executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum brought him up unprompted in his year-end news conference Wednesday.
“We’re going to continue to be opportunistic,” Tannenbaum said. “I think Chris [Grier] and the personnel guys, if you look at it during the season, we continued to try and go add a guy like an A.J. Derby. Again, that might not be noteworthy or headliner; but he may contribute for us for another year or two.”
Gray, meanwhile, became a gadget player for the Dolphins. He evolved into their short-yardage fullback, and became the first Dolphins tight end since Larry Seiple in 1969 to throw a pass, catch a pass and run the ball in the same season.
Still, he believes he can show far more than he did last year.
“No one in the NFL likes being on the bench,” Gray said. “At the end of the day, we’re all competitors. That’s why we’re in the league. We want to showcase what we can do. But like I said, in the NFL you’ve got to have role players, and this year was that thing. We’ll see how it goes next year.”
▪ Francis Owusu will have another chance to win a Dolphins roster spot. The receiver out of Stanford signed a futures contract with Miami Thursday. He was in camp with the Dolphins in 2017, but was waived with an injured settlement in August.