The Miami Dolphins won’t be able to hire their coach-in-waiting Brian Flores for at least another week, but the shape of the team’s future is already coming into focus.
I’ve already told you there is pain ahead for you because the team is going to take something of a strategic step backward next season.
They won’t call it tanking or rebuilding or anything really because that talk makes heads explode in the marketing department. And it makes selling tickets really hard. And it affects organizational morale.
But the fact they’re not going to say it doesn’t change the fact they’re going to, well, do it to the extent one can.
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And based on sources within and outside the organization, I’m starting to get a picture of what this retreat from win now might look like.
We know the Dolphins badly need a quarterback who can help them reach some consistent level of playoff success and, if you ask me, Super Bowl contention.
That probably isn’t coming in 2019. Because unless the Dolphins unearth a quarterback no one else knows about and he’s there when they pick in the draft, then that franchise-fixer probably isn’t coming in 2019.
Think bridge quarterback of some sort.
The chances of Miami finding that elite QB with the 13th overall selection in three months are much more slim in what is considered an uncertain quarterback draft. So the team might happily accept finding that QB with perhaps a top-five pick in a 2020 draft — which is expected to offer greater quarterback talent to choose from.
Notice I said top-five pick? You know what you have to do to get that kind of pick, right?
So, you ask, what do the Dolphins do in the coming offseason of draft and free agency and roster decisions?
Start with the fact general manager Chris Grier is already remaking parts of his personnel department. The team has hired Buffalo Bills national scout Marvin Allen, a league source confirmed Sunday, to be Miami’s assistant GM.
And before you say, “The Bills aren’t good,” understand they have been drafting every bit as well as if not better than Miami the past couple of years and Allen worked for years in the New England Patriots personnel department and then went to Kansas City with general manager Scott Pioli. And then he went to Atlanta.
And New England is good.
And Kansas City is good.
And Atlanta went to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.
Allen, who has been friends with Grier and his father Bobby Grier for years, will bring to Miami an expertise it has lacked.
“He would be their best evaluator Day One,” one prominent NFL personnel man said Sunday.
“This is a very good move,” another personnel man said, “but they’ve got to move some folks out down there, too. There’s dead weight in that team’s personnel department. And some guys are going to be gone.”
Beyond that there’s the initial mission the personnel department is going to undertake in the 2019 offseason:
Build from the inside out.
Let me take the second one here: The Dolphins are going to be searching for offensive and defensive linemen this draft. Early.
The team needs to improve at defensive tackles and find edge rushers. But if the team can find an interior rusher, that is draft gold. That’s the big prize.
Because smart NFL teams are starting to see that quarterbacks have gotten really good at stepping up in the pocket. And they have gotten really good at drafting athletic tackles. But they often trip over themselves in finding great interior offensive linemen — either because they don’t value them high or want to pay them in free agency.
So the best way to create pressure on QBs in the NFL is increasingly to bring that pressure from the interior. Some teams are doing it artificially with A-gap blitzes. Other teams have outstanding players on the inside, and they create great interior pass rush organically.
Aaron Donald for the Los Angeles Rams.
J.J. Watt for the Houston Texans.
Chris Jones for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Fletcher Cox for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Geno Atkins, Jarran Reed, Akiem Hicks, Cameron Heyward, Sheldon Rankins.
Those guys create a mismatch in the interior — exactly where quarterbacks most hate to see pressure come from. Suddenly, they cannot step up in the pocket as they are taught. Suddenly, they must throw with people in their face.
The Dolphins do not have that kind of interior lineman. And they want that badly.
Put it this way: When there were rumors (albeit unfounded) the Rams might consider trading Donald rather than pay him, Grier would have advocated paying a first-round pick and then shelling out a big contract for Donald, per a team source.
Because Donald’s an interior pass rusher. And they are a very, very valuable commodity.
The Dolphins wanted this kind of player in 2015 and that might have been part of the Ndamukong Suh love. But Suh simply was not and still is not that guy. He’s not really a pass-rush force.
Oh, and Miami overpaid for him.
So think draft in a best-case scenario.
And how about offensively? Look, the Dolphins’ interior offensive line has been broken for years. Everyone has seen this.
Grier has lived this.
So, I’m told, the team is going to try to solve the issue this season and next before putting a young quarterback in front of that line.
A warning: The Dolphins have failed to fix the offensive line, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Multiple general managers have invested significant draft and free agency capital to make the Dolphins’ offensive line strong.
Since 2010 the Dolphins have drafted John Jerry, Mike Pouncey, Jonathan Martin, Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner, in the third round or earlier.
None are with the team. Only Pouncey has been really good.
So Grier and Allen are the rest of Miami’s personnel department are going to have to do something that has been tried before but never successfully solved.
Look, Bill Parcells tried to build the Dolphins from the inside out.
Jeff Ireland did, too, initially.
Dennis Hickey had one offensive lineman when he took over and so right tackle Ja’Wuan James was his first draft pick and Branden Albert was his first free agent signing.
It has been tried.
Expect more trying.
Finally, I would say to you the idea of the Dolphins being big spenders in free agency — particularly for players of a certain age is a thing of the past.
Last year, for example, the team signed left guard Josh Sitton to a two-year deal worth $13.5 million. And the 32-year-old lasted one regular-season game.
Two things wrong with this move: Sitton’s age and his big contract.
Paying big money for older players is not good roster management. It’s sort of understandable for a desperate team in win-now mode.
But it is unforgivable for a team that’s rebuilding and trying to build future cap space and position itself for higher draft position.
If the Dolphins had rallied late in the 2018 season and somehow kept Adam Gase from being fired, Sitton would have been back on the team in 2019.
But the way the team is going to be approaching 2019, players such as Sitton should probably get clarity on their status with the Dolphins before renewing leases on wherever they’re living locally.