Let’s forget for a moment the Miami Dolphins this week traded away a Pro Bowl running back for a fourth-round pick that will likely come toward the bottom of that round next draft because their favorite trade partner, the Philadelphia Eagles, have the NFL’s best record now and could be playing deep into the playoffs.
Let’s forget for a moment that earlier this season the Dolphins traded a fifth-round pick to New Orleans for linebacker Stephone Anthony. And Anthony has not played a down on defense ... has not been active for over a month ... and played only a handful of special teams plays in a game the Dolphins got blown out by 20 points.
Forget that, on the surface, the Dolphins’ in-season trade game is not looking too good right now.
Look instead to why this team makes moves like this. Look instead to how a failed past we all thought was committed to history is trying to repeat.
The Dolphins made the Ajayi trade for several reasons. As I reported last week, the team was concerned about the running back’s longterm viability because of his chronic knee problem. And — let’s be frank, because here comes the primary reason — Ajayi was something of a malcontent and that frustrated the coaching staff to a significant degree.
So that’s why Ajayi was traded. We know this.
All this obviously mattered to the Dolphins. And that’s fair because culture matters to NFL teams. Getting players to do things the right way matters. Having everyone “bought in” matters.
But this also is fair and matters: The move looks uncomfortably similar to those made before this current braintrust took over the team.
This Ajayi trade — for reasons of chemistry and culture — remind of moves the Joe Philbin Dolphins made time and again for reasons he thought were right because of chemistry and culture.
Remember Philbin’s Dolphins? (Sorry). That coach wanted to remake the team in his image and wanted players to do things his way and so ...
Those Dolphins traded Vontae Davis.
And traded Brandon Marshall.
And Mike Wallace.
And cut Karlos Dansby. After he played a season with a torn bicep.
That team had legitimate reasons to make those moves and most of them had to do with removing a loud or troubled or player from the roster. But in making such moves the team also removed valuable talent from the roster.
And that’s exactly what the Dolphins did again this week with Ajayi.
The Dolphins got rid of a good player who is expected to do significant good work for Philadelphia in the near future -- culture and chemistry notwithstanding.
This raises questions, the first of which is whether Ajayi was so unmanageable that he absolutely, positively had to go immediately? I mean, was this something so pressing that it could not wait until after the season when the Dolphins could make a corresponding move to replace the lost talent?
Look, teams can make their roster decisions for a myriad reasons. But when one of those moves subtracts talent without having a backup plan to replace the lost talent, that’s questionable.
So how do the Dolphins immediately replace Ajayi’s talent?
“I’m not sure how that will happen,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. “Somehow we’ll try and get it to happen.”
That’s an honest answer. But it does not suggest a long and well thought plan. Coach Adam Gase two months ago was talking about giving Ajayi the football 400 times this season. And never in that conversation were Kenyan Drake or Damien Williams mentioned.
So the Dolphins got rid of a player they suddenly couldn’t stand (fine) but did it without really having a plan to insert a comparable player (not fine).
This is where I tell you NFL teams get rid of players they no longer like all the time. The Patriots sign players with questionable attitudes all the time and then get rid of them.
The difference is the Patriots seem to usually have a backup plan. And when they trade those players away, they often get good picks in return. Either that or, as with Martellus Bennett and Chandler Jones, they often put up with whatever issues the player causes for a time before getting rid of him after the season -- when they have time to replace him.
Here’s the other problem with what the Dolphins did:
In getting rid of past talented players Miami deemed not worth keeping, the players often went on to be successful parts of other teams. Davis, Marshall, Wallace, Dansby, Reggie Bush all did.
Ajayi is on that same path now because the Eagles, who seem to know what they’re doing and aware of Ajayi’s Miami issues, believe the running back is a great addition and won’t be a problem for them.
“We do lot of research on players before we trade for them,” said Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman. “Not only did we do a lot of research on a guy like this before, when he comes out in the draft, but we do that here before we make a deal. Really, in this league, you do business with people that you trust and we feel like we have a good understanding of what was going on there.
“We also have a good understanding of what we have in our locker room and the chemistry that we have on this team. We weren’t going to bring anyone here that would disrupt team chemistry. We feel very confident and comfortable about the player.”
So the Eagles are willing to take on a player who might have some taint on him, believing they can manage him for a while. And also believing he will make them better.
That’s good for the Eagles. And disheartening for Dolphins fans because they’ve seen this before.