Another football season is here, with Sunday’s opener against the Ravens the first of 16 Dolphins games — and if most fans have their way, 16 straight losses.
Up is down in 2019, with each defeat a seeming victory and each win a loss in the quest for the top spot in the draft and Miami’s choice of college quarterbacks.
But tank is a four-letter word in Davie. Brian Flores and his players will try as hard as they can to beat the Ravens and every other team they face this fall.
There are many reasons.
Tanking is a terrible way to do business. It ruins culture and sends an awful message to the locker room.
And it’s really, really painful and damaging to be the worst team in the league.
Don’t take our word for it.
Ask the people who lived it: members of the 2007 Dolphins who went 1-15.
“It’s tough,” said receiver Ted Ginn, the team’s first-round pick that year. “At a particular time, you were 0-7, 0-8. It was kind of like it was waking up just to lose.”
Added Jay Feely, the placekicker on that ‘07 team: “It certainly was a struggle every day. It weighs on you. Guys took a lot of pride being in the NFL and the job they do. When a team struggles collectively, each player individually is going to be painted with that brush, and your career is painted with that brush.”
So as we embark upon a season unlike any Dolphins fans have ever experienced, we thought it wise to ask members of the worst team in team history to remind pro-tank fans of just how unpleasant the next four months could be to watch, and how destructive it could be for players, coaches and management to be a part of.
That 1-15 team didn’t set out to Lose For (Jake) Long. The No. 1 overall pick was never a goal, or even a consideration.
But lose those Dolphins did, 14 games in a row to open the season.
A winless season was nearly a nightmare come true. If not for Greg Camarillo’s 64-yard, overtime touchdown catch against the Ravens in Week 15, the 2007 Dolphins very likely would have been one of six winless teams in NFL history.
Could this year’s Dolphins team join that notorious list? Some in this market believe it’s not just possible, but likely.
And the parallels can’t be avoided.
Like in 2007, today’s Dolphins have a first-year coach who arrived in Miami as one of the league’s most hyped assistants.
Like in 2007, today’s Dolphins have given the football to a journeyman quarterback who is probably getting one last shot to start in the NFL.
But the analogy isn’t perfect. There are some real differences between that year and this.
“The crazy thing is, it’s worse [this year],” said Channing Crowder, the 790 The Ticket radio host who was a third-year linebacker for the Dolphins in 2007. “We weren’t supposed to be terrible. Peezy [Joey Porter] was still here, that’s when Ronnie [Brown] was balling early on,” Crowder continued. “Will Allen, YB [Yeremiah Bell]. We had a squad. Vonnie, Zach [Thomas] was still there.
“We weren’t supposed to be terrible,” Crowder repeated. “Then just everything unfolded. Cam [Cameron, the Dolphins coach in 2007] just came in with no leadership at all. We could kind of feel it. Then after the first couple of games, you’re like, ‘Yeah, this dude just don’t know what the [expletive] is going on.’”
Cameron, hired by Wayne Huizenga in 2007 to coach the Dolphins after a successful run as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator, was a disaster basically from the start.
Players realized quickly they could walk all over the folksy, conflict-adverse 46-year-old. There weren’t really any rules, and the ones that did exist weren’t enforced, Crowder said.
Cameron was a beta male in a game filled with alphas, and the veteran-laden locker room — most notably Porter — had no respect for him.
How out of control did things get? There was a fight on the team flight home from New England the second-to-last week of the season, with offensive linemen Vernon Carey and Rex Hadnot needing to be separated from defensive tackle Keith Traylor. But instead of stepping in to stop it, Cameron stayed glued to his first-class seat.
The next day at the team meeting, Cameron lost the team for good. He scolded his players for their behavior and suggested that he tried to put a stop to the fight while it was happening.
Porter, a veteran defender with no tolerance for B.S., called his coach out on his lie in front of the entire group.
It’s hard to imagine Flores, the Dolphins’ latest coach, making any of those mistakes. Accountability and discipline are his hallmarks. Plus, he’s coaching the league’s youngest team, filled with players who are in no position to question his authority.
Almost all of the team’s big personalities have purged. Just 22 players are left from last year’s team.
But the odds are also much better that the Dolphins are really bad this year. He is coaching a team with a lower ceiling than the one Cameron inherited. Las Vegas predicted seven wins for the 2007 squad. The over-under for the current team is 4 1/2, and most power ratings have the Dolphins ranked 32 out of 32 NFL teams.
The Dolphins so far this year have been relatively healthy, but if injuries hit certain vulnerable positions, the drop-off in talent from starter to backup will be steep. And with four of their last six games on the road in cold-weather cities, there’s real danger the bottom could fall out.
How Flores navigates those tough times could define his Dolphins coaching career. Does he keep the team together and competitive? Or do his players lose confidence in him like the previous generation lost confidence in Cameron?
Flores’ professional fate might depend on that answer.
Teams that hit rock bottom usually get blown up.
Cameron was fired after just that one awful season, and no NFL owner has considered handing over their team to him since. He now is the offensive coordinator at LSU.
Randy Mueller, the architect of that roster, also lost his job that year, and has not been an NFL general manager since. He’s now in the XFL.
But players will also pay the price for a zero or one-win season. The failures of 2007 wrecked many careers. Twelve of the 22 opening-day starters were gone from the roster in 2008, including Zach Thomas, whose great Dolphins run ended after 12 seasons.
Some advice from that group for today’s team?
“Put your best on film,” Crowder said. “The eye in the sky don’t lie. Honestly, don’t let your team results affect your play.”
On Sunday, Feely will be at Hard Rock for the Dolphins opener in his role as sideline reporter for CBS’ broadcast team.
And if he’s asked by any of today’s Dolphins how to handle the coming season, here’s what he would tell them:
“I think the biggest thing is not listening to anything outside of that locker room. Every guy is judged individually. Even if you struggle collectively, you’re still judged individually. If you struggle collectively, then those struggles collectively at the end of the season, still going to be judged individually. You’re a CEO of 1. You’re your own company.”
The grand opening is Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The next four months probably won’t be fun for Flores and the Dolphins. But they will be revealing.