The Miami Dolphins turned the page (again) on Monday by firing head coach Adam Gase and replacing executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum, and it was a strange moment in franchise history because normally the announcement that follows such changes is about a grand reset that will give you renewed hope for next season.
Not this time.
This time, in handing the keys of the franchise to general manager Chris Grier, the Dolphins basically told you tough times are coming. So get ready.
In real estate developer Stephen Ross’s mind, the Miami Dolphins are about to embark on a building project for the football team that mirrors the one previously and successfully undertaken at his Hard Rock Stadium.
You remember that stadium rebuild that started in 2015, right?
Ross had an old, nearly obsolete facility in 2015 when he began to refurbish it at a cost of more than $500 million. And the project was ugly and dusty and uncomfortable that first year, as seating capacity actually went down.
And it was ugly and dusty and uncomfortable the second year although much less so. And by the time the project was complete in 2017, Hard Rock Stadium was reborn as a beautiful facility worthy of hosting Super Bowls and other grand events again.
Now Ross wants to do roughly the same thing with his football team.
So in confirming Gase’s firing and Tannenbaum’s undefined “reassignment,” Ross announced a new philosophy for the football side of his franchise.
The same man who for a decade has prodded and pressured multiple coaches and general managers to win now and make the playoffs this season — and fired people when they didn’t accomplish that goal — announced the Dolphins are not about winning now anymore.
“I know when I look at where we are, I think we really have to take a different approach in how we do it,” Ross said. “What you want and what I want is really sustained winning seasons and having an organization that is used to winning, because that’s what people in Miami expect.
“That’s what the fans want and the fans deserve. Basically, the thought is we’re going to look to really build this organization based on our needs and if it takes a year or so — two years, three years — we’re going to be there and we’re going to be an organization.”
Fine, so he mangled that last part. Forget that part. Forget what he said there.
What he meant is the Dolphins are going to rebuild, refurbish and take the long-view approach to building their team rather than the win-now approach.
And what does that mean for Dolphins fans?
A lot of short-term pain.
And a big dose of long-term uncertainty.
We know the pain is coming. That’s certain. Because the Dolphins just finished a 7-9 season, and they’re about to take calculated steps back from that.
They won’t call it tanking. They will never call it that.
Maybe they will call it a strategic retreat or withdrawal from their current position.
Whatever they call it, the results are predictable: The Dolphins are probably going to be a weaker team next season and perhaps for a little longer than that.
“I would hope I don’t have to go 3-13, but whatever it’s going to take, we’re going to build that organization with the right players that want to win,” Ross said. “They’re coming here to win.”
Just not immediately.
Because during his time speaking to reporters Monday, Grier, who is replacing Tannenbaum, said “the ultimate goal is to win Super Bowls and championships and be a consistent winner, as Steve said. It’s not about winning one year and then falling back.”
This new philosophy is going to impact how the Dolphins look on the field next season.
This season, Gase believed he needed to infuse the locker room with leadership and that often translated into adding older players to the roster.
So the Dolphins added 35-year-old Frank Gore, 32-year-old Josh Sitton, and 33-year-old Danny Amendola. The team also brought back 33-year-old William Hayes, had 36-year-old Cameron Wake as one of its defensive stalwarts and gave 30-year-old Reshad Jones a contract extension beyond his 33rd birthday.
This approach isn’t going to continue if what the Dolphins said Monday is true. If this is indeed Miami’s new philosophy, a majority of the players in that last paragraph probably aren’t going to be on the Dolphins next season.
Here’s something else that is going to change because it leaves no room for building for the future: Keeping 31-year-old Ryan Tannehill next year at a cost of $26 million against the salary cap.
One cannot sit under the glare of TV cameras and announce a new vision that focuses on tomorrow while keeping the mediocre quarterback of the past seven seasons. It’s incongruous.
And Grier hinted as much when he was asked if Tannehill would be the quarterback next year.
“Yeah, as of right now, he’s on the roster,” Grier said.
Yeah, as of right now it was Monday. And then it wasn’t.
Grier’s promotion to overseer of football operations and the firings probably pleased fans who wanted the Dolphins to blow up the football side of the franchise and start over. Ross didn’t do an entire reset, of course, sticking instead to his preferred half measures.
The philosophy shift, however, is a totally new direction.
But, as you might guess, life is going to happen to this plan. There are going to be rough stretches.
Unlike stadium construction where Ross can buy concrete and steel and generally get the strong foundation he paid for to build a grand structure, the Dolphins are going to be built on the flesh and bone of draft picks — 21- and 22-year-olds who come with no certainty.
And as Grier’s three drafts as general manager delivered some notable hits and notable misses, chances are, so will his next three drafts as the franchise’s top football man.
The question then becomes the depth of Stephen Ross’ pain tolerance. He’s 78 and spent the first decade of his ownership reign demanding his team win now.
What’s going to happen when (not if) the Dolphins struggle in 2019 and maybe draft a quarterback high in 2020? What’s going to happen when that new, young quarterback needs to develop for a year or two?
The Hard Rock Stadium rebuild paid handsome dividends after two years and was championship game quality by its third season. Ross should pray the football rebuild takes only that long.