Armando Salguero

Jay Ajayi trade seems a loss for the Miami Dolphins now but offers valuable lessons

Dolphins coach Adam Gase says he only listens to himself on coaching decisions

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase says he supports his quarterback Jay Cutler and doesn't listen to the critics about benching Cutler during interviews after the Dolphins victory of the Falcons Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
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Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase says he supports his quarterback Jay Cutler and doesn't listen to the critics about benching Cutler during interviews after the Dolphins victory of the Falcons Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

There is no winning for the Miami Dolphins right now on the Jay Ajayi trade.

Can we agree to that from the top? Can we simply stipulate that is the truth and move on?

Because while the Dolphins are not playing Sunday and, indeed, didn’t even manage to find a spot in the postseason, Ajayi could and should be a prominent figure in the Philadelphia Eagles offense when they play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52.

And chances are good if you watch Sunday’s game, the NBC broadcast crew will describe the trade in terms of the Eagles fleecing Dolphins executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum because that was their theme when they described the transaction in a November Eagles telecast.

So the divorce that was the Ajayi trade from Miami to Philadelphia in October led Ajayi to the biggest game of the year. And it led the Dolphins to, well, a fourth-round draft pick that will feel a lot like a fifth-rounder because the Eagles will be drafting so late every round.

The Eagles get a good player who averaged 5.8 yards per carry for them this season. And the Dolphins get, well, dissed.

“I think of him as an elite back,” Patriots defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said of Ajayi this week. “It was kind of crazy that the Dolphins let him go in the middle of the season, but it’s been a blessing for the Philadelphia Eagles and now he’s in the Super Bowl. He’s hard to tackle. He’s not going down on first contact. He can do the inside runs and the outside runs, which means he can basically do it all. He’s a hard back to defend.”

No winning for the Dolphins, folks.

Now can we move on to the more adult conversation? The conversation that really matters?

There are lessons to be learned from this October trade deadline saga.

There’s a lesson for Ajayi and there’s definitely a lesson for the Dolphins. And if each side learns from what happened between then, perhaps both will be better prepared to face what is about to happen.

Let’s take the Dolphins first.

They don’t care whether Ajayi does well in Philadelphia or not. They don’t care if he wins the Super Bowl. They don’t hold an organizational grudge against the player, as far as I know. They don’t care if he becomes the Super Bowl MVP.

The Dolphins moved on.

The team has moved on because Ajayi wasn’t going to rescue the season had he remained in Miami. The offense ran through Ajayi in 2016 and that was great. But the Dolphins elected to be one of the most pass-oriented teams in the NFL last season (yes, in a season they lost their starting quarterback) and that pushed Ajayi aside.

Ajayi hated that. He complained bitterly about not getting the football. He became a problem for coaches, albeit not for his former teammates, who continue to like him and wish him well to this day.

The trade, brought about because the Dolphins didn’t want to suffer a player they thought no longer fit into their culture, also allowed the team to begin featuring Kenyan Drake.

And Drake, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry, could be a revelation going forward if he stays healthy (big if, considering his college injury history) and if the Dolphins can find him a running mate this offseason to keep his load from getting too burdensome.

So that’s where we are, but the lesson I think the Dolphins should learn is better timing on some of their moves.

The Ajayi trade, at midseason, felt reactionary. And desperate.

The trade felt like the Dolphins were trying to prove a point rather than trying to improve the team. And right now it looks as if the team failed to do either because trading a misbehaving player off a team headed to a 6-10 season and onto one headed to the Super Bowl doesn’t feel like any sort of punishment.

I believe the Dolphins would have been better off keeping Ajayi until the season was over. And with the season over, the Dolphins could have traded Ajayi this offseason — when they might have gotten more value for a running back still on his rookie contract than the late, late fourth-rounder they eventually got from Philadelphia.

There is no guarantee the Dolphins would have gotten higher compensation in return for Ajayi by waiting. But it’s statistically provable that more teams are willing to make trades in the offseason than in the middle of a season.

Something to think about.

Ajayi? He just needs to let this episode go.

After he was traded, he blocked South Florida reporters — as if he was traded by the media. And he is definitely no fan of Dolphins coach Adam Gase.

Ajayi was asked about Gase this week. And he became suddenly uncomfortable, actually trying to drink from an empty cup and muttering something about not wanting to talk about it, before walking away.

During the same week, Ajayi has talked about how coming to the Eagles has helped him improve beyond his abilities in Miami.

“I think I’ve learned a lot more about how to read defenses,” Ajayi said. “Obviously, my confidence level has grown with success. Learning about the business of the NFL as well and learning to control what you can control, which is your mindset and mentality and how hard you work every day.”

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase says he supports his quarterback Jay Cutler and doesn't listen to the critics about benching Cutler during interviews after the Dolphins victory of the Falcons Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

The latter will be valuable for Ajayi to remember because while all seems perfect for him with the Eagles now, that, too, is bound to change. The Eagles, you see, know what the Dolphins have known about Ajayi’s knees and that is that they’re not a good longterm investment.

The running back’s knees have been reported to be “bone on bone” since they required surgery at Boise State and that’s the reason then-Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey was able to shrewdly get the otherwise talented Ajayi in the fifth round of the 2015 draft.

But when Ajayi’s rookie contract expires after next season, there is already talk within Eagles circles about them not giving Ajayi a big contract because of that lingering knee issue. That’s bad news for Ajayi.

If that happens will he get mad at the Eagles the way he did the Dolphins? Is he going to block Philadelphia reporters on Twitter?

Not if everyone learns a lesson from what happened at the October trade deadline.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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