The Dolphins still aren’t tanking.
Trading Kenny Stills was not about politics.
Julien Davenport is likely to start the opener at left tackle.
And blowing up the team won’t blow up what remains of the locker room.
Dolphins coach Brian Flores said or hinted at all of those things during a conference call with reporters Sunday, hours after the Dolphins traded Kiko Alonso to the Saints for a backup linebacker and a day green-lighting a blockbuster trade with the Texans involving two of Miami’s best offensive players.
On paper, the Dolphins aren’t just a worse team than they were this time last week.
Rather, they have one of the NFL’s weakest rosters in recent memory.
Eight likely contributors have been jettisoned in the last eight days: Alonso, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, Tank Carradine, Dwayne Allen, Jordan Mills, T.J. McDonald and Akeem Spence.
What did the Dolphins get back? A bunch of lesser players who would might otherwise been cut, substantial payroll relief and a haul of premium draft picks that should help in years to come, but not in 2019.
And yet, the Dolphins absolutely, positively are not tanking. Flores insisted.
“This game means a lot to me,” he said. “I wouldn’t disrespect the game with that. Again, no, we’re not. We’re going to try to win every game. I think that’s disrespectful to even to say that. .... It’s disheartening to hear people talk about it, to even say that. For a guy who respects the game as much as the game has done for me, when people say that, it’s extremely sad.”
As disheartening as it might be for him to talk about, Flores on some level must know that there’s no way that his team’s moves in the last week made Miami better team in the short-term.
Take, for example, the Alonso trade, which went down Sunday morning.
Alonso, who started 46 games in three years with the Dolphins, was dealt for Saints linebacker Vince Biegel, who has 20 tackles in his entire career.
Here’s the real reason Miami dealt Alonso:
He wanted out, his skills did not fit Miami’s scheme and the trade save the Dolphins roughly $6 million in cash and $4 million against the cap in 2019 and $12 million over the next two years, assuming they did not agree to eat any of Alonso’s salary.
All are valid, reasonable explanations. None helps Miami in 2019.
Then there’s the Tunsil/Stills trade. The Dolphins shipped them plus two third-day draft picks to Houston for two first-round picks, a second plus Davenport and cornerback Johnson Bademosi. (Flores stopped short of naming Davenport the Week 1 starter, but with Jesse Davis and Isaiah Prince the only other tackles presently on Miami’s roster, there is seemingly no one else to do the job.)
Moving Stills — who clashed with Stephen Ross with the Dolphins owner his support for President Donald Trump — makes sense, based on age and salary. But Tunsil, like Xavien Howard, was supposed to be a cornerstone player.
Why couldn’t he be part of the rebuild? Flores was asked.
“You guys saw the compensation,” he responded. “He was part of that. It was one of those things where he’s a very good player. I like him, but at the end of the day we just felt like this was the best move for us. You got to make tough decisions when you’re sitting in this seat. Chris Grier, Brandon and myself spent a lot of time talking through it and thinking about it. At the end of the day, we felt like this was best.”
Flores added: “There’s a lot of conversations with a lot of teams on a daily basis. We’ve had several different offers. My reaction’s always the same — does this help this team? Does it help this organization? All of those things factor into my feeling on a particular trade. In this instance, I thought this trade would help this organization.”
In 2020? Sure. But 2019 is going to be a tough slog. Really tough. And there are players in the Dolphins’ locker room not at all happy with the moves of the past week.
“I think we’ve got a good locker room,” Flores said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who care about each other and work hard and want to play for each other. I understand there are relationships that are built over the course of years. But at the end of the day, the guys in the locker room, I think they’re going to band together and play together. And at the end of the day you’ve got to play for one another.”