Barry Jackson

Why Stephen Ross might need to intervene. And former NFL executive defends Dolphins’ plan

A six-pack of Dolphins items on a Monday:

Good news, Dolphins fans: I am already coming up with a list of excuses the Dolphins can use to rest their best players if the No. 1 overall draft pick is on the line when they play host to the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 22.

How about needing to rest players for OTAs in May and June? Or an ingrown toenail? Or a mild bout of scurvy? Or mental fatigue from enduring a year of The Tank? Or claiming players got stuck in traffic or delayed by South Florida’s various road closures?

In all seriousness, when I raised the possibility of taking extra tanking measures — if needed — against the Bengals, a Dolphins football staffer dismissed the idea, saying it would be a bad look and send a bad message to players.

But I don’t see it that way. If you’re going to the trouble of being a national embarrassment for a season, you better complete the job. You better do whatever it takes — within the rules — to make sure you get the first pick, or at worst, the second — thus ensuring selection of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, who isn’t considered by many evaluators to be as good a prospect as Tagovailoa.

And I don’t want to hear the Dolphins have the draft capital to move up if needed. Have you seen this team play? They need all those extra draft picks to fill their numerous needs.

So if there’s ever a time for owner Stephen Ross to intervene, that would be it. If the Dolphins would be at risk of losing out on the top pick by losing to the Bengals, the onus is on Ross to convey to his front office and coaching staff that winning cannot be the priority that day.

Let’s be clear: The players obviously cannot and absolutely should not be involved in this. Whoever plays needs to try to win, period. Anything else would be unacceptable, morally and legally.

And it could raise suspicions — or prompt backlash from players — if completely healthy starters are benched for the entire game. So that can’t happen.

But here’s what can happen, if Miami is at risk of falling out of the top pick in the draft that day: Give your top veteran players a couple of series in that Bengals game (Xavien Howard, Kenyan Drake, Jesse Davis, DeVante Parker, Reshad Jones, Albert Wilson etc.) and then spend the rest of the game looking at younger players. That’s legitimate in a rebuild.

And if you’re a good player with a minor injury, it’s justified to rest the player.

What about Ross intervening this weekend when the Dolphins host the Redskins? It’s premature and potentially not necessary because this team, organically, should be bad enough to lose on its own, without getting that extra push.

But if the top pick is in doubt come mid-December, the Dolphins management needs to keep reminding themselves that they have gone too far, embarrassed the brand too much, to lose sight of the grand prize.

And at that point — it’s way too soon now — they must do what it takes to enhance their chances to get that pick, provided it’s within the rules.

Respected sports business writer Andrew Brandt, a sports law professor and former Green Bay Packers vice president, wrote an interesting piece defending the Dolphins’ plan for SI.com. Brandt wrote: “Don’t call it tanking: In sports as in business, there are many ways to build an organization, and Miami, like many teams before them, is choosing to sacrifice now for the prospects of greater gain down the road.

“Rather than ridicule the team, we should acknowledge that prioritizing the development of young talent is integral to long-term success.... Businesses regularly sacrifice short-term success for a more stable long-term future.”

The Dolphins have great hopes for linebacker Sam Eguavoen, believing he could follow Cameron Wake as a CFL-to-NFL success story. So how has he done through a quarter of the season?

Eguavoen has started all four games and has 17 tackles, one tackle for loss and half a sack. Pro Football Focus rates him 67th of 74 qualifying linebackers.

“Being consistent is one of the hardest things to do in the NFL,” he said. “I’ve made a couple of splash plays, but when it’s a bad play, it’s bad, bad. [Linebackers coach Rob Leonard] said I’ve been solid against the run. I’m grateful they see the potential in me and are still giving me opportunities.”

The Dolphins believe Eguavoen is better equipped to defend the pass than Raekwon McMillan, which explains why Eguavoen has played a lot more. But per Pro Football Focus, Eguavoen so far has allowed all nine passes thrown against him to be caught, for 98 yards.

Eguavoen said when he “didn’t have the best” performance in a tackling drills, cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer cracked: “Hey, Sam, this isn’t the freaking CFL any more!”

Pass coverage remains a problem for Dolphins linebackers, as has been the case for years here. Jerome Baker has allowed 11 of 16 passes thrown against him to be caught, for 176 yards.

McMillan has been targeted only once and allowed that pass to be completed for 8 yards.

So of the 26 passes thrown against the Dolphins’ top three linebackers, 21 have been caught.

Considering Miami is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry (22nd in the league), you wonder if there would be more success if the Dolphins ran out of I formation a bit more. Rookie fullback Chandler Cox has played just 12 offensive snaps all season.

Cox said he’s in meetings with the tight ends, not the running backs. He would be the emergency fourth tight end if Miami loses one of its top three.

The Patriots used fullback James Devlin on more than one-third of their offensive plays last season, but Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea apparently aren’t ready to give Cox a bigger role.

The Dolphins signed offensive lineman Antonio Garcia to their practice squad; he’s a former Patriots third-round pick out of Troy in 2017 who just came off NFL suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancement substance policy. He has never appeared in an NFL regular-season game and missed his rookie season because of blood clots in his lungs.

To make room, Miami released undrafted Pittsburgh rookie defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, who showed considerable promise in preseason as a pass rusher.

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