Greg Cote

Dolphins have been brutalized this offseason, but here’s why they will exceed expectations

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's return from injury and coach Adam Gase's gamble on "culture"-motivated personnel moves are two of the eight key factors that will determine whether the Dolphins can exceed modest 2018 expectations.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill's return from injury and coach Adam Gase's gamble on "culture"-motivated personnel moves are two of the eight key factors that will determine whether the Dolphins can exceed modest 2018 expectations.

Tweet! The yellow flag is in the air. I am penalizing the national NFL media and broad public opinion for unnecessary roughness — for piling on, in the vernacular.

It has gotten almost comically ludicrous, this intentional grounding of whatever optimism Miami Dolphins fans might otherwise be feeling.

Miami is the new Cleveland, apparently. The Dolphins have somehow become the Browns -- at least by some perception. The team is in charge of its own reality, but, suffice to say, one week before the full squad hits the field to begin training camp, expectations outside of South Florida are so modest that few teams in the league are more entitled to play the get-no-respect card for motivation.

Now here’s the latest. In ESPN’s newly released “Future Power Rankings,” which project how teams are positioned to fare over the next three seasons, Miami is ranked No. 32. Um, there are only 32 teams. In other words, Dolfans are being told their team will not only be lousy again this year, but also in the foreseeable future.

Teams were rated and ranked in five categories and Miami’s overall rating of 69.5 was the only sub-70 total. The Dolphins were ranked 20th in coaching, 28th in quarterback, 29th in drafting, 31st in roster (other than QB) and 32nd in front office. It’s pretty bad when even your strong suit (coach Adam Gase) is judged below average.

Of course none of this stuff is is science. It’s opinion. Guesswork. But the cumulative picture is pretty sobering.

Although the drafting of Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was seen pretty favorably, Miami’s overall offseason was graded C-minus by ESPN (only two teams were graded worse). The network’s Football Power Index projects the Fins for 6.3 wins, with a playoff likelihood of 13 percent.

By my eye the Dolphins’ 2018 schedule seems pretty soft, but that same FPI gives Miami better than a 50 percent chance of winning in only four games — against the Raiders, Bears, Jets and Bills, all at home.

Pro Football Focus ranks Miami’s 2018 starting lineup 26th.

The Fins were 32nd in ESPN’s Power Rankings before bumping up to a current 30th after the draft.

Such negativity tends to be self-perpetuating., The media are a bunch of copycats.

So what’s the reality?

Miami will vault above the low expectations and be competitively in the wild-card playoff hunt with an 8-8 or 9-7 type season. Tannehill’s comeback season will be a good one. Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore make an intriguing running back combo. Rookie tight end Mike Gisecki has a chance to have instant impact. The defensive backfield could be quite good. I believe in Gase.

Tannehill has the most obvious pressure on him to lift the team from last season’s 6-10 morass as he returns after missing the past 19 games due to knee injuries.

But the real pressure should be on executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum, who anchors that dead last front office rating. An ranking of team personnel chiefs had Tannenbaum 23rd. A Sporting News ranking had him 31st. A recent USA Today poll of 25 sports agents ranked Tannenbaum the second least-trustworthy NFL decision maker, ahead of only Redskins president Bruce Allen.

I don’t see Gase, entering his third season, as facing job pressure, but if Tannenbaum’s seat were any hotter his Dockers would be in flames. I’m not sure he will survive another nonplayoff season. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross should be at the point of calculated impatience with a team that has made one playoff appearance with zero postseason wins in his nine years as principal owner.

The betting over/under on Miami wins is 6.5, as per Bovada. Only three teams are lower.

Ross should reject that perception and both expect and demand better. So should Gase. So should Tannehill. So should fans.

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