Fans of 27 other NFL teams have cheered a playoff victory since Miami Dolphins fans last did on Dec. 30, 2000. The sad company we keep: Bengals, Bills, Browns (of course) and Lions. The franchise of Don Shula and Dan Marino has frittered from perfection to dysfunction, and every time we think we see an end to it, we seem to be wrong.
And so there was a “Groundhog Day” feel last week when vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase sat glumly at a dais for the annual season post-mortem. In the movie, Bill Murray shuts off the morning alarm and awakens to the same ol’ thing. Rinse, repeat. The Dolphins need to retire that mocking fight song because when you say Miami, you’re most assuredly not talkin’ Super Bowl. A more fitting theme song? How about “Stuck In the Middle With You,” that ’70s hit by Stealers Wheel.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers that have consistently eluded the men paid to find them.
But I do know this: In a quarterback-rich 2018 draft this April, if Miami believes it can get somebody better than Ryan Tannehill with the 11th overall pick (or with a strategic trade down), then by all means do it. Yeah I know. “So many other needs!” True. That’s the residue of 6-10. But name a need more conducive to (finally) turning this thing around than a dynamic QB.
The eight teams still alive today in the Super Bowl tournament are led by five-star quarterbacks in Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees. Carson Wentz would be in this category, but he was injured at the end of the season and replaced by journeyman Nick Foles. That means three teams found a way to success with less at the most important position in Marcus Mariota, Blake Bortles and Case Keenum, who entering this season would have been the Vikings’ No. 3 guy if Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater were healthy.
The lesson for Miami in that? You’ve tried and tried and failed and failed attempting to win without a premier QB. Now comes the 2018 season and what would be Year 7 of wondering whether Ryan Tannehill is good enough or capable of another year. He is fully formed, folks. He’s OK. Not bad. But he has not proved able to lift and carry a franchise. Now, Tannehill will turn 30 in the next training camp, and is coming off major left knee surgery. The Jay Cutler Experiment might have made us miss Tannehill by comparison, but we should not assume a new and improved version will magically appear.
There might be five first-round quarterbacks in April, and three could be there for Miami — like tantalizing gifts waiting to be unwrapped: all but Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen, who’ll both go really high.
The Dolphins could have a choice among Wyoming’s Josh Allen, of the ideal physique, or either of the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. I have seen all three mock-drafted in the overall top 10 but also lower. If Miami has a chance at one of them and a conviction he could be a long-term difference-maker now or in a year, grab him. The upside would be worth the risk. Then you would have the choice of sticking with Tannehill another season as a bridge while the new guy develops, or exploring Tannehill’s trade value, which I think could be worth a second-round pick to the right buyer.
Point is, this wheel-spinning franchise has little to lose by being daring. Not trade-up-for-Dion Jordan daring, but smart daring.
A strategic gamble on finding the right answer at QB would impact this club a heck of a lot more than whether the Fins decide to overpay to keep Jarvis Landry or let him go in free agency.
“Everything’s wide open for us,” the GM Grier said.
It should be, especially this year, which might be the right time to bend the company policy about best-player-on-board and think instead about the best player on your board at the position that can impact you most.
I mean, Missouri defensive end Charles Harris was the top-rated guy last year and thus the No. 1 pick. He had two sacks in a rookie season that mostly whispered.
The Dolphins can fill lesser needs in lower rounds — like tight end, linebacker, guard or running back. NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs and dynamic fantasy darling Alvin Kamara of the Saints both were third-round picks in ’17, for example.
Miami needs to be younger and faster, and the people running the team need to be smarter, do better.
You can make up for so much shortfall elsewhere, though, when you have just the right quarterback.