The good news for Miami Dolphins fans first: The past two games (victories) have emboldened some people within the Dolphins organization to believe this team’s young talent is on the right track.
The emergence of Xavien Howard, who had four interceptions the past two games, has confirmed for the team what coaches saw in practice since last year — that Howard is a shutdown cornerback.
The recent uptick in play by defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, the growing consistency and excellence by running back Kenyan Drake, the solid play by right guard Jesse Davis, and the seemingly unnoticed but impressive work by cornerback Bobby McCain, all suggest progress on the right track.
That’s important now that the Dolphins are trying to close out the season on a flurry and perhaps factor into the playoff picture.
But it’s also important for the future of the franchise because, like most teams amid a building process, the Dolphins need a core of young, cheap players to perform as starters and major contributors so that next offseason’s additions can improve the team rather than retrace misses from past years.
The Dolphins believe they are growing that core of young players.
Rookie defensive tackle Davon Godchaux is among those. Howard, Phillips, Drake are among those. The team hopes 2016 first round pick Laremy Tunsil, who hasn’t played great but is still good enough to start, develops into more of an exclamation point than a question mark. Same with 2017 first round pick Charles Harris.
Jesse Davis, Raekwon McMillan, Jakeem Grant, Chase Allen, Cordrea Tankersley and Vincent Taylor are young players currently under rookie deals, and the team hopes they can move from bringing occasional flash to offering consistent and sometimes outstanding contributions.
If all those players raise their level of play a rung or two, the Dolphins will become a stronger team. So that’s good news.
The bad news?
It’s still not enough. Not even close.
While the Dolphins can make the argument they’re on the right track, and several NFL sources are hearing exactly that out of the team’s headquarters, the point is an empty one until three things happen:
The Dolphins need more.
They need more consistency. They need quantity. They need more quality.
Consistency? The Dolphins are excited about beating the New England Patriots last week and playing well against Denver before that. But the team would be wise to remember there were five consecutive losses that also should factor in everyone’s evaluations.
Yes, the past two weeks were good, but the previous five weeks weren’t.
This team survey would benefit from seeing the entire picture, including the next three games, before deciding whether all is indeed well.
Quantity? The team needs at least half a dozen more cheap (that is to say draft picks or undrafted fee agents) to come onto the roster and factor positively to allow for space on the salary cap to do other things.
That cap space is necessary for Miami to pay players such as Jarvis Landry the big contracts they’re soon due. That cap space is also committed for paying players such as Ndamukong Suh and Ryan Tannehill, who already have big contracts.
The Dolphins need Phillips and Godchaux to be good and cheap so the Suh contract makes sense in context of the defensive tackle position.
The Dolphins need cheap cornerbacks — Howard, Tankersley and McCain — to be good for the big Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald contracts to make sense in context of the secondary.
The Dolphins need a cheap, young quarterback with great promise so the team doesn’t have to sell its salary cap soul for a mercenary addition next season if something goes wrong with Tannehill again.
No team can have high priced players at every position. Teams need bargains playing well above their pay grade to make it all work.
The other issue the Dolphins have beyond needing consistency and quantity is their need for quality.
Look, all NFL teams have talent, but the championship caliber teams have exceptional talent.
The Dolphins lack those. The Dolphins have “stars” in Suh and Jones and Landry, but outstanding teams that regularly get to the playoffs and advance to championship games typically have one or two Hall of Fame caliber guys.
Where is Miami’s Hall of Fame caliber player? Where are the Dolphins better than anyone else in the NFL?
Well, Suh is on that track. But he’s a defensive tackle, and while that position is important, it is not a game-defining spot.
The Dolphins need a star or two who play positions that determine the outcome of games and do it like few others at their positions can.
Yes, finding contributors and solid players is good, and it’s good news the Dolphins seem on that track.
But everyone knows — you know — there’s still much more work to do.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero