The Miami Dolphins wrapped up their offseason work Thursday. Next stop: Training camp in late July, then games. Dolfan goes to sleep thinking about the 2019 season, drifts off, sits bolt-upright hours later, cold sweat beading on the forehead, fighting to stifle a scream.
“Oh my God. Oh no,” Dolfan whispers into the pitch black. “What if we’re good!?”
The most Dolphins thing ever presents itself. Entering a season that finds the franchise rebooting — with even owner Stephen Ross having braced fans for lean times during the rebuild — what if Miami is better than expected? Like, right now.
Good enough to sail past that rock bottom Vegas over/under of five victories.
Good enough to maybe even be hanging around in the wild-card chase.
Good enough to blow the chance for a high draft pick and a franchise quarterback.
This is the quandary Dolfans must prepare for, and takes sides on. Because this no-man’s-land of a season is not only possible. It’s plausible.
No-man’s land: Seven or so wins. No playoffs. No Tua Tagovailoa. And no idea if Josh Rosen is The Man/The Future because Ryan Fitzpatrick has been your pilot.
This scenario, to me, is at least as likely as epic futility and a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Because, like it or not, the Dolphins are not that bad. They will be among the NFL’s surprise teams based on gutter-low expectations. Brian Flores, whose Patriots-burnished DNA knows nothing of tanking, will get coach of the year votes.
All over this team, I see reasons the grand prize Tua is more likely to end up elsewhere (Arizona? Cincinnati?) than in Miami. I thought differently earlier this year. Thought Miami might be the worst team. Things have changed.
There are too many things about these Dolphins that could go right — and I don’t know whether to hope I’m right about that, or to apologize for the optimism.
Flores is going to be a really good head coach, his team of assistants impresses and general manager Chris Grier has done smart stuff in reshaping the roster and in his first draft.
Fitzpatrick and Rosen give Miami a really interesting quarterback room with much upside. Fitzbeardrick, 36, has earned starter-designate status this offseason, but as Rosen noted this week, “The real competition starts in training camp.”
Rosen is a baby at 22. Still lives with his parents. If his development reflects his 2018 first-round draft status, he could yet be the franchise QB Miami needs — a huge safety net in case Tua doesn’t happen.
And if Rosen doesn’t pan out or if results are inconclusive, Fitzpatrick is a veteran stopgap you can win with, a better-than-average bridge guy. He is coming off a 2108 season with Tampa Bay that saw career highs for completion percentage; yards per attempt, completion and game; and passer rating. He has looked great this offseason, especially on deep balls. Flores raves about his leadership and command of the pocket.
No matter who wins a QB competition that will make both players better, either will have plenty of help.
Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage are a solid running back tandem, fortified by the addition of a fullback and by Flores’ dedication to a ground game.
The offensive line doesn’t look great, beyond left-side anchor Laremy Tunsil, but will be good enough.
The receivers look really good. Kenny Stills, Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant offer a ton of speed. DeVante Parker has been healthy and the most impressive of them all this offseason. Veteran Dwayne Allen was a smart tight end addition to push young Mike Gesicki.
Defensively, I worry about a lack of edge rush. I wonder where the sacks will come from as Miami navigates the post-Cameron Wake era. But Flores has been talking up Charles Harris all offseason, so we could see a breakthrough there.
I like everything else about the D.
Top draft pick Christian Wilkins fortifies a solid four-man tackle rotation.
Raekwon McMillan, Kiko Alonso and Jerome Baker (a future star, I say) are productive, underrated linebackers.
And lockdown cornerback Xavien Howard, two solid safeties, even if they trade Reshad Jones, and super-versatile Minkah Fitzpatrick give Miami an above average secondary.
There are too many positive pieces to this team heading into training camp, starting with Flores at the wheel, to not believe the Dolphins will a lot better than expected this season.
I leave it up to Dolfans dreaming of the 2020 draft to decide if that would be a good thing or not.