It is difficult to see things clearly in this purgatory. Your eyes are filled with the odd combination of hope and mistrust. A man betrays a woman for a decade, she’ll be armed with skepticism when he shows up with flowers and chocolates promising yet again to change. But here’s the thing: Dolphin fans want so badly to believe in this kind of romance, which made last week feel like wowing and wooing despite all the baggage and scars, and now anyone who cares about this team is stuck between wanting to think things are fixed and not trusting the people doing the fixing.
Everyone loves hope, though no one more than the hopeless, so South Florida rewarded itself last week with a big burst of noisy and understandable joy. For one day at least, we won football, won free agency, won period, and it felt good to feel like winners, even if it was the wrong month for it. Here in the land of hangovers and foreclosures, we throw the big party first and ask the big questions later. So as Miami made it rain free agent millions, clapping and joyous, feeling reckless and high, it was hard to hear above the party favors and night-club din the lonely voices asking, “Um, what did we just do here?”
What the heck do you mean, “What did we just do here?” We just won the first day of free agency, that’s what we just bleeping did here, you jerk. Got one of the league’s fastest receivers at the team’s weakest position. Stole the young and menacing Ray Lewis replacement from the champions, producing not just hope but the second-best thing in sports (the surprise!).
Start of something
And we got a Wheeler guy who sent us to Google to figure out what position he played. Yeah! Another linebacker! Yeah! In your face! Wait ... what? Did we need another linebacker?
Whatever. It felt like the start of something, a hope transfusion, a burst of fresh air and sunshine in a room filled with a decade of dark and damp. Never mind that only the bad teams ever win the first day of free agency. Never mind that all the good teams stayed out of football’s most expensive day and waited for the frenzied desperation to dilute. Just turn up that feel-good music, baby. #YOLO. We sang “I’m in Miami bitch” as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady LMFAO’ed. We popped some bottles and free-agent ecstasy. We’ll worry about the bills later without worrying about being the Bills later.
The transaction seems to have usurped the action in sports because the promise of tomorrow can feel so much better than your team’s today, and the Dolphins won Transaction Day in America’s most popular sport. Purchasing hope will captivate a fan base enough to ignore that Redskins owner Daniel Synder has won this kind of day for a decade without winning much of anything else. It is instructive that the last time South Florida felt this way, at once excited but skeptical, was about ... the Marlins. But quit urinating on the parade, killjoy. Last time we felt this way before the Marlins was LeBron James, and that worked out OK.
We don’t know
In football especially, talent evaluation is so subjective we really don’t have any idea if the Dolphins got better last week. We know they got different and younger. But better? It is impossible to know. And it is worth pointing out that all these exciting, new solutions came in just as all the expensive, old alleged solutions were leaving. If you distrust, it was like General Manager Jeff Ireland was playing one of those street-hustler shell games, moving pieces around so fast on a table, hoping to trick you into believing it was real magic instead of a con.
The Dolphins got rid of Karlos Dansby, who was the five-year, $43 million answer in 2010, for Dannell Ellerbe, who is the new five-year, $35 million answer now. They swept out Kevin Burnett, a four-year, $20 million answer in 2011, for Philip Wheeler, the five-year, $26 million answer today. Two-year, $7.75 million solution Anthony Fasano is now replaced by the one-year, $4 million Dustin Keller today. Jake Long, Reggie Bush and Sean Smith were supposed to be multi-million-dollar solutions at their positions recently … until they weren’t.
“Not Wallace,” you yell above the celebratory night-club din. “Wallace wasn’t part of the in-and-out shell game.” Well, yes, he was. Only reason the Dolphins were so weak at that position and needed this five-year, $60 million infusion is because a year ago they traded the four-year, $47 million previous alleged answer named Brandon Marshall, who only went on to have 118 catches for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns last season — the kind of season Wallace has never had, in other words. The Dolphins spent two second-round picks to get Marshall, then traded him for two third-round picks. Maybe the new Dolphin helmet logo should be a hamster running on a wheel.
The upcoming draft should produce yet more hope trafficking, especially with Miami having more picks in the top 100 than any team in the league. But, outside of quarterback, you know what Miami’s biggest problem has been for a decade? That its three recent top 10 picks might not even be here any more if Long does indeed leave. You simply can’t miss like that high up, and get nothing in return, without knocking your franchise down.
You take Ted Ginn in 2007 when the top 15 is filled with names like Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis and Darelle Revis. You get Ronnie Brown in 2005 as teams picking later in the round build around DeMarcus Ware, Aaron Rodgers and Roddy White. The Jake Long first round produced Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. In other words, teams tend to get players who help them for a decade in the first round, especially high, but here Long, the No. 1 overall pick, might still leave in exchange for nothing after just four piddly years and zero playoff wins?
More to the point, Ray Lewis just got done giving the champion Ravens his 17th season after being drafted in the first round. Here’s all Miami has to show for all of its first rounds since the Ravens took Lewis: Jared Odrick, Mike Pouncey, Ryan Tannehill. Think about that. That’s 17 first rounds, and three remaining first-round players. Lewis outlasted most everyone in the league, yes, but the point is that the Ravens got a first-round pick who anchored their defense for almost two decades while the Dolphins might be about to give up altogether on a No. 1 overall pick from 2008.
Worse still, Miami has made 15 second- and third-round picks since 2007, producing all of three starters still on the team, two offensive lineman (John Jerry and Jonathan Martin) and one linebacker (Koa Misi). Over the same time, the Ravens had 10 second- and third-round picks as starters on last season’s championship roster (and three backups, plus seven of their first-round picks since the Lewis draft). Baltimore gets Ray Rice in the second round; Miami gets Pat White. This Ellerbe the Dolphins were so proud of stealing from Baltimore? An undrafted free agent.
So, if Long leaves, the Dolphins will be asking their only remaining top 10 pick, Ryan Tannehill, to close that gap and erase a decade of dysfunction even though no one can be quite positive if he’s even the answer yet.
Such an odd marriage, hope and mistrust.
Can somehow make the draft feel like the solution even though it has been the problem.