The Miami Dolphins have implied (or at least had it inferred) that they’ll be tanking in 2019 with an eye on finding their quarterback future in the 2020 draft. The Fins also have said that was misinterpreted and that they’ll be playing to win this year.
You can’t be in-between. Stuck-in-the-middle mediocrity is what got the franchise in this elongated doldrums in the first place.
Only the Dolphins’ actions will reveal the club’s true intentions on tanking vs. playing to win. It will happen soon, with NFL free agency starting next week. And it will be reflected in what Miami does with its three biggest-name veterans: Running back Frank Gore, defensive end Cameron Wake and, oh yeah, quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
In tank mode, all three will be gone.
If they’re actually competing, all three being back for one more season (under the right circumstances) might be the smart play.
Hear me out, would you? Its a flight of fancy. No boarding fees.
▪ Gore: Tank/rebuild tells you there’s no room for a running back turning 36 in May. But if you want to compete, as new boss of football ops Chris Grier and new coach Brian Flores claim? Then you might see in Gore the team’s highest-rated offensive player (by Pro Football Focus) from last season with a 81..4 overall grade. You see a guy who averaged 4.6 yards per carry. A guy in great shape who still wants to play. Also, a guy coming off a dirt-cheap $1.1 million contract who’d likely be a bargain to re-sign.
Gore, a Miami native, seems to think the Dolphins don’t want him back, mainly because the club has given little indication it does. Friday he tweeted of the free-agency period nearing: “Bags packed. Let’s get it!!” His motivation also showed in the tweet’s hashtag: #DoitfortheDoubters. The market for Gore figures as weak due to his age alone. It would be a buyer’s market for Miami to retain him on the cheap. And they should. Unless they’re tanking.
▪ Wake: Everybody has figured since the coaching change and the initial tank-talk — and since Wake is now 37 — that’s he’d played his last for Miami. Made sense. Teams retooling with an eye on 2020 don’t mind parting with a still-effective pass rusher. But! Teams not tanking and trying to compete would be very hesitant to let go of a man who fills an ever-more-important role in the NFL.
That is why there will be a market for Wake starting next week, though probably a select few teams given his age. Wake may elect to leave, with sights on a team better-positioned to win now. But he also feels an allegiance to the Dolphins. If they want him back, there’s a good chance he’d stay. The $9.6 million he made in 2018 is not prohibitive money for a man who has 98 career sacks and would have projected to 11 last season had he played an average number of snaps per game for a starting DE.
Wake can still bring it. A team not tanking would want another season of what he’s bringing.
▪ Tannehill: Here, it gets complicated. Yes, Miami must think past him and draft a QB in 2019 or in 2020. But Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and likely Drew Lock all will be gone by the time Miami picks 13th overall this April. And, as I’ve said repeatedly, going all-in on getting Tua Tagovailoa in ‘20 is a dangerous crapshot.
You’d need some serious tanking, maybe a 2-14 record, for the top pick to snare Tagovailoa. What are the odds? (Not very good). But at least four other QBs are seen as first-round caliber in 2020.
Miami could have eschewed finding their future QB in the draft by signing Nick Foles. But didn’t show interest. They could still go after Teddy Bridgewater in free agency or try to trade for Arizona’s Josh Rosen. But it seems likelier they’ll eye a stopgap guy, a bridge to whomever they’ll draft.
Why not Tannehill for one more year — assuming, of course, he’d restructure his deal to re-sign for much less., and you can underline that as a prerequisite The market for Tannehill won’t be great. He’d need to restructure for anybody, and finding a team for whom he’d start may be unlikely.
Could be a buyer’s market to keep him one more year. And, bear in mind: Miami’s offense was pretty good last year, exciting, even, when Tannehill, and speedy weapons Jakeem Grant And Albert Will all were healthy together.
That’s why keeping Tannehill in a new temporary bridge role might make sense. To a team not tanking, that is.
Would I bet that Tannehill, Wake and Gore will be back with Miami next season? Nope. Not all of them and probably not any.
But might the Dolphins be better off in 2019 by keeping all three? Almost certainly, yes.
So now we see which side of tank vs. play to win this team is really on.