The Miami Dolphins finally settling on a new head coach will be significant mostly because it will then commence the business of what’s really important to this franchise’s future.
Finding the right coach is important, sure. But finding a special quarterback is essential.
Bill Belichick was 41-55 as an NFL head coach and nobody’s genius before Tom Brady fell in his lap and began starting. No amount of coaching greatness, no special training or schematic legerdemain, can magically infuse talent in a QB who lacks it. But oh my how just the right quarterback — the one you’ve been waiting for — can make a coach look smart!
Whether the Dolphins end up hiring Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores or Cowboys defensive-backs coach Kris Richard or promote special-teams maven Darren Rizzi from within or go with somebody else, the new guy may or may not prove to be an upgrade over the fired Adam Gase, who, in a delicious next chapter to the rivalry, will be the Jets’ next head coach.
A splash hire for Miami seems unlikely. Do not expect a costly trade for the Ravens’ John Harbaugh, and Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher aren’t pulling a Gruden and riding a white horse from the TV studio back onto the football field.
The Dolphins seem likely — again — to eschew someone with prior NFL head-coaching experience in making a hire. This would be the ninth consecutive Miami hire who lacked NFL experience at the job since the last man who had been an NFL head coach previously: Dave Wannstedt in 2000. (That, maybe coincidentally, maybe not, was the last season the Fins won a playoff game).
Perhaps the Dolphins should consider a hire who does not come with training wheels after a pretty shabby track record of trying and failing to discover The Next Big Thing.
Again, though, it isn’t about the coach, at least not first and foremost. At least not now. Not here. It’s about the quarterback. About looking forward. Moving on. Finding someone appreciably and unmistakably better than Ryan Tannehill.
Gase’s major flaw in his three seasons was being too attached to Tannehill, seeing him as better than he was. Demoted VP of football operations Mike Tannebaum’s major failing was never making a priority of finding someone better. Not coincidentally, Gase and Tannenbaum — both dragged down by Tannehill’s continually being stuck in so-so — are the fall guys as owner Stephen Ross and promoted personnel chief Chris Grier begin the reboot.
ESPN’s annual “Quarterback Confidence Index,” out Wednesday, placed Miami 30th of 32 teams. The Redskins are 31st only because of Alex Smith’s gruesome, career-threatening leg injury. The Jaguars are 32nd, because, reliably, Blake Bortles plays the guy always there to make your guy seem not so bad.
ESPN’s QBR passer-rating system has Tannehill’s career mark at 49.1. The league-wide average since 2012 is 55.1. The argument he is below average is more quantifiable than the argument he isn’t the problem.
The Dolphins are where they are , plainly and inexcusably, because they have placed less emphasis on the quarterback position than almost every other NFL team since they misfired on Tannehill’s potential by making him a first-round draft choice in 2012.
Fifteen other teams have drafted 18 QBs in the first round since Miami last did. Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, Mitchell Trubisky, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Sam Darnold, and Carson Wentz are among them — all looking like long-term franchise answers.
The 16 other teams that have not drafted a first QB since Miami have starters who include Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Ben Roethlisberger.
With just a few possible exceptions, everybody is in better shape at QB than Miami as it figures out whether to re-up with Tannehill or move on. It should not be a vexing decision. Miami would save around $15 million in cap space by trading or releasing him. Even with no dollar factor, it’s finally time for Miami to strive for better at the most important position.
How can the franchise that once enjoyed a near-seamless 30-year Hall of Fame continuum of Bob Griese and Dan Marino have spent the past two decades flailing to find anything special at that position?
Let’s retire all of the old laments (should-a drafted Matt Ryan, could-a signed Brees instead of Daunte Culpepper) and focus on reality.
QB answers are out there, but they are elusive.
In the 2019 draft, picking 13th overall, Miami would need a major trade-up for a shot at Dwayne Haskins, but at least four teams picking earlier are better poised to do the same. The Fins can “Tank for Tua” (Tagovailoa of Alabama) in 2020 or “Lose for Lawrence” (Clemson’s Trevor) in 2021, but it would take both awfulness and luck to get either.
There are veterans who might be available by trade or in free agency, names like Nick Foles, Teddy Bridgewater, Matthew Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Josh McCown. Oh and hey, Colin Kaepernick surely is rested! But do the Dolphins want to recycle someone who’s barely better than Tannehill if at all? Or sign a one- or two-season stopgap?
The answer at quarterback is the draft. For Miami, it has been at least for the past couple of years, especially last April, but the Dolphins’ hierarchy ignored all of the signs.
That’s why the team is looking for a new head coach to inherit the mess left for him.