Some advice to Dolphins fans: If you hear the name of any pricey free agent you believe will improve this team in 2019 — from Le’Veon Bell to Brandon Graham to Ronald Darby — put a hand over your ears.
Because the goal this coming season, as reiterated by people who have spoken to the front office in recent days, is twofold:
▪ Lose enough to secure a high draft pick.
▪ And begin to rebuild the offensive line and defensive front seven with young, developmental players who haven’t reached their prime and certainly aren’t past their prime. And if you can find a quality young cornerback in the draft, that’s great, too.
We keep hearing that owner Stephen Ross really, really likes Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and that getting a high 2020 draft pick is the priority. There is also Dolphins admiration for Oregon’s Justin Herbert, another option high in the 2020 draft. If Miami doesn’t emerge from the 2020 draft with either of those quarterbacks, it will be considered a disappointment.
That’s why Miami is thoroughly prepared to field a product that is below the mediocre quality the Dolphins have served up in recent years. And that’s why when you hear a prominent expensive veteran free agent linked to the Dolphins, don’t get excited, as some did last week when word leaked that Pittsburgh star running back Bell would love to join the Dolphins.
Miami doesn’t intend to spend big money in free agency because that would enhance the chances of winning next season and thus reduce the chances of a top draft pick. There won’t be big offers for potential free agent Nick Foles, for example.
Some fans have asked whether it’s fair to use the word “tanking” with the Dolphins as opposed to simply rebuilding.
The answer is nuanced.
Tank, by definition, means “deliberately lose or fail to finish a game.”
The players and coaches obviously are not going to try to deliberately lose. And yes, games will be finished to their conclusion.
But the front office will not stock the roster with new players that give the Dolphins a good chance of getting to six or seven wins this season, let alone beyond that. At least that’s the plan now.
Could that change if Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins miraculously slips to the Dolphins’ draft range? Perhaps, but that’s unlikely.
The thinking now is a team of young developmental veterans, players on their first or second contracts, and some returning veterans mixed in — the type of team that could get Miami in contention for the top pick. And then wait for a top quarterback until 2020.
Ross hopes to begin winning in 2020 or 2021. But there’s also a long-term plan that the Dolphins hope will see them become a viable Super Bowl contender within five years, according to an official who spoke to the team.
I would expect some veterans to be dangled in trades, though it appears Miami sees merit in keeping potential 2020 free agent Xavien Howard, who would love to stay if the Dolphins offer him a long-term deal that would make him one of the league’s highest-paid cornerbacks.
The Tank for Tua plan requires discipline in this regard: There are a few Patriots defensive players, led by Trey Flowers, that are impending free agents and players new coach Brian Flores loves.
But signing Flowers would not only be costly, but also potentially help the Dolphins win more during a 2019 season when winning is not only not a priority, but also counterproductive toward the grand QB goal of 2020. So while pursuing Flowers in March would be tempting, it would run counter to the 2019 blueprint.
So the message for Dolphins fans is simple: Recalibrate your thinking. If you see the name of a veteran player you believe would make Miami better in 2019, put that thought out of your mind immediately. Because that’s not how this is headed.
As Ross said when asked why he fired Adam Gase: “because he wants to win” in 2019.
▪ The Dolphins are open to selecting a quarterback in this draft, perhaps in the mid rounds, but I would be somewhat surprised if it’s Will Grier. Grier, Drew Lock and Daniel Jones were uneven in their performance in the week leading up to the Senior Bowl. And general manager Chris Grier must decide whether Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray can be an impact starter at 5-10.