Greg Cote

Free agency just the start as Dolphins try to win back trust

Dolphins brass is under pressure to return the team to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. From left, GM Chris Grier, owner Stephen Ross, coach Adam Gase and VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum.
Dolphins brass is under pressure to return the team to the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. From left, GM Chris Grier, owner Stephen Ross, coach Adam Gase and VP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Trust. Faith. Benefit of doubt. These are things so easily and even eagerly given, if earned. These also are gifts of belief that are tough to win back, once abandoned.

It is true in love and in sports.

The Miami Dolphins continue as proof.

Nobody believes in this organization, in the people running it. Little is changing for the better in the way the team is viewed, and the first week’s foray into NFL free agency has been an unfortunate reminder. The crisis of credibility continues into 2016 as the draft nears.

Fans have seen their love of the franchise tested and tortured. The love isn’t gone, but it is calloused. It sees with wary eyes.

Fifteen seasons since the most recent playoff victory and seven years since the last playoff appearance — that corrodes. It debilitates.

For perspective, 24 of the other 31 teams have been in the playoffs since Miami last was in 2008, and 27 other teams have won in the postseason since Miami last did in 2000. In other words, Dolfans, you have earned your frustration, your impatience.

Only the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns are with Miami in both categories: longest playoff drought and longest playoff-victory drought. That’s bad company, folks.

New anecdotal evidence reflects that, and explains the low regard for this once-proud organization.

Updated Super Bowl betting odds out Wednesday from Bovada found the Dolphins tumbling to 66-1 long shots, down from 50-1 in February, the change reflecting the first week of free agency. Betting odds mirror public perception. In other words, the general public — ranging from casual fans to serious gamblers — doesn’t believe in the Dolphins to turn things around.

Those odds find Miami still in the AFC East cellar, with nemesis New England the overall league favorite at 15-2 and the Bills and Jets both 50-1.

The total number of teams that are bigger long shots than Miami’s 66-1? The Browns and Titans. That’s it. More bad company.

Now here is more anecdotal evidence of a lack of faith in the people running the Dolphins, and this is more fine-tuned to Dolfans.

The Miami Herald has run two recent polls related to the team’s efforts in free agency, with more than 15,000 votes cast.

In the main MiamiHerald.com poll, more disliked the team’s moves (35.5 percent) than liked them (29.9), with the remainder unsure. That’s a 3-in-10 approval rating.

The results were even more skeptical in my Miami Herald blog poll. I asked if the team’s roster had gotten better or worse since free agency began, and it was more than 2-to-1 for worse (50.8 percent) over better (22.6 percent), with the remainder seeing no significant change.

Scientific polls? Nah. But reflective of fans’ mood? I’d say so.

Stephen Ross is well meaning but results in his stewardship have not proved he is a qualified NFL owner.

Mike Tannenbaum, the vice president of football operations, still must prove he isn’t just the latest roster builder who will fall short and be replaced.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, even after four seasons, still waffles in that gray middle between “he’s our guy” and “we can do better.”

New coach Adam Gase? He might be great in his pro debut as a head coach. Most seem to see him as a strong hire, as the right guy. The hesitance is guilt-by-association, though. It isn’t that Gase is doubted. The doubt is on the Dolphins to have nailed it with a great hire.

If New England had signed free agent defensive end Mario Williams, it would have been bugled as brilliant because he would have enjoyed the imprimatur of Bill Belichick’s savvy and genius.

But the Dolphins sign Williams and the prism shows a 31-year-old whom the Bills cut because he supposedly quit on them.

If a winning, respected regime traded for cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso, it would have been heralded as a bargain to trade down five spots in the first round for two defensive starters.

But the Dolphins make the trade and the reaction is to see Maxwell as way overrated and Alonso as injury prone.

It is never a good sign when free agency begins with your team losing maybe its two best home-grown stars ever in former Hurricanes Olivier Vernon, the sacker, and Lamar Miller, the starting running back — losing them because your club didn’t have the foresight to extend their contracts sooner, when it would have been cheaper.

Trust once lost must be earned back incrementally, by degrees. And with proof.

Another big signing or two in free agency would help.

A successful draft next month would, too.

Likewise a big season by Tannehill.

That’s window dressing, though. None of it is worth much until the Dolphins make the playoffs again and win in them, not once but as a matter of course.

None of it is worth much until Miami is once again known for competing to play in Super Bowls, not just to host them.

Start mattering in January, Dolphins — and then ask your fans to start believing in you again.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at miamiherald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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