It’s the Christmas season, a time of good cheer. But I’m having a hard time generating the kind of enthusiasm this time is supposed to engender when it comes to the Dolphins, after they lost a must win game on Sunday to keep their dying playoff hopes alive against a very beatable Jacksonville team.
However, Christmas is also a season of renewal and hope. And this in respect, I may have something to offer.
Whatever else you thought about this Dolphins team this year, you could always say they were a different team at home where they were 6-1 going into last Sunday’s game. Now that notion is shot, along with any chance at the postseason.
And make no mistake, not playing in a playoff game this year is the key factor as we head into the offseason.
The story of the people in charge of the 2018 Dolphins begins and ends in the Miami draft room last April. That was when Dolphins owner Stephen Ross reportedly implored the team to trade back in order to acquire more picks. It was later reported that Ross wasn’t thrilled with the team’s draft, having concerns about both second round pick Mike Gesicki and third round pick Jerome Baker.
Most to the point, neither selection was a quarterback. And that’s what this was really about. Doing the same thing over and over again and believing that the result will be any different is the definition of insanity. Ross obviously did not believe that Ryan Tannehill, after seven mediocre NFL seasons, was going to be any different in his eighth. His front office believed differently. I’ll leave the conclusions to you.
The Dolphins reportedly liked Josh Allen but chose to sit and take him only if he fell to them rather than aggressively moving up in the draft the way that Buffalo did.
After the draft, Ross didn’t deny any of these reports. And this is the key point. When an owner is questioning your decisions, he’s telling you that he has doubts about your ability to run the team. And when he’s telling you to take a quarterback, he’s specifically telling you to start planning for the future. He’s telling you he thinks you need to start the rebuilding process. A limited rebuilding process to be sure. But a rebuilding process nonetheless.
Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier chose to ignore that advice at their own peril. When they did so and took a safety, a tight end and a linebacker instead of a quarterback, the message to their owner was clear: this team could win now with the guys they had. And at that point the line was drawn. Playoffs or bust.
Now we know. It’s a bust.
And for good reason as the “he’s telling you he has doubts about your ability to run the team” part of that draft day episode turned out to be well justified.
In fact, it’s probably even worse than Ross thought.
At that point in April, Ross was merely watching teams make aggressive draft day moves around him while his mediocre team leadership stood pat. That front office team, led by Tannenbaum, certainly wasn’t showing itself to be elite. But incompetence? That didn’t show itself until the season, itself to played out.
Dave Hyde at the Sun-Sentinel did a nice job of breaking down the poor way that this team was built on offense. From signing older players who were basically injured from the moment they joined the team to lack of a swing tackle, this was an offense that was on shaky ground that slowly disintegrated as the season went one. It certainly has less talent than most Dolphins observers thought, and still think, it does.
But Hyde didn’t address the most egregious failures - the ones on defense where the poor way that this team was built is flat out indefensible.
It starts up front where the team entered Sunday’s game ranked 30th in sacks with 24 before recording six against the hapless Jaguars. Robert Quinn has been a highly paid bust at one end and Cameron Wake at the other has had a poor season at age 36. The defensive tackles are non-entities that don’t bear mentioning.
But sacks aren’t the real issue. The real problem is the run defense which is ranked 31st in the league and has been putrid in big moments this year. And that problem starts up front.
The planning for the season in this regard actually started last year when Raekwon McMillan was drafted. McMillan is a “new style” linebacker who isn’t going to be particularly physical but who has the speed and instincts to be a difference maker in the middle of the defense. Baker has a similar skill set.
This wasn’t a bad plan in and of itself and it is certainly representative of modern NFL thinking. The problem is that the Dolphins implemented it poorly by not having a plan for the defensive front. In order for players like McMillan and Baker to succeed, they need to be protected by the men up front, whose job it is to either penetrate or otherwise occupy blockers to keep the linebackers clean, allowing them to roam and play to their strengths. The end result was an utter failure as the defensive tackles were easily moved and failed to man even their own gaps, let alone keep the opposing offensive linemen from getting to the second level.
The plan on the back end wasn’t any better. Xavien Howard had a Pro Bowl season and has developed into a wonderful player. But he was practically wasted because of the dysfunction at the other defensive backfield positions. The Dolphins overestimated the abilities of every other cornerback on the roster from Cordrea Tankersley to Walt Aikens to Torry McTyer, they couldn’t find a starter opposite Howard. They ended up with 5’11” Bobby McCain holding down the outside rather than the nickle back position where he belongs.
The safety spot was also poorly positioned for success when the Dolphins signed strong safety T.J. McDonald. The problem isn’t that McDonald is a bad player. The problem is that they already had one of him, a little known Pro Bowler named Reshad Jones.
A proud veteran, Jones did not react well. And more dysfunction followed.
Many believe that head coach Adam Gase is the primary problem with this team. And he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory by using injuries as an excuse for failure while rightly telling players all season that they aren’t allowed to. Gase obviously isn’t the man we thought he was.
But the decision on Gase can wait. The decision on the Tannenbaum has already been made. It was made long ago in that draft room in April when he decided to take a safety rather than moving aggressively for a quarterback. It was a win now mandate. And, eight months and a poorly constructed roster later, its all over but the actual event.
The buck stops at the front office. And the organization will be cleaned in the offseason starting at the top.
This story was written by Tom Shannon. Follow him on Twitter: @bearingthenews
Latest Dolphins News