When Stephen Ross took stock of his Miami Dolphins at the end of the season he says he saw an organization that “succeeded in everything, from my aspect when I first bought it, except winning on the football field.”
So Ross, the owner, believes he has a football team that has been successful at everything except football.
Let that sink in, folks.
Anyway, Ross signaled “a new approach” to doing things a couple of weeks ago to change course. And I’ve perceived some uncertainty as to what exactly that means because Ross didn’t do a very good job of explaining it. I remind you he said the “new approach” would go something like this:
“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,” Ross said.
“I think that we’re going in a direction of building something and looking to build an organization that can be sustainable in winning, not just signing a few free agents that are older with a few draft choices and think you’re going to be a contender.”
I believe that means the Dolphins are going to retool and refurbish and rebuild from the ground up. They’re going to add to the foundational pieces (players) already on the roster while not fooling themselves that a couple of old free agents will fix problems that are rooted deeper than that kind of surface move can address.
And I outlined on Monday how certain parts of that coming philosophy will likely play out. Included in there is the idea that the Dolphins can do without a big quarterback investment in 2019 in order to prepare for the boom of quarterback talent that will be coming in 2020.
Makes sense, right?
Wait until 2020 when Justin Herbert and perhaps Tua Tagovailoa will be in the draft to pluck a QB.
Build from the inside out and then bring in the QB aboard afterward so he can improve his chances of success. That opposed to getting him first so he’s something of a sacrificial offering because the offensive line in front of him is not ready.
So all good. Many Miami fans understood and were on board with that long view approach.
And then Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray announced Monday he’s coming out in this draft rather than opting to play baseball.
And Dolphins fans went nuts.
And suddenly the idea of toughing it out for a year or two was forgotten amid the possibility of drafting the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.
To heck with that plan Ross was talking about.
And moments like this are the reasons playing the long game to building a football team is so hard. And why few teams that actually make the strategic decision to take a step back and pool resources for tomorrow often fail.
Because they’ve been losers.
And one reason they’ve been losers is they have no discipline.
I don’t know if Murray entering the draft changes things for the Dolphins or not. I hope it does not.
Because a 5-foot-9 or 5-foot-10 quarterback has to be special beyond measure (literally) to be great in the NFL. And the modern day ones who have been more or less Murray’s size and turned out to be great -- such as 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson -- weren’t drafted in the first round anyway.
So now I present to you a tutorial of how a “new approach” fails.
Because you need to watch for these signs in the coming months as the offseason progresses.
1. The approach is dumb. This means that no matter what, the end result of the undertaking cannot end in success because the process was never pointed to success in the first place. This does not apply to the Dolphins right now. There is soundness in a rebuild. It’s smart to shore up the foundation and then make the thing great with a quarterback and great playmakers as those become readily available. Nothing wrong with this approach at all.
2. The approach is undertaken by people with no patience. Ever been on a diet? Lots of folks go on a diet early every year. It’s the reason you see so many diet commercials now. But a vast majority of those diets fail because the people undertaking them don’t have the perseverance to see them through.
I have significant concerns about the Dolphins on this front. I fear that once Ross sees empty seats and reads more criticism of his team and himself, he might order another change in course. I fear that people whose job is it is to win will feel the pressure to do so fairly quickly and take steps to keep their jobs.
Why do I fear these things? Because I’ve seen these things.
Ross already changed philosophy once. This “new approach” is obviously a departure from the old approach the Dolphins have been doing under Ross the past decade.
Ross has changed his approach.
He’s changed out three coaches.
He’s changed two general managers.
In that time did the Pittsburgh Steelers change course? Did the New England Patriots change course? Did the New Orleans Saints or Seattle Seahawks change course?
Those organization have founding principles they believe in and stick to those. And when they fail, they don’t change out those principles. They wait for those principles to recycle them toward new success.
Because the principles are proven.
What are the Dolphins’ proven principles?
Yeah, I don’t know either.
3. The approach is sidetracked by lack of expertise. All those years Dan Marino was at his height and the team could not put a great roster around him? Total lack of expertise. How else to describe it?
In 2005 through 2013 the club had high draft picks but the Dolphins failed to maximize the picks for whatever reason.
Face it, Miami had the second overall pick in 2005 and got Ronnie Brown -- a nice player but not a generational one. The team had the No. 1 overall pick in 2008 but no one questioned why not Matt Ryan instead of Jake Long because Long was indeed the safer, better player coming out of college.
(This is where I remind you Ryan threw 19 interceptions his final year at Boston College, so let’s not try to rewrite history.)
In hindsight, obviously it was the wrong pick.
The team had the No. 3 overall pick in 2013 and the pick was ... Dion Jordan.
There have been plenty of chances to make picks that could change the course of the organization. But circumstances or lack of prowess killed the Dolphins in the execution of the plan. And this one also looms as a possibility.
Because let’s face it, Chris Grier is in charge of the entire organization now. He’s got to rebuild it.
Did he succeed in rebuilding the defense in 2017?
He’s had some notable hits. And some notable misses.
The Dolphins cannot afford three more years of notable hits and misses. The Dolphins need some amazing drafts and free agent signings with lasting value.
And that brings me back to Murray. I get it. He’s electric in college.
But he comes with serious concerns.
So as this “new approach” goes forward, someone is going to have to decide if the Dolphins take a swing for the fences on someone like Murray or North Dakota’s Easton Stick.
Or are they going to be patient and methodical and avoid mistakes and ignore the possibility that folks get impatient?
Or Stephen Ross changes his mind again?