With symbolism perfectly exquisite, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was photographed tanned and shirtless this week, the carefree G.O.A.T. diving off a boat on vacation in Barbados, while rival NFL head coaches were bobbing frantically in the roiling waters of free agency.
Up at New York Jets headquarters, meanwhile, Adam Gase, who wasn’t good enough for Miami, has unexpectedly landed in coaching heaven (at least compared to what he had in South Florida). He has a young franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold. Now he inherits a major free-agency haul led by newly signed superstar running back Le’Veon Bell and dynamic Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott? At least he has the starting point of a young quarterback, in Josh Allen, whom the team believes is the long-term answer and will be the club’s best at the position since Jim Kelly. (A security Miami has been looking for and failing to find since the start of the 21st Century). Buffalo also has immensely fortified its offensive line early in free agency.
Notice an AFC East trend here? Three fan bases have pretty good reasons to feel pretty good.
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And that brings us to new Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores and newly empowered personnel boss Chris Grier.
They seem to be losing more weapons than they are gaining.
They have no starting quarterback. (Well, there is Ryan Tannehill, still, so far, but he’s the guy they’d actively prefer to jettison and move beyond).
Flores and Gaines are now running an organization that seems unsure if it is artfully and unofficially tanking in 2019 with the ‘20 draft in mind, or actually trying to get better now to win now — and if the latter is the case, early indications are scarce, indeed.
There is the sense that 31 NFL teams are actively working and climbing, buying talent or stockpiling draft picks — heck the Cleveland Browns, now with Odell Beckham Jr., are taking over the doggone world! — while one team, Miami, mostly lags and watches.
This can change fast. Things are fluid. But, right now, there is little reason for a Dolphins fan to not see Miami on the bottom rung of the AFC East in an overall regression since last year’s 7-9 season ended.
The Fins insist they aren’t tanking, though their actions and results thus far in free agency might beg to differ.
A quick report card:
Miami failed to spend to re-sign offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James, who left for Denver. Too bad. Left-side fixture Laremy Tunsil and James on the right were solid bookends, two things Miami had going right and didn’t have to worry about.
Dolphins are making an effort to sign quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to replace intended lame-duck Tannehill. He’d be cheaper, not necessarily better, and still leave Miami needing to draft its future at the position.
Fins also had interest in free agent QB Tyrod Taylor, but he signed Wednesday to be the Los Angeles Chargers’ backup to Philip Rivers.
(Your team is not winning many points as a desireble destination when quarterbacks would rather be a backup elsewhere than be at least a one-year bridge starter in Miami).
Fins also had an interest in top-ranked free agent defensive end Trey Flowers, but would not spend nearly what Detroit paid to land him.
They let defensive end Cameron Wake and running back Frank Gore go in free agency (along with receiver Danny Amendola and guard Ted Larsen). Sad to see Wake and Gore depart. Despite their age, both had much left to give, both on the field and beyond. Today, the club’s pass rush and running game are diminished in their absence.
Miami did sign journeyman blocking tight end Dwayne Allen, after spending second- and fourth-round draft picks on tight ends just last year. Hmm. (They also signed minor cornerback Eric Rowe, a depth guy at best).
The problem and solution all still swirl around the quarterback spot.
Tannehill for another season (if he’ll renegotiate for a lot less money) is an OK option, albeit a last resort, a wheel-spinning that once again would likely leave Miami too good for a really high draft pick but not good enough for the playoffs.
Drafting a QB in the first round also is a real dice roll. Picking 13th overall this April, Miami won’t be able to land Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray or Ohio State’s Dwyane Haskins, the two franchise-QB types. Missouri’s Drew Lock or Duke’s Daniel Jones could fall to Miami, but neither is judged as elite in the way Murray or Haskins are.
The 2020 draft? Assuming good health Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm are seen as franchise-makers who could go 1-2 overall, with Oregon’s Justin Herbert a notch below. But can Miami be awful enough this coming season to “earn” a short at any of them?
This is the state of the Dolphins fans in the spring the 2019:
You are either worried your team is bad, or worried it might not be bad enough.