With former Dolphins players convening in South Florida this past weekend for the team’s annual Alumni Weekend, there was the usual reminiscing, good-natured ribbing and discussions about how they’re holding up physically.
But here’s what you didn’t hear: Lashing out at the franchise during a season that’s on track to be historically bad, by Dolphins and NFL standards.
In conversations with several former Dolphins at a downtown Miami event last week, all were supportive of Miami’s strategy of dismantling the roster, with an eye on landing a quarterback high in next year’s draft and basically getting a reset.
“I really think it’s the right thing to do at [this] point,” said Dick Anderson, the former All Pro safety and 1973 NFL Defensive Player the Year. “The history they’ve had for the last 15, 20 years hasn’t been good either. They’re making a change to get the right players in there and I think it’s the right thing to do. It hurts. But I think they’re on the right track of building a team and we just have to put up with it for one year.”
Count the Marks Brothers - Dan Marino’s most accomplished receivers - as also being supportive of the Tank, though neither they nor any of the alums would call it that and Mark Clayton quibbles with the use of that word.
Clayton spoke to owner Stephen Ross on the field before the recent Dolphins-Cowboys game in Arlington, Texas, and emerged hopeful.
“I had a nice conversation with Mr. Ross; I like what he was saying,” Clayton said. “It made me feel encouraged about the direction this team is going. You have to take your lumps right now but what they’re doing is building for the future with a lot of good draft choices. They have a lot of cap room. After this season, the sky is the limit because you can’t go down. You can only go up. We might take our lumps now, but it’s going to pay off later. Sometimes you got to start over. I feel like they’ve got some great football minds over there. They’re going to be able to select the right people and start building this thing right.”
And fellow former star receiver Mark Duper said enduring a year or two of pain is a worthwhile tradeoff if it translates to years of success.
“You’re going to have hard times when you rebuild but you will have great times,” Duper said. “Look what Jimmy Johnson did for the Cowboys. I’m OK with this.”
Former Dolphins offensive lineman Keith Sims, a three-time Pro Bowler, lives in Atlanta and said he decided not to get DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package this season “when I heard what the Dolphins were going to do” in terms of dismantling.
But he agrees with the plan, and puts it in this context: “I made a promise to my oldest son when he was 10 years old. When the Dolphins go to the Super Bowl, I’m taking you. He’s going to graduate college in May and we haven’t been there yet. If this gets us to the Super Bowl or in that contention for the next two or three years, I think it will be worth it. If it doesn’t, then I don’t know what we do at that point because at that point we’ve tried just about everything.
“I believe in coach [Brian] Flores. I believe in the organization and what they’re doing and how they’re approaching things. I think they’ll be more careful. We’ve been trying to fix the problem for 15 years and haven’t found that fix. I don’t expect them to go 0-16. I think they will to win a game or two or three. I just don’t want them to win too much. Because I really want them to secure the number one pick and hopefully springboard us into the future. [Alabama quarterback and potential top pick] Tua [Tagovailoa] looks really good.”
Former Dolphins running back and ex-NFL assistant coach Tony Nathan put it this way: “You are going to have to hit rock bottom to go where you want to go. I’m fine with this. I’m fine with this” and if the right decisions are made on personnel, “it will be like being in New England. You let it roll and it runs itself.”
And, as former Pro Bowl linebacker John Offerdahl noted: “The strategies on how to create a winning team and legacy have changed. I’m just a fan these days. It’s painful from a fan standpoint because I want to see victories.”
That’s one commonality between Dolphins fans and the team’s former players: Watching this product, even if they agree with the longterm plan, can be excruciating.
“It hurts,” Clayton said. “It’s like a little brother you don’t like seeing get beat up on week in and week out and go to school getting bullied.”
But there was criticism conveyed at Thursday’s event at the History MiamiMuseum, and former Dolphins offensive lineman Ed Newman, a Miami-Dade county judge, said “I’m very disappointed in the offensive line. Five against five and four or five of our people are losing. I’m also a little disturbed with a strategy for a decade. The playoff teams all have great [offensive lines]. That is a major miscalculation [not building one here]. Offensive, defensive lines are underrated as stalwart fixtures on the team. We can’t get a quarterback three seconds for a pass? There’s no ability to run a pocket?”
Newman also bemoaned that “the present edition of the Miami Dolphins are a little too comfortable with a loss. Under coach [Don] Shula, it was not easy to live with three in a row losses.”
And he said he would “like to be a fly on the wall” in business meeting with owner Stephen Ross. “What are you saying here? They are a business. They’re trying to sell tickets. If you want to have renewals and want new sales, you have to show a lot more heart.”
Whatever fans are experiencing, Sims suggest it’s much worse for the players:
“It would be really difficult being in that locker-room, having to live through that. The worst record I had as a pro was 8-8. So that would be really, really difficult to have to put in all that energy and time and your body on the line and know you’re really not going to win. I don’t know how you approach that.”
Several agree with trading players who don’t want to be here.
“Let them leave, let them leave, get them out of here,” Clayton said, “because if someone doesn’t want to be here, you will not get the maximum out of them compared to the players who do want to be here. It’s a new era, new generation of players.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that [with Minkah Fitzpatrick asking for a trade because he didn’t want to be used in a half dozen positions]. If a player wants to be traded, just let them leave, as long as you get appropriate compensation. They drafted him in the first round, they got first round pick [back].”
As Duper said, “I don’t want you to play for me if you don’t want to play for me. I like Flores’ style. If we gave him a chance, he’s going to make this a good team.”
The one former Dolphins standout who works for the team, senior vice president of special projects and alumni relations Nat Moore, said not a single former player has asked him what the heck the organization is doing.
“They know I ain’t going to tell them anything any damn way,” he cracked.
Moore then offered this passionate defense of the Dolphins’ strategy.
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