One of the blessings (and curses) of having seen so many NFL seasons -- and specifically so many Miami Dolphins seasons -- is that stuff becomes familiar.
So when the team announces a potentially brand new way of doing things, as it has in 2019, it can ring hollow rather than excite. Because I’ve seen this approach before.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 is true: There is nothing new under the sun.
It’s all pretty much been tried, folks.
Which brings me to the NFL draft April 25-27. There are draft experts who believe the Dolphins should spend this draft building from the inside out. In fact, general manager Chris Grier is a proponent of this approach.
“Yeah, you build up your offensive line and defensive line,” Grier has said this offseason. “You start there and then you work.”
The thinking is build the offensive line. Build the defensive line. Establish a strong foundation.
And when that is done, add that star quarterback.
This philosophy will give the quarterback a great chance to succeed!
And some of the same people thinking that’s the way it should be done, including Grier and others still working in the Miami Dolphins personnel department today, were working for the Dolphins in April of 2008.
You remember April of 2008, right?
That’s the year the Dolphins picked Jake Long with the first overall selection in the draft.
And left quarterback Matt Ryan to be drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.
The Dolphins were determined to build the foundation that day. They picked the safest and best offensive lineman in the first round and came back by picking Clemson defensive lineman Phillip Merling in the second round.
Miami left the quarterback for later.
So I ask, how’d the philosophy work out?
Well, let me tell you. The Dolphins left Ryan on the board. And left Joe Flacco on the board. And both those quarterbacks have taken teams to the Super Bowl.
And Jake Long only played in one playoff game for the Dolphins, that in his rookie season, and has been out of the league for years. Merling, meanwhile, was a bust.
So the idea of building the foundation first didn’t pay dividends that day.
It also didn’t work out in 2010 when Miami took two front seven players in the first two rounds -- Jared Odrick and Koa Misi -- and then selected offensive lineman John Jerry in the third round.
(By the way, that 2010 draft had the Dolphins making such boneheaded decisions as selecting A.J. Edds one pick before Geno Atkins; and picking Misi two spots ahead of Rob Gronkowski).
The first pick of the 2011 draft -- center Mike Pouncey -- was made to improve the foundation.
Two of the first three picks in the 2012 draft -- right tackle Jonathan Martin and defensive end Olivier Vernon -- were made to upgrade the foundation.
The first pick of the 2013 draft -- Dion Jordan -- was made to improve the foundation.
The first pick of the 2014 draft -- right tackle Ja’Wuan James -- was made to improve the foundation. As was the signing of Branden Albert in free agency that year.
Two of the first three picks in 2015 -- defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and guard Jamil Douglas -- were made to improve the foundation. As was the signing of Ndamukong Suh in free agency.
The first pick in 2016? Left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
The first pick in 2017? Defensive end Charles Harris.
The Dolphins have been building the foundation for over decade. And now Grier says he favors building the foundation first as if this is a new thing.
Well, how about the opposite approach to this?
How about just find the QB? Indeed, how about adding a QB every year until the right one comes along?
I’ve written this should be done for years. It makes sense. I’m a genius!
Well, the Dolphins actually tried that, too.
In 2007, the team signed Trent Green, and traded for Cleo Lemon. And drafted John Beck.
And none worked out.
In 2008, the team signed Josh McCown, and Chad Pennington, and drafted Chad Henne with their third selection of the draft (a second rounder).
And Pennington delivered one year of magic. And then nothing.
The following year the Dolphins added Pat White in the second round. Nope.
In 2011, the Dolphins brought in Matt Moore. And the next year Miami added Ryan Tannehill.
And out of those nine quarterbacks added those five years, the Dolphins had nothing of outstanding lasting value to show for the attempt.
So my idea has been tried by the Dolphins. And it failed.
You’re hearing that Grier doesn’t expect to spend a lot of money in free agency and that it’s not just a 2019 thing, but rather part of his roster-building philosophy. He has said adding two or three value free agents is better than adding one superstar.
Rick Spielman had the same philosophy. He signed one free agent in 2002 -- defensive tackle Larry Chester.
So Spielman not only kept the spending in free agency low but added to what? The foundation, with a defensive lineman!
Jeff Ireland wasn’t a free spender in free agency until 2013 when he took a swing at the fences with Mike Wallace and Brent Grimes and Dustin Keller and Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe and Brandon Gibson. At least Grimes was good for a time.
Last year, you heard everyone associated with the Dolphins talk about signing and drafting “alpha males” and “players who love the game.”
So Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton and Frank Gore were brought in to lead (babysit). Minkah Fitzpatrick, perhaps the most intelligent and mature rookie I’ve ever covered, was drafted in the first round.
Awesome, this players who love the game thing.
But 7-9, with three losses to close out the year wasn’t awesome.
What about the previous year or two when the marching orders in the 2016 and 2017 offseason was to add “leaders” and “players who love the game?”
I mean, did the marketing department last year forget the team had already gone with the leaders campaign previously?
Remember when owner Stephen Ross announced that 2019 was going to usher in a new way of doing things? And that would include adding a new type of player?
“I think that as we build this roster, we have a great young roster today with some key players to build upon, but we’re going to build it the right way,” Ross said, “bringing in new people who will want to win, really creating that winning attitude.”
Anyone not familiar with the previous three years might have thought the previous administration of Grier, Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum had been trying to add total losers.
That all brings me to this: I think what remains of this 2019 offseason and the years ahead do really need a new approach. It’s obvious.
But that new thing need not be a new philosophy. Or a new marketing campaign. Or another reset.
That new thing is as simple as ... pick good players. Make wise decisions.
Under multiple administrations for decades the Dolphins have been making some awful decisions regardless of the operating philosophy.
It’s not about building the foundation first and then the quarterback or vise versa.
It’s not about being cheap or extravagant in free agency.
It’s about making the right calls -- not passing on Drew Brees twice, picking Gronk and not Misi, picking T.J. Watt rather than Charles Harris, picking Dallas Goedert rather than Mike Gesicki, picking Ziggy Ansah over Dion Jordan and on and on.
Philosophy is good. Principles are good. But we’ve pretty much seen them all tried already -- at least I have.
Now, that would be new.