Stuff sometimes repeats. That’s inarguable.
History repeats. Fashion styles repeat. TV episodes repeat.
And, oh yeah, sometimes the Miami Dolphins repeat.
One of the most awesome things about my job is that every day is new. It’s not the same old, droning routine. Players come and go. Coaching staffs change. And things can often be fresh.
But because I’ve followed this team for so long, I’m aware when things come along that aren’t necessarily new. I see when patterns threaten to repeat.
And I’m seeing one unfold before our very eyes now.
The Dolphins in 2019 are starting to feel a lot like the Dolphins of 2012. And the team’s grand plan for 2020 is starting to resemble the team’s strategy of 2013.
In other words, 2019 and ‘20 are suddenly and increasingly looking like 2012 and ‘13.
And now you’re thinking I need a vacation. In a rubber room.
But open your mind to the facts I’m about to present and see if you don’t start to see what I’m starting to see ...
In 2012, after owner Stephen Ross fired coach Tony Sparano, he decided the team needed to go in a new direction. The team needed a new coach and new approach. Except Ross needed someone to help him so he retained general manager Jeff Ireland, who had previously been tied to Sparano in what ultimately was three-plus seasons of not-good-enough.
And in 2019, after Ross fired coach Adam Gase, he decided the team needed to go in a new direction. The team needed a new coach and new approach. Except Ross needed someone to help him, so he retained general manager Chris Grier, who had previously been tied to Gase and executive VP Mike Tannenbaum in what ultimately was three seasons of not-good-enough.
Yeah, we’re off to a roaring, repeating start.
Ross hired longtime Green Bay assistant Joe Philbin in 2012. And this year he hired longtime New England assistant Brian Flores.
Well, this is not where I tell you Flores is Philbin. I’m pretty certain he is not. I get a totally different vibe from Flores so far — thank God!
But there are nonetheless surface similarities.
Philbin was Green Bay’s OC but not fully as he didn’t call the plays.
Flores was New England’s defensive play-caller but obviously not the defensive coordinator as Patriots coach Bill Belichick had not given him that title.
Both are first-time head coaches. Both relied on longtime relationships and friendships to hire a staff that included first-time coordinators. Both have a former NFL coach on offense.
But the Philbin-Flores comparability is not the point.
In 2012, newly empowered GM Ireland traded away assets. He traded Brandon Marshall. He traded Vontae Davis. He let longtime contributors Yeremiah Bell and Kendall Langford leave in free agency. And he let a starting quarterback, Chad Henne, go elsewhere after Miami finally figured out he wasn’t going to be the franchise quarterback.
In free agency, meanwhile, Ireland held back. The Dolphins signed six unrestricted free agents that year — all of them role-type players at best. Only two made the team and only one, cornerback Richard Marshall, was even on the team by year’s end. Marshall was cut the following offseason, having played all of four games for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins had a journeyman quarterback on the team in the spring of 2012. His name was/is Matt Moore. And Moore’s reputation was of being a hot and cold kind of gunslinger.
Hot Matt Moore could shred a defense. Cold Matt Moore was a nightmare.
Bottom line is Moore was really a solid backup. And that’s exactly what he became when?
After the Dolphins drafted Ryan Tannehill and he and Moore engaged in a training camp competition, which Philbin set up because the coach didn’t believe in naming a starter without that player earning it.
Fast forward to this spring when newly empowered GM Grier traded away assets and let other players leave via free agency. He traded starter Robert Quinn. He let longtime contributors Cameron Wake and Ja’Wuan James leave in free agency.
And Grier let starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, finally go elsewhere after the team figured out he wasn’t going to be the franchise quarterback.
And that left journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as the team’s quarterback. And Fitzpatrick’s reputation is of being a hot and cold kind of gunslinger.
Hot Ryan Fitzpatrick can shred a defense, as his 2014 six TD game proves. Cold Ryan Fitzpatrick is a nightmare, as his 2016 six interception game proves..
Bottom line is Fitzpatrick is a solid backup. And that’s exactly what he likely became when?
When the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen during the draft.
Flores has not named Rosen the starter. He said anyone who walks through the doors of the team facility should compete. So Fitzpatrick and Rosen might engage in a training camp competition — which, win or lose, will still leave Rosen with a good number of starts in 2019.
So we’re repeating so far.
And what were the 2012 Dolphins? There were an incomplete team. They arguably had a better roster than the Dolphins have now but they were not a good team.
And what do you expect the 2019 Dolphins to be? Well, betonline.ag released its odds for division winners Wednesday and the Dolphins are 25-to-1 to win the AFC East. That’s the longest odds in the division.
The saving grace for 2012 was that 2013 promised awesome possibilities.
Philbin and his staff and their culture would be in Year 2. The system the players were asked to play would be more familiar for everyone — including Tannehill, who was certain to make a big jump.
And the Dolphins were replete with draft picks and salary cap space for 2013.
I mean, does this sound familiar to anyone else?
The Dolphins entered the 2013 offseason with $39.1 million in cap space. And while that doesn’t sound like a lot today, you must recall the salary cap in 2013 was $123 million.
So the Dolphins had the fifth-most cap space of any NFL team at the start of free agency and 32 percent of their salary cap space was available.
Well, the 2020 Dolphins are estimated by overthecap.com to enter the 2020 offseason with $79.6 million in useable cap space, which will be third most in the NFL. And because the cap next year is estimated to be $200 million, the Dolphins will have about 39.5 percent of their salary cap space available when free agency begins.
So based on the percentage of unused cap space the 2020 Dolphins will enter the offseason with about five percent more space than the 2013 Dolphins did — but that assumes today’s Dolphins do not spend any more of their current carryover cap space on free agents or in-season signings to overcome injuries.
So not a significant difference.
What about the draft? Fans now are rightly excited the Dolphins have maneuvered themselves into a favorable draft scenario for 2020. The Dolphins estimate they’ll have 12 picks coming for 2020, with two of those coming as compensatory picks for losing James (an estimated third round compensatory pick award) and Wake (an estimated fifth-round compensatory pick award).
Twelve picks in 2020 should be good. Just like the 2013 Dolphins expected their 11 draft picks in that year’s draft would be good.
The 2020 Dolphins will have five picks in the first three rounds.
The 2013 Dolphins had five picks in the first three rounds.
The 2020 Dolphins have a first-, two second-, and two third-round picks coming. The 2013 started that draft with a first-, two-second, and two third-round picks.
“We’ve got a lot of draft picks and cap space,” Ireland said at the start of the 2013 offseason.
And the same is already being said of the Dolphins for the 2020 offseason.
None of this means the results will be the same after this season or next. I’m not saying that. But the road this franchise is traveling starting January 1, 2019 is eerily familiar.
They don’t see it. Some fans probably don’t see it.
And that doesn’t surprise because the blindness also would be, well, repeating:
In December 2017, I wrote Gase was on a course that was familiar to me. I wrote Gase was starting to parallel the Tony Sparano career arc.
I wrote that the biggest mistake Sparano made during his time with Miami was to continue believing in Henne and not finding a replacement before it cost him his job. Sparano had gotten the Dolphins in the playoffs his first year but that didn’t matter years later because the QB situation was broken.
And I made the point in that 2017 column that Gase, who had gotten the Dolphins in the playoffs his first year, was making the exact same mistake with Tannehill.
I recall people within the Dolphins organization dismissing what I wrote as a flight of fancy. And one of the Dolphins fan sites mocked the work.
But 12 months later, the repeat was complete.
Gase stuck with Tannehill and was fired, just as Sparano was fired after sticking with Henne.
And Gase never got above .500 after that first playoff year just as Sparano never got above .500 after his initial playoff year. And Gase ended his Dolphins tenure with a .479 winning percentage after Sparano ended his Dolphins tenure with a .466 winning percentage.
So, yes, stuff repeats. It’s happening before your very eyes.