The idea of the Miami Dolphins as snakebit in their recent history has only been underlined, not alleviated, this summer.
The NFL season is right around the corner, but for this team what’s around the corner always seems to be a blindside punch waiting to land. Training camp is mere days away — rookies report Sunday and veterans next Wednesday — but the Fins are losing before they ever hit the football field.
Miami lost a defensive tackle candidate, Kendrick Norton, to a terrible truck accident that caused his left arm to be amputated.
Days later assistant head coach Jim Caldwell announced he would take a medical leave of absence and miss the entire 2019 season to address health issues.
Now — and this should be a piling-on penalty — ESPN has calculated in its new NFL Future Power Rankings that the Dolphins not only are No. 32 (dead last) right now but will be for the next three years.
Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
It is ESPN experts Louis Riddick, Kevin Seifert and Field Yates who rated every team’s quarterback situation, non-QB roster, drafting, front office and coaching to come up with a thoroughly unscientific but nonetheless damning estimation of Miami in what it calls “a comprehensive ranking based on how well each team is positioned for the future.”
Somebody has to be last, and the familiar NFL caboose the past several years is being lifted by the likes of Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr., so it appears to be all but official now — at least by outside consensus:
The Dolphins are the New Browns.
In the five “Future Rankings” categories Miami is judged a rock-bottom 32nd for both quarterback and non-QB roster, and also well below average for front office (22nd), coaching (23rd) and drafting (25th).
I’ll tell you in a minute why the “experts” are underestimating the Fins, but first let’s let ESPN’s three judges explain themselves.
Yates on why Miami is No. 32: “Losing is not a good thing in sports. It can affect your culture and create a negative mind-set that permeates the organization. The reality is the 2019 season could be difficult, but the Dolphins have eyes toward 2020 and beyond. GM Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores are doing a lot of forward-thinking maneuvering in stockpiling 2020 draft picks, trading for Josh Rosen and cleaning up the cap situation, but it’s a long process. Whether it’s Rosen or someone else, the most important building block for the Dolphins is finding a steady quarterback. But Miami’s roster has a lot of offensive holes, so there’s a lot of work ahead.”
Riddick on the team’s biggest worry: “Is Rosen the quarterback of the future, and do they have a roster on the offensive side of the ball that will allow him to showcase his skills in such a way that the team’s decision makers can make an informed decision about whether they need to address the QB position again during the 2020 offseason? Furthermore, I am not convinced that Grier, the lone survivor of the housecleaning that took place in this offseason in the Dolphins’ front office, is the person who should be in charge of the massive rebuilding project that is now about to begin. So you can put me in the category as not seeing much to be optimistic about in South Florida for the next few years.”
And Seifert on what could change for the better: “Rosen’s rookie season in Arizona was disastrous and has dampened external expectations for his career. But imagine how the Dolphins’ rebuild would accelerate if he finds a groove in Miami after a trade that cost the team pennies on the dollar. It’s not difficult to imagine Rosen boosting the Dolphins into playoff contention within three years.”
For me, the biggest concern is not how bad Miami might be in 2019, but whether it will be too good to secure a high enough 2020 draft pick to get Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (preferably) or Oregon’s Justin Herbert. It’s a conundrum: Do Dolfans hope Rosen proves himself to be The Man/The Future even if it means no Tua in ‘20?
Best of both worlds: Rosen shows he’s really good, suddenly has trade value, and then you draft Tagovailao or Herbert anyway. The Dolphins have gone most of the past 20 years, post-Marino, without a good quarterback. No crime in having two good ones.
I believe media experts and the betting public who have the the Fins’ victories over/under at around five are sleeping on how much better than expectations Miami will be.
I believe Flores, with the Patriots DNA, and Grier will be a very good combo out front. I already love some of the personnel moves, such as extending Xavien Howard’s contract, the Rosen trade and top-drafting Christian Wilkins.
Yes, the offensive line beyond Laremy Tunsil is below average, but in experienced Ryan Fitzpatrick or a motivated Rosen, I think the QB play will be fine. Also think Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and a healthy Albert Wilson and Jakeem Grant form a very interesting receivers room.
Defensively, you wonder where the edge rush will come from, yes. And that’s an important concern. But otherwise I like a lot about this defense. A deep tackle rotation. Productive linebackers. And a secondary that has Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick and (for now) Reshad Jones.
It might not be entirely a good thing to those dreaming of Tua in ‘20, but the Dolphins are poised to surprise the legion of doubters who cast them as the New Browns — including those three ESPN judges — in 2019.