Many people are viewing all the talk about a "culture change" as an excuse to get rid of the Miami Dolphins' most talented and popular players. The likes of Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey, and even Jay Ajayi have all fallen victim to this alleged change that head coach Adam Gase is supposedly trying to make.
The national media - of course - is raising an eyebrow at the decisions being made by Gase and the rest of the front office this offseason, and the fans are skeptical as well; understandable, given that it's hard to picture any team as "improved" after losing so much of their top talent.
Ndamukong Suh was a top three player at his position.
Jay Ajayi almost singlehandedly carried the Dolphins to the postseason in 2016.
Jarvis Landry holds the NFL record for most receptions in the first four years of a career.
Mike Pouncey has been a locker room leader and a staple of the team since being drafted in 2011.
Now they're all gone, all in the name of "culture change," which seems to now be a buzzword for "this player was a problem."
Clearing up cash was another reason, but teams don't generally admit that being too expensive is the reason players get traded or released. Right now, the focus is on this culture change, and no one seems to be a fan of it since most of their favorite players have hit the road.
What kind of a culture change kicks out the players a team needs to win?
The honest truth is, Miami wasn't winning with these players, and as we're finding out now, this is exactly what the Dolphins needed.
Recall back in February of 2016, when owner Stephen Ross first hired Adam Gase to be the head coach of the Miami Dolphins; Ross felt that Gase could become the next Bill Belichick.
“Instead of getting a retread that really hasn’t had a great track record as head coach, I was looking for somebody that really could be the next, if you will, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one," Ross said.
And after making the playoffs in 2016, Gase looked like a genius, the culture change was starting; he cut players who weren't playing well - Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner - and benched players who either were going through a slump or felt they were more important than the team, aka Jay Ajayi.
Then in 2017, he made some mistakes, not the least of which was signing Jay Cutler after the loss of Ryan Tannehill for the year. Skepticism began to grow and some fans called for Gase to be fired, the culture change had failed and he was shipping out strong personalities instead of dealing with them.
But let's look at why these players were removed, starting with Jay Ajayi. Recall that in 2016, Ajayi was benched in favor of veteran running back Arian Foster; it was reported that the reason for this was because Ajayi was feeling entitled and needed to be reminded that he was not bigger than the team. He came back and had a breakout season. So why was Ajayi traded in the middle of 2017? Hadn't he learned his lesson?
Ajayi again began to get frustrated with the coaching staff, despite already being used as the main running back; we were then told that Ajayi apparently would wave off his replacements during games, not allowing them to come off the sidelines despite the coaches telling them to. Ajayi refused to obey the coaches because he wanted to be the guy.
So he was traded to the Eagles, and Ajayi showed his true colors, taking shots at Adam Gase on more than one occasion after joining his new team.
Jarvis Landry was the team's top target and playmaker, and he was also a major fan favorite, but he and Gase got into an argument on the sidelines during the second-to-last game of the season when Gase called for a screen pass to Jakeem Grant (which Cutler threw incomplete) instead of Landry. It was also reported that Landry wanted a contract around $16 million per year to stay in Miami long term.
Miami offered $13 million, he didn't take it, Landry got traded to the Browns for a pair of draft picks.
Mike Pouncey played all 16 games of the season for the first time since 2012, but it was plainly obvious that he was no longer the Pro Bowl center that was able to dominate incoming defensive tackles. Pouncey was then asked to take a pay cut, and he refused to accept it. Miami then released him and saved $7 million in cap space, quickly replacing him by trading for 49ers center Daniel Kilgore.
As for Ndamukong Suh, it was rumored that he too was asked to take a pay cut, which of course he refused. The Dolphins designated Suh as a post-June 1st cut, and will get $17 million in cap space that they'll use to pay their rookie class, although it does come with a severe dead cap penalty that will be spread out over the next two seasons.
The reason this actually does have a lot to do with culture change is because Adam Gase is putting a stronger focus on the concept of "team."
Going back to Ross' comments regarding Gase possibly being the next Bill Belichick, one of the most known traits of the Belichick era in New England is that no one is larger than the team; if you wanted more money than the team was willing to offer, you were out; if you had an issue with how Belichick was using you or you wanted to do more or less, you were out; if your personality led to you not fitting the culture of the team, you were out.
If you had your best interests at heart instead of the Patriots' best interests, you were out.
That is the culture that Adam Gase is trying to put into Miami, and that means there are going to be a lot of decisions made that fans will not agree with, much like when the Patriots moved on from the likes of Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins, both considered staples of their defense at the time.
Jarvis Landry did not want to accept the $13 million dollar offer to help the team, he wanted more for himself. He is now gone.
Jay Ajayi did not want to come off the field despite coaches wanting to let someone else take some snaps, he wanted the play time and spotlight for himself. He is now gone.
Mike Pouncey and Ndamukong Suh both did not play up to the worth of their contracts and the team asked them to take pay cuts so there would be more room to improve the team and help them win, they refused to do so. They are now gone.
The Dolphins are putting together a true team-based culture now. Not in the sense that teammates support each other and it's all for one and one for all, but one where players need to have the team's best interest in mind, and if they don't, then they will be removed to make room for someone who wants to help the team more than themselves.
Many will say that I have no business comparing the Dolphins to the Patriots, especially in this context. New England has been the greatest football dynasty in NFL history while Miami has struggled to even reach the playoffs for the past decade and half. This is true.
What is also true is that once upon a time, the Patriots had to prove they were the league's newest dynasty, and it's that culture that had a big part in them getting to that point.
They had to start somewhere, and now the Dolphins are attempting to make that same new start, changing the culture to a team-based mentality.
This story was written by Luis Sung. Follow him on Twitter: @LuisDSung
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