You have heard a lot of noise about the Miami Dolphins tanking in 2019. Because they’re doing exactly that.
But I would like to separate the toxicity of that strategy the Dolphins have chosen from what the team had to do this offseason.
While everyone (including me) has been talking about the Dolphins tanking, it should not escape notice that to make any progress the Dolphins definitely had to blow up their roster this seasons anyway.
The Dolphins today are an incomplete construction project after a site demolition. They are a restoration — to use a contractor term owner Stephen Ross would understand — before the rebuilding actually begins.
And while I cringe at the lax approach to the building, I wholeheartedly agree they needed the demo.
The Dolphins for years have not been good enough. They were not getting good enough results. They were merely running in place and going nowhere with a roster that was aging.
And what general manager Chris Grier has done with the teardown portion of this offseason has been outstanding work. Seriously.
A lot of what Grier has done has been painful. But almost all of it has been necessary.
Not re-signing defensive end Cameron Wake? Painful. But he’s 37-years-old and his best years are probably behind him. And he wasn’t going to fit the current defensive system. And he probably wasn’t going to love the current rebuild. So letting him go was right — albeit done in an awkward way.
Trading defensive end Robert Quinn? Bravo! Another underperforming player from last year. Another veteran who probably wouldn’t be a system fit. Another expensive salary eventually off the books. Well done.
Cutting long snapper John Denney. That is the right move. He’s 40 years old. And it hurts to say, but he didn’t get down the field like he used to. The blocking on punts wasn’t what it used to be. The only issue I have with this move is it was done two days ago instead of four months ago, which would have allowed for a proper send-off and given Denney a decent chance to catch on with another club.
But cutting him? Right thing to do.
Trading receiver Kenny Stills? Another good move. He had become more effective as an activist than a football player. And the Dolphins are supposed to be a football team not a social activism organization.
I don’t know what part Stills played in the trade with Houston that got Miami those two first-round picks, plus the second-round pick, plus other considerations. But Stills was not coming out of this rebuild in 2022-23 on the Miami Dolphins. So best to part ways now.
Grier is batting 1.000 so far — except for the way he has handled a couple of the departures.
Moving on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill needed to happen. In fact, I’m impressed the Dolphins got anything for Tannehill in trade. I would not have given the public mixed signals about whether Tannehill had a chance to stay because sending mixed signals is a sign of confusion.
But the Dolphins got this move right, and it doesn’t matter if Tannehill figures it out in Tennessee. It was time to move on.
Trade Kiko Alonso? It’s hard to keep a linebacker who doesn’t want to play for you. And Kiko didn’t like the system, didn’t like the coaching staff, wasn’t feeling the whole changing defenses week to week thing.
So another correct decision. Painful, in my opinion, but correct.
Cutting T.J. McDonald? See Kiko, except the Dolphins got nothing for him. Look, the adding of McDonald in 2017 on a one-year deal was not wrong. But giving him a long-term contract after only seeing him in camp and the preseason was weird.
Why do that?
And having McDonald and Reshad Jones, another box safety, was simply redundant.
Cutting Vincent Taylor on Monday? He wasn’t a scheme fit. Not the wrong move. But the timing was bad because, again, the Dolphins knew he wasn’t a scheme fit the second week of training camp. So why hurt the defensive tackle’s chances of catching on with another club?
Cutting pass rusher Nate Orchard on Tuesday? Not the wrong move. He’s just a guy. Next.
Not re-signing offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James? The Dolphins tried although they seemed to arrive late at their decision to try to keep him. Then it got wildly expensive. And it was right to let him go because he’s a good, not great player.
(Chris, you’re reading this and feeling pretty good, brother. But keep reading because you’re not out of the woods yet.)
Cutting Dwayne Allen? Thank God. It erased the mistake of signing the veteran tight end, who simply is not a fit for a team that it is going to lose a lot and he wants to win and that’s that.
Cutting running back Frank Gore? Correct.
Cutting wide receiver Danny Amendola? Correct.
Not re-signing running back Brandon Bolden. He wanted to play for a winner.
And then there’s this: Trading Laremy Tunsil.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
This move is indicative of the problem I have with this rebuild. It’s a tank job and not an actual rebuild.
Every guy the Dolphins have jettisoned not named Tunsil needed to go. But Tunsil needed to stay because every NFL team typically wants to keep 25-, 26-, 27-year-old players who are very good and still ascending.
Every NFL team also typically wants to keep guys who play premier positions — quarterback, left tackle, cornerback, pass rusher.
And Tunsil was both those things.
Tunsil also came with cost certainty for 2019, ‘20, and ‘21. The Dolphins could have kept him for those three years at a total cost of about $30 million or so by using the franchise tag in 2021.
That’s a bargain.
By trading Tunsil the Dolphins traded “what is” for a “what if” and that is rarely a good move.
So this is where I get off the Grier express. The only way he won’t regret this move is if he finds an equally talented left tackle to protect a gifted franchise quarterback in the next two years.
If he fails to do that, trading Tunsil will be deemed a major mistake.
Now, Grier is obviously betting on himself. I admire that. He found Tunsil and must believe he can find another one. We will agree to disagree, not that he cares what I think.
One more thing: I know Grier wanted to use the last draft to start shoring up the line of scrimmage for this club. And I’m not in love with the manner he did it.
I don’t like that he took Christian Wilkins in the first round and passed on quarterback Dwayne Haskins. I don’t like that he traded his second-round pick to New Orleans, which promptly used the selection on center Erick McCoy.
The Dolphins instead traded down, got a future pick, and used the 2019 trade down selection to acquire Josh Rosen.
Me? I like Haskins and McCoy on my team more than Wilkins and Rosen. No disrespect to Wilkins, but I think McCoy will be a better center than Wilkins will be a defensive lineman. And I think Haskins will be a better quarterback than Rosen.
(Not that Haskins was my favorite quarterback in the draft. That was Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham — something you already know if you read this space before the draft.)
Anyway, these are just draft opinions, and we’ll see three years from now whose darts landed closest to the mark.
But as to how the Dolphins have purged their roster? I don’t think the Dolphins let any huge talent outside of Tunsil get away. I like everything they did outside of trading Laremy Tunsil.