“Maybe I need more of a poker face,” Miami Dolphins coach jokes
At the NFL owners meeting on Key Biscayne on Tuesday, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross at first seemed to have every intention of walking past reporters waiting for him in one of the Ritz Carlton’s swanky hallways. Club president and CEO Tom Garfinkel actually implored Ross to move on because there was some important meeting to get to.
But right then I saw something encouraging from the Miami Dolphins owner.
I saw a human side. And I saw discipline.
And that’s something that needs reporting because Ross is the head of the franchise. As he goes, the franchise will go. And in the span of maybe a minute, Ross showed he’s pointed in the right direction.
So why this grand pronouncement?
Ross was under intense internal pressure to not speak to reporters at this event. Club personnel told reporters via phone calls and texts not to bother trying to talk to the owner because he wasn’t going to talk. And that came after they convinced Ross not do any interviews.
So why the pressure on the employer from the employees?
Because the employees have experienced Ross saying controversial things when he talks, even when what he says is the truth. They have seen him fail to stay on message. They have seen him surprise everyone with announcements no one had any earthly idea were coming.
(Like the time he basically said the team was going to cut Richie Incognito, without consulting the personnel department. Like the time he announced a contract extension for Joe Philbin, which even Philbin didn’t know was coming.)
Yeah, the Ross experience sometimes can be a wild ride for some Dolphins employees. So their response has lately been to manage that ride by shutting it down.
By keeping Ross gagged as much as possible.
All this is admittedly inside baseball media-versus-team stuff most fans typically don’t care about — other than for the detail that the team’s owner often worries the team’s employees.
But this once the question of whether Ross talked to reporters was important to fans for this reason:
The Dolphins were afraid of what Ross might say about the current quarterback situation. The team was specifically worried about what Ross might say about recent acquisition Josh Rosen, of whom Ross had not previously uttered a word publicly.
The team was worried Ross might, as one club employee put it this week, “create conflict” about the current quarterback competition between Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Sounds paranoid, doesn’t it? Well, not if you understand the logic.
Ross was supposed to remain silent, it seems, because the team doesn’t want him talking about his expectation that Rosen will start games for the Dolphins this season.
The Dolphins have been conducting what they call a quarterback competition between Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Coach Brian Flores announced this competition a few weeks ago, and everyone has sort of accepted the competition as fact.
Except the legitimacy of that competition is questionable, and multiple league sources who see the stakes expect to see Rosen play in 2019 regardless of any competition. That would run counter to the Flores narrative that the best quarterback will start the regular-season opener and a decision will be made on the best quarterback every week after that.
The truth is apparently more this: Regardless of what happens throughout the season, at some point the Dolphins will insert Rosen as the starter and see what he can do.
And people within the Dolphins building know this. And they were afraid Ross would say this.
So here’s where Ross gets his due from me: Despite pressure to ignore reporters and seem like something of a jerk, Ross instead stopped and shook hands and answered a couple of questions. No, he didn’t let it go on and on. But he offered consideration and thoughtfulness his employees poorly advised him not to show.
So, yes, I appreciate the way Ross conducted himself here.
Then, during his minute or so spent among the reporters, Ross said this of Rosen and his situation:
“He’s competing,” Ross said. “That’s all I know. I’m not making the decision. He’s competing. There’s nothing else to say. The coach has told you that. Everybody tells you that. That’s all it is.”
Asked if he thought the Dolphins are pointed in the right direction, Ross responded: “Hey, we’re all optimistic, right?”
Then he walked away.
And did you see what just happened? Ross stayed on message. He didn’t spill beans. He didn’t contradict Flores. And that, too, deserves recognition and praise because it shows control.
That is what the Dolphins have been striving for internally since the so-called New England South way of doing business became a thing when Flores was hired away from the Patriots. They want to be more disciplined on the field and off, both with their play and their message.
This was a good example of that.
Does any of this change the fact the quarterback competition the Dolphins have been working hard to sell as legit is not that? No.
But that wasn’t a secret before Ross spoke, and he had no role in letting the truth slip.
By the way, if you have any question what the truth is, consider that Fitzpatrick a couple of weeks ago was asked if he believes the quarterback competition is legitimate.
“Again, I’m going to do my best to show them the best version of me and see how it shakes out,” Fitzpatrick answered in a candid moment.
That is not a “yes” or anything close to it.
The beauty for the Dolphins is that no one within the organization would publicly rip the thin veil off this competition question or say Rosen will absolutely play in 2019 whether he earns it or not.
And one reason for that is because owner Stephen Ross stayed on message Tuesday.