A nation of Miami Dolphins fans went to bed Tuesday evening believing their NFL team is pretty much done with the dismantling. And now it will sit on its mountain of accumulated future draft picks and salary cap space through many 2019 losses before beginning a grand rebuild next spring.
And that’s exactly what is going to happen.
The Dolphins have not only blown up their roster but actually nuked it with the recent blockbuster moves of trading 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2016 first-round draft pick Laremy Tunsil.
And if this is all part of the master plan, fans are going to think, then we can’t wait for the rest of the scheme to unfold.
Except, well, this was not the plan.
When the Dolphins fired Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum and reset the franchise under former and current general manager Chris Grier last December, sources within the team admit there was no plan to jettison Tunsil. Or Fitzpatrick. Or cut Kiko Alonso. Or T.J. McDonald.
The Dolphins were going to make their longest-tenured player John Denney compete for his job in training camp, but there was no advance stratagem to cut him six days before the season opener.
There was no plan to trade for a starting right tackle the week before the opener. There was no plan to trade for a starting right guard the week before the opener.
And there was certainly no plan to “tank,” according to people within the organization.
In fact, if you ask any member of the Dolphins brain trust about tanking, the push back now — even after trading Tunsil, Fitzpatrick and starting the season in historically overmatched fashion — is unflinching:
“We’re not tanking,” I was told in recent days, repeating a message privately that has been echoed publicly multiple times by coach Brian Flores and Grier.
So what happened?
How did the Dolphins arrive at this place that resembles a dystopian hellscape where the 2019 season can go to die? How did we get from “we’re not tanking” to what looks curiously like, well, tanking?
Apparently it happened by happenstance.
“I would say [it was] very unexpected as far as the Laremy and Minkah situations,” Grier said Tuesday. “You can’t prepare for that. I’m not going to sit up here and lie about it.
“But for us the opportunities were kind of unique with a little bit of the historic haul for [Tunsil] and Kenny [Stills], with what we’re getting. So I think for us, [the idea was] to strike on this opportunity — because we know as the team was built right now, it wasn’t going to win a Super Bowl ...”
... Or many games for that matter.
The Dolphins are a terrible team without Stills and Tunsil and Alonso and McDonald and Fitzpatrick and the other guys the club was committed to in the past. But they weren’t going to be much better with those guys.
So, it seems, the idea became why not do this now?
And it began when the coaching staff that insists it loved Fitzpatrick and valued him and thought highly of him, privately couldn’t really find a comfort level with the player. That was the case before training camp began. And it manifested throughout August as coaches couldn’t settle on a role for the player.
So they gave him multiple roles.
And Fitzpatrick didn’t like that idea because he wanted to prepare his body and mind for one or two jobs and wanted to go do those exceedingly well. Except the coaches couldn’t agree with him on what those jobs should be.
So there was a significant disagreement between the player and the coaches.
And neither side was willing to yield.
And neither owner Stephen Ross nor Grier could mediate an understanding.
“Myself, Brian, and Steve — we had multiple conversations with him, saying we wanted him here and viewed him as a core piece and wanted him here,” Grier said. “The kid just felt it was time for him to move, and we told him what the value was.
“We told teams we had multiple offers, and we felt that the Pittsburgh one was the one best for the organization.”
So the plan was never really to jettison Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a first-round pick and an exchange of other picks. That was forced upon the Dolphins by Fitzpatrick.
The plan was never really to jettison Alonso, either, by the way. The team brought him to training camp, and he was a starter on the first day. And then something funny happened on the way to the regular season.
Alonso hated the Miami coaching staff. Coaches wanted Alonso to prepare to play multiple positions including edge rusher. And Alonso disagreed.
And after that disagreement Alonso curiously found himself on second team. And then Alonso curiously got injured and kind of stayed that way for weeks until he got traded.
Yeah, it happens.
So none of this was planned. It just ... happened.
The plan was also never to trade Tunsil. That was forced upon the Dolphins by the Houston Texans.
The Texans had a problem in August and that was they didn’t want Jadeveon Clowney on their team even though they placed the franchise tag on the player. So that team began to shop the pass rusher.
And because the Dolphins lack a good pass rusher and, again, because they don’t consider themselves to be tanking, they were interested in Clowney. He could help them win games in 2019, they figured.
The problem for Miami was it wasn’t going to yield a high pick for Clowney because Miami wants to collect as many picks as possible to ensure a chance to draft a quarterback in 2020.
And let this be known once and for all: The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.
The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.
The Miami Dolphins will draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2020 draft.
And maybe somebody will begin to understand its a virtual certainty if I write it hundreds more times between now and April. It’s written in stone and no amount of good play by Ryan Fitzpatrick or Josh Rosen this season is going to change that, according to multiple sources.
Anyway, when the Dolphins made it clear they’re not giving up anything resembling a first-rounder for Clowney the issue passed for a little while. But the Texans were shopping Clowney with a purpose.
And that was to find an blindside protector for quarterback Deshaun Watson. And the Texans set their sights on Tunsil.
And then this happened...
Houston: How about Clowney for Tunsil?
Houston: How about Clowney and a first-round pick for Tunsil?
Houston: How about Clowney, a first-round pick and other draft considerations for Tunsil?
Miami was interested enough to meet with Clowney. But Clowney, who was training in South Florida and loves it here, wasn’t keen on playing for the Dolphins because he understands they’re not a good team. And he wanted to be on a good team.
So the trade died. And the Texans sent Clowney to the Seattle Seahawks.
But the trade that died came back like some regenerated monster because Texans coach Dr. Frankenstein really, really wanted Tunsil. And so the teams engaged some more. And that went something like this, per sources:
Houston: How about a first- and a second-round pick for Tunsil?
Houston: How about a first and a second and other considerations for Tunsil and other considerations?
Houston: How about two firsts and a second for Tunsil and presumably Stills and other considerations?
Dolphins: How about two firsts, and a second and you send us your starting left tackle, too?
“That was one where we got a phone call and they kept pursuing us,” Grier said. “Multiple, multiple times, we talked and kept telling them ‘no’ and what it would take and they came and offered it.”
When the deal was finally struck, Grier called Tunsil to his office to tell him of the news and bid him farewell. Tunsil was initially not pleased, but the general manager showed Tunsil the bones of the trade and the offensive lineman was impressed.
“Laremy walked in my office and saw it on the board and goes, ‘I would trade me for that,’ Grier said.
Tunsil hugged Grier and got on a private Texans jet with Stills bound for Houston.
“But seriously,” Grier said, “we were not trying to do it.”
And that’s the theme of this dismantling. It has happened. But it wasn’t drawn up this way.
And where it will lead? Anyone who says they know how it will proceed is joking. Because things can happen to alter course.
As they already have.