Dolphins coach, “now that the pads are on it will get tough and gritty”
Forty-six years after the Miami Dolphins completed the NFL’s only Perfect Season, the latest edition of the franchise is busy preparing for a year in which no one expects them to win the Super Bowl, or their conference, or their division, or even qualify for the playoffs. No one, it seems, expects much of anything good to come out of these latter-day Dolphins.
And that’s where everyone is wrong.
Because, strange as it is to say, these Dolphins have one thing in common with the Perfect Dolphins that no other team in the club’s history has been able to share: These guys cannot lose.
That’s the truth about what is about to happen for Miami this coming NFL season.
The Dolphins are about to play a season in which winning is winning. And losing, convoluted as it may be to figure, will also be considered as winning.
Pretty sweet deal, right?
That is exactly where we are with the 2019 Dolphins. Travel to one of their open training camp practices in Davie and the players are running and hitting, pushing and pulling, as all Dolphins players have done forever. Coaches are teaching with equal parts encouragement and confrontation.
They’re all working in the same outdoor sauna a Miami practice field has always felt like going all the way back to the team’s founding days in 1966.
But the results of all this work in 2019 will come with a vastly different meaning than it ever has. Because the Dolphins are playing both the long game and the short game over their 16-game schedule.
The short-game results that matter are the games the team plays and wins this season. The people who work at the practice facility — players and coaches mostly — are certain things are going to be just fine this year. They’re not openly making bold predictions. They’ve been instructed to stay away from such talk.
So ask left tackle Laremy Tunsil, perhaps the best player on offense, if the Dolphins can reach the playoffs and he stays on message: “We’re going to keep working,” Tunsil says. “Work every day and take it day-by-day and we’ll see.”
But privately, Dolphins players scoff at the idea they’re not going to be a good team. These guys expect to win games. And if they do that, the Dolphins will have won hearts and minds. Which will be a big win!
If, however, the team is exactly what Las Vegas says it will be when bookies place the over-under on wins for the year at five, then we’ll ignore the short-term pain and think more about long-term gain. The Dolphins, losing a ton of games this year, will be in perfect draft position in 2020 to finally draft a franchise quarterback to replace Dan Marino.
Losing a ton of 2019 games will then be unmasked for what it really is ... winning next offseason!
Win-win in full effect.
National pundits, by the way, share this thinking. And based on the general reaction I get from fans, they’re also on board. So the Dolphins have done a wonderful job of convincing everyone they cannot lose.
The only way the season is a setback, one national pundit told me Saturday, is if the team finishes 8-8, 7-9 or 6-10. That, he said, would be a disaster because it would be a replay of the same old mediocrity the Dolphins are trying to escape. I agree with that.
Except, to my surprise, the Dolphins think even that is also a big win. Because if the Dolphins, with this imperfect roster, manage to be a .500 team, that will be proof the hiring of Brian Flores as the new head coach was an inspired move.
Because Flores would have to be a genius to have a mediocre team with this flawed roster.
A cynic would argue this is all spin. And that’s exactly what it is. But this spin comes with the added benefit of being true.
We all know losing stinks, and it’s painful, and it should never be the point. Anyone spinning it any other way is a hack. But that doesn’t change the fact that if the Dolphins lose a lot and wind up with the first overall draft pick next April, fans will be giddy.
You will be giddy.
And now the real craziness about this perpetual win-win scenario the Dolphins are about to embark on: The theme carries over to just about everything. It’s mystifying. But it’s true.
If, for example, Josh Rosen becomes a star quarterback that’s a win because the Dolphins have lacked one since Marino retired 20 years ago. If Rosen is a bust, that’s also a win because the team was merely taking a chance on him and the 2020 draft is coming.
That is not, by the way, how I view it. In my opinion, if Rosen fails, that’s a failure for him and the personnel department that invested a premium price — second- and fifth-round picks — to trade for him.
But I’m apparently in a minority of one on that. Because the majority is seeing everything that happens to the Dolphins in 2019 as win-win.