Welcome to the Jordan Phillips Bowl.
The erstwhile Dolphins defensive tackle is playing for the Buffalo Bills now. And on Sunday when the Bills visit the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, the surroundings will be quite familiar for Phillips because he was on the Dolphins for 48 games, including the first four games this year, before being cut in October and claimed by the Bills on waivers.
And this is not about how Phillips will be motivated to play the Dolphins because he’s upset they cut him. This isn’t about worrying that a rotational interior defensive lineman might blow up the game for Miami as revenge.
This is about stable, thoughtful decision making.
The Dolphins, rightly or not, have gotten something of a reputation around the NFL for not putting up with a lot stuff and emotionally cutting guys unceremoniously when someone — typically coach Adam Gase — decides a player doesn’t fit.
And the moves often come as a surprise because the players cut are often starters or significant contributors at the time they get whacked.
Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas were cut after a game they both started in 2016.
Jay Ajayi was traded two months into the 2017 season after he rushed for 1,272 yards the previous year and was still the starting running back.
So regardless if your salary allows it, you are at risk of getting cut at any moment by the Miami Dolphins.
(On the other hand, if you’re making big bucks like Lawrence Timmons or Reshad Jones, you’re probably fine for a time. You can go AWOL or quit during a game and it can be forgiven.)
Anyway, in those instances the Dolphins moved on they either did not suffer from cutting those players or actually got better at the spots left vacant. So all good.
And then Phillips was cut Oct. 2 after he got into an argument with defensive line coach Kris Kocurek during a game at New England. That one hasn’t worked out for the Dolphins. All not good.
In that fateful exchange, Phillips cursed at Kocurek because he got taken out of the game and wanted to play more. It’s unknown to me if Kocurek cursed back, but that wouldn’t surprise as his reputation is one of an emotional coach — just as he was an emotional player.
After the blowup, a meeting between the parties also didn’t go well because no one thought they were wrong.
And since Phillips was an on-again, off-again player who frustrated in the final year of his contract because he didn’t always practice hard, the yelling match was the final straw.
So Phillips was summarily cut.
By the way, there’s a word that describes NFL players cursing at each other or coaches during games: Sunday.
It happens all the time, folks.
Whatever. The Dolphins had enough and cut the guy.
The problem with all this is that getting rid of this problem child made the Dolphins weaker. It made a bad defense worse.
No, it’s not that Phillips is a great player. He has never been that. He is a rotational defensive tackle who sometimes made plays and sometimes did not. Sometimes he gets inspired (that’s coming Sunday) and he shows great potential. But other times he disappoints because he falls well short of his potential.
He has been better than that with the Bills, which is frustrating a division rival is getting more out of him than the Dolphins did. In Buffalo, Phillips is averaging 23 snaps a game. He has 11 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and two passes defensed (batted) in seven games.
During his Dolphins career, Phillips had 63 tackles in 48 games, with 5.5 sacks, 11 passes defensed and an interception..
The Phillips departure is only part of it, however, because it’s what stayed behind that matters. And the truth is Phillips was cut but the Dolphins didn’t really have a way to patch the hole.
And the hole got bigger when Vincent Taylor was lost for the season in October.
The Dolphins had to scramble to fill a void of their own making by first promoting Jamiyus Pittman from the practice squad. And, when that failed because Pittman didn’t make a tackle in three games, the team had to sign street free agents Ziggy Hood and Sylvester Williams.
And in the three games they have been on the roster, Hood and Williams have combined for two solo tackles. In fact, Hood, who was cut by the Washington Redskins, has not managed even one solo tackle in three games.
Did I mention the Dolphins have the NFL’s 29th-ranked run defense this week and recently spent a couple of weeks as the worst run defense in the league?
The point is the decision to cut Phillips did not help. It hurt.
You cut him because he was inconsistent and got crazy complaining about playing time during a game you were getting blown out in at New England. But if you had kept him, he would be playing way more now because you’re running out of bodies, and you would be better off because he is clearly better than Williams, Pittman or Gettin’ Ziggy With It.
This is the risk of making an in-season decision to cut a contributor.
So what’s the lesson?
Look, the Dolphins swallowed their pride in basically doing very little about Timmons last year or Jones this year. They put up with Jarvis Landry’s antics until they could trade him. They decided restraint and discretion was in order for a period of time.
Similar restraint and discretion might have been called for regarding Phillips.
It’s hard to argue otherwise.