Barry Jackson

The Dolphins need to learn these lessons from this disappointing season

Miami Dolphins Mike Tannenbaum, vice president of football operations, and coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier (right).
Miami Dolphins Mike Tannenbaum, vice president of football operations, and coach Adam Gase (left) and GM Chris Grier (right). ctrainor@miamiherald.com

As Irish statesman Edmund Burke once said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Dolphins fans must hope the team’s trio of decision-makers (Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier) learn these eight lessons from this almost-over disappointing season and will adjust accordingly:

• Don’t overestimate what you believe is your greatest strength – in this case, your front seven talent.

The Dolphins thought they were getting the Andre Branch who injected energy during last season’s win streak, the Kiko Alonso who played well during that 2016 stretch and the Lawrence Timmons who was once a very good player for Pittsburgh. They got none of the three. They also curiously counted on Koa Misi being healthy for a change (he wasn’t).

Branch reverted to being an ordinary defensive end (21 tackles and four sacks in 13 games); Alonso was victimized all year against tight ends (he has allowed 779 yards in pass coverage, worst in the league by an astounding margin of 179 yards over the second worst, per Pro Football Focus); and Timmons, by late October, looked like the declining player that the Steelers saw when they parted ways with him.

The Dolphins also had some bad luck, with middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan missing the season with a knee injury.

Lesson learned here: With Miami producing the third-fewest sacks (26) and tied for last in pressures-per-pass-play, this front seven still clearly needs upgrading.

If Miami doesn’t add at least one quality starting linebacker and another rotational end, they can expect the same problems next season – perhaps even more so, with Cam Wake getting older and eventually probably better suited to a pass-rush specialist role.

• When you decide to pay a pittance for guards, you often can expect mediocre results – unless you’re really good at drafting them, which the past several Dolphins regimes haven’t been.

The Dolphins decided early last season that they were done spending big money at guard.

But by trying to patch together a group of guards being paid less than $6 million combined (Ted Larsen, Jermon Bushrod, Anthony Steen, Jesse Davis, Isaac Asiata), the Dolphins ended up with what they paid for – largely uninspired play.

Among 79 qualifying guards, Pro Football Focus ranks Bushrod 65th, Steen 66th, Davis 68th and Larsen 69th. No other team has all their guards rated so low.

I understand why Miami didn’t want to spend big money on Kevin Zeitler (five years, $60 million from Cleveland), T.J. Lang (three years, $28 million from Detroit), Larry Warford (four years, $24 million from Saints) and Ronald Leary (four years, $36 million from Denver). But some of them would have helped; PFF rates Leary 10th (he’s out now with back injury), Zeitler 11th and Lang 14th.

Perhaps this would have worked out differently if Larsen hadn’t missed the first half of the season with a bicep injury or if the Dolphins had hit on Asiata, who hasn’t played a snap. Instead, Asiata was just the latest example of this franchise’s inability to find quality, NFL-ready guards in the draft over the past decade.

• Don’t use a modest sample size of success to necessarily judge players who have had uneven careers.

The Dolphins gave three years and $24 million to Branch based on a strong final two months, even though he had more than four sacks only once in four years in Jacksonville, where he started just 12 of 51 games.

Miami gave four years and $29 million to Alonso – instead of signing him for one year, using a tender – and then making an evaluation after the 2017 season. Alonso was very good as a rookie for Buffalo in 2013 and productive last year but missed 2014 with an injury and was merely average for Philadelphia in 2015.

• Pro Football Focus isn’t always right. But it isn’t always wrong either.

The Dolphins have been dismissive of PFF evaluations, claiming that Bushrod was much better than PFF suggested last year. Though a bunch of other teams pay hundreds of dollars annually for PFF data, the Dolphins put no weight in low grades last year for free agents Timmons and Nate Allen.

Seems as though PFF was right on all three. Timmons proved to be a declining linebacker, Allen a middling safety and Bushrod (at this point in his career) a subpar guard.

Obviously, no team should base its evaluation primarily – or anything close to that - off a metric site. But metric site evaluation of players should at least be mentioned as part of a broad evaluation of potential acquisitions.

• Be careful with signing players with lots of tread on the tires (Timmons), a history of injuries (Misi/the Dolphins restructured his 2017 contract instead of merely cutting him and moving on), or players coming off a bad year (Jay Cutler, Julius Thomas).

• Don’t gloss over behavioral issues or undisciplined play such as a penchant for penalties (Miami is second in the league) and expect they will get fixed.

It was stunning when Gase said after the Baltimore game that some of his players don’t study their playbooks enough and it had been a problem for a year and a half. Shouldn’t this have been addressed sooner? And Gase and his staff were unable to fix the penalty problem, which is partly coaching.

On a much more serious level, it was surprising when the Dolphins insisted they had seen no red flags from offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who was snorting a white substance from his desk.

The Dolphins cannnot babysit their coaches or players, and perhaps Foerster simply did a great job of hiding his problem, until a Las Vegas woman leaked his damaging video. So we won’t blame the Dolphins on this.

But in general, shouldn’t the Dolphins have a sharper sense of player/employee shortcomings - issues as simple as lack of studying or more serious problems - and do something about it sooner?

• This one is specifically for Gase: Your confidence, even cockiness, is admirable. You proved last year you have great potential as an NFL head coach.

But don’t assume you can fix players because you’ve worked with them before. That was the assumption made with Cutler and Thomas, neither of whom produced at the levels the team expected.

Gase can help maximize the production of some players – such as Ryan Tannehill last year and Tim Tebow a few years ago – but he’s not a magician. Few, if any, coaches are.

Here’s Armando Salguero’s interesting piece tonight on something else Gase must learn.

• Don’t let good free agents leave your building without a contract if you can help it.

Miami failed to sign defensive end Jabaal Sheard and linebacker Zach Brown, and both have been clearly better players this year than Branch or Timmons, who were signed before the Sheard/Brown visits.

Here’s my six-pack of Tuesday UM nuggets, including recruiting news and other stuff.

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