The Dolphins are totally new. They have new uniforms. They have a new logo. They’ve committed a whopping $204 million in new contracts this offseason with $91 million of that hefty sum guaranteed to 14 players.
They signed the best wide receiver in free agency. They got the first defensive player picked in the draft. And they’re talking the talk.
Guard Richie Incognito says the team has no question marks.
Receiver Brian Hartline says the Dolphins have the best receiving corps in the AFC East.
Receiver Mike Wallace is comparing his new quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, to his old quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, and adding “it won’t take long for [Tannehill] to be one of the great quarterbacks.”
Even Tannehill, as understated as a sheet of blank paper, says, “We’re all excited about where we’re at right now.”
That settles it.
The Dolphins are the NFL’s 2013 offseason champions.
They can raise their new championship flag at Sun Life Stadium any time they’re ready. They can join the team that won the 2006 offseason title after the addition of Daunte Culpepper. They can be on par with Jimmy Johnson’s team that had “a chance to be special,” and the final Don Shula team that added 19 former first-round draft picks so they could win it all.
The dynasty continues!
So now can we get serious?
Most everything the Dolphins have done this offseason is truly commendable. General manager Jeff Ireland has been more aggressive this offseason than the past two or three combined. A roster riddled with uncertainty when the 2012 season ended has been plugged or upgraded at practically every questionable spot.
Players are apparently doing their part, too, with Jonathan Martin putting on 20 pounds so he can play left tackle, John Jerry taking off a couple of pounds so he can stay at right guard, and Tannehill routinely working with his new batch of receivers so things won’t feel awkward when training camp opens in July.
All of this is good. All of this suggests improvement.
But can we wait until one practice is in the books before everyone continues acting like the postseason is Miami’s next logical stop after this offseason?
It’s not going to be that easy, folks. The 2013 Dolphins are going to have to learn that other teams also have been adding talent. Other teams also think their quarterbacks are great. Other teams also have been lifting weights.
And those teams also get a say in what happens starting in September.
So everything Miami has done this season signals steps in the right direction rather than an arrival at a destination.
This is not casting a shadow on the franchise’s sunshine. It’s simply being realistic and, yes, cautious.
The fact is that despite all the money they’ve spent and holes they’ve filled, the Dolphins need a lot of things to go just right for them to actually be the contenders on the field they seem to be on paper.
Players such as Dustin Keller, Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall have to stay healthy after failing to do so last season. Jordan has to get healthy before he can start to play like all those pass rushers he reminds the Dolphins of. And Martin cannot get hurt all season because the backup behind this still-unproven left tackle is, well, who knows?
The Dolphins are certain Lamar Miller is going to be a fine running back. Ireland was talking about him as the successor to Reggie Bush last December. Owner Stephen Ross mentions him unsolicited among the team’s playmakers.
I like Miller also because he was often electric at the University of Miami.
But can anyone guarantee Miller is going to meet expectations when his résumé offers all of 51 NFL carries?
Dolphins players shouldn’t be criticized for showing confidence in what Ireland and coach Joe Philbin are putting together. They’re asked questions and give honest answers.
But big talk, big contracts and big moves conspire to raise expectations. And high expectations are often too burdensome for newly formed teams to carry.
High expectations mean Tannehill actually has to play like a star instead of just being compared to one.
High expectations mean Hartline racking up 1,000 yards but scoring only one touchdown again is not such a good season anymore. High expectations mean Wallace must be among the league’s best receivers because he’s getting paid like it. High expectations demand that Jordan become great and Cameron Wake continue to be great.
High expectations mean that the defense that was a very good No. 7 in points allowed last year should be in the top five this season. High expectations allow the offense no excuses for being anemic again this season.
High expectations are a killer sometimes.
Some Dolphins fans wanted Shula fired because, near the end, he only got the team to the playoffs but didn’t win Super Bowls anymore. Some fans wanted the Heat dismantled or coach Erik Spoelstra fired when the team didn’t win it all two years ago. Ask the 2012 Marlins how unmet expectations led to a manager’s firing and the payroll being slashed (again).
Maybe the Dolphins don’t mind that kind of no-win scrutiny. It doesn’t matter whether they do or don’t. It’s on them.
It’s what happens when you’re the NFL’s offseason champs.