Defining The Miami Dolphin Puzzle

In recent years, when Miami Dolphin fans enter the off-season it is usually with a sigh of relief. The Dolphin football team has beat us down until a final cry of, “Uncle” is a collective gasp. Miami is not necessarily awful, there’s a level of frustration that comes with mediocrity. It’s like going to a gentlemen’s club where you can look, but do not touch. All the shiny trophies are on display, but someone else is the recipient.

In the third year of the Adam Gase era, the expectations become more urgent. Is there truly a plan in place that will lead to a contending football team? Looking at pretty puzzle pieces individually helps create the final picture. Looking at how those pieces are handled provides insight into the direction of the organization.

Miami began this off-season by discarding the corner puzzle pieces of the franchise. It’s nearly impossible to build a puzzle without the corners and when those pieces are gone, the changes can be drastic. Publicly this team has not made a declaration of starting over, but the actions are speaking much louder than the words.

The normal nicety is to cite salary cap issues as reasoning for releasing highly paid players, but the reality is much more philosophical. In the NFL, the highest paid players must reflect institutional beliefs, otherwise a team is paying for players that don’t match expectations.

Mike Pouncey led an offensive line group that did not consistently produce in either the passing or the running game. Even if the issue was more related to health than game day performance, the line could not produce with its leader watching during practice. Well liked individuals make these decisions difficult. When the robot is breaking down, it’s easy to replace, when it’s a person, it's not so easy.

Ndamukong Suh is a beast among men, he’s as good a football player as any in the league. As the team’s highest paid player, he was expected to be the example of what it takes to reach that plateau. Suh did not attend voluntary off-season programs, did not call the community home and simply was not a good example of a team player. His presence on the defensive line did not make the Miami defense formidable because, he was not a leader.

Jarvis Landry is relational to philosophy for a completely different reason, Miami placed a value on his position and his demands exceeded that value. Free agency is the quirk of the NFL. Suh left Detroit because their structure did not include $100 million dollars for a defensive tackle. Miami paid then what they would not pay for the same position today. Miami would not pay $15 million for a slot receiver.

These puzzle pieces were not leading to a complete picture. Mike Pouncey could not lead from the sideline. Ndamukong Suh could not lead while spending the off-season in Oregon. Jarvis Landry could not lead from a position that racked up statistics and did not produce results.

It’s important to note, none of these players were selected while Adam Gase was the coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Sticking with the same analogy, imagine a circular puzzle. A puzzle where many of the pieces had a curve on one side. A puzzle that had no corners but many similar pieces that connected in a smooth boundary. The idea is a little fluffy for a football depiction, but having many pieces that are each as important as the next, is the definition of the word “team.”

This is the vision of Adam Gase…

He doesn’t want the leader of his offensive line watching while his line-mates suffer through grueling practices. He does not want the leader of his defense isolated in a corner of the locker room with two dedicated stalls. He does not want his highest paid offensive playmaker coming from a position that does not lead to victories.

He wants a team that thinks less as individuals and more as a whole. He wants many smooth pieces and fewer hard edges. He wants players that work together. Most importantly, getting paid in this philosophy, means being part of the glue that holds the puzzle together, not an isolated piece.

That’s why Ryan Tannehill is still a Miami Dolphin and the others are not. Tannehill may not be the greatest QB in the world, but heaven forbid we remind ourselves how many Super Bowls Dan Marino won…

Gone are chronically injured players unwilling to step back in the pay-scale. Gone are high dollar personalities who refuse to participate in team leadership. Gone are individuals seeking inequitable pay for positional value.

These are all philosophical differences that cannot be changed in the course of a few seasons. When we hear this talk of “changing the culture,” this is what it means. It’s Jordan Phillips, Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor rotating for Suh. It’s a healthy Josh Sitton and Daniel Kilgore in place of an oft-injured Pouncey. It’s Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola for the price of a Jarvis Landry.

The Dolphins are no longer accepting “the (nonsense) that’s gone on in the past,” said Gase. “I feel like we’ve added more guys than we’ve lost, I know free agency, a lot of guys are taken away there, and whether we released guys or traded guys, we’re adding good pieces to the puzzle here.”

Will it work? This will be left for the future to tell, but the vision is becoming clearer with each move. What was not clear was depending on the health of Mike Pouncey. What made little sense was signing Ndamukong Suh in the first place. What would have created an inequitable salary structure was signing Jarvis Landry.

There was a huge sentiment in the media and in the fandom, of a first round Miami Dolphin QB. Hopefully after reading these 1000 words it becomes evident why Miami did not reach to make that pick. Reaching would have been another unreasonable expectation because Ryan Tannehill is Adam Gase’s example of what he wants out of a team player.

If the QB had fallen to Miami, this would not have put that player in the position of being specifically drafted to take over the team. By reaching, Miami would have set the expectation, this is our guy, and this is the new face of the franchise. If the QB had fallen to Miami, the expectation would then have been, “he was there and the positional value was too good not to take him.”

This flies in the face of the logic, “keep drafting a QB until you get it right,” but it doesn’t mean the intention was not there. It means, either there was not enough conviction among the Miami Dolphin brain trust to give up whatever the price may have been to trade up, or they made a calculated decision to wait for the falling star that turned out wrong…

One thing is certain, there is no more time for Ryan Tannehill. The term "nonsense" now applies to injury, overspending without results, and overspending for positional value. There can be many smooth pieces in this puzzle, but only one plays quarterback and in the NFL, it better be the right piece.

Adam Gase is tied at the hip to Ryan Tannehill for one more season. If this puzzle does not produce results, the nonsense shall stop one way or the other…

Sorry Mel - The Miami Dolphins Stole this Draft

The pundits are unhappy the Miami Dolphins did not sell their collective souls to draft a quarterback… Mel Kiper, an admitted Ravens fan, praised his team for selling out to pick QB Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick. He then panned the Dolphins for not drafting a QB and gave them the worst draft grade of any team.

Mel was asked which player he liked before the draft, his answer – “It's so tough to answer because I have to think about team needs, how each prospect fits into those needs and realistic draft positions.”

Funny how when “their” team is on the clock, even the “experts” forget their own words. Kiper famously said, “Lamar Jackson had a lot of "layups" in Louisville's offense,” when comparing Jackson to Josh Allen. He didn’t think Lamar Jackson would develop into an NFL QB. That was before the Ravens drafted the Louisville Heisman Trophy winner and now, Mel has nothing but praise for Ozzie Newsome.

QB's running around on NFL fields is not the recipe for long and fruitful careers.

The examples are plentiful, but the prefect one is RG3. Jackson is so close in stature to RG3 that it’s scary. Most NFL GMs put on their psychology hat and remembered, “Past performance is the best predictor of future success.” Jackson lasted until 32 for that reason. Miami, along with 30 other teams were not going to risk making the same mistake.

The bottom line is, Miami fans do not care what Mel Kiper, ProFootballFocus or whomever have to say about the Miami Dolphin draft. These fans have grown numb to easy pot-shots from outsiders that don’t have to play New England twice a year.

Miami fans are a resilient and self-sufficient bunch that actually understand what Mel meant with, “think about team needs, how each prospect fits into those needs and realistic draft positions.”

Building up to the draft, this writer penned several articles detailing the issues that led to the Miami Dolphin's 6-10 season. The most annoying line that seems to have become an off-hand fact is that suddenly, Ryan Tannehill is an injury prone QB.

Tannehill and the Dolphins are guilty of thinking experimental science (stem cell therapy) is magic.

It’s not…

Guilty as charged, but injury prone? Tannehill was an ironman prior to a cheap Calais Campbell knee shot. The stem cell experiment didn’t work and Tannehill subsequently had the same surgery nearly every player wearing an NFL uniform has had at one time or another. Tom Brady’s been wearing that brace since the last time Miami won the AFC East.

If past performance is the best predictor of future success, Tannehill will be fine.

Whether Mel Kiper likes Ryan Tannehill is a completely different issue, many Miami fans will agree with that sentiment. Using the term “injury prone” is a ridiculous cop out, if you don’t like Tannehill just say it Mel, you won’t hurt our feelings.

The men whose jobs are on the line - Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier have the belief that Ryan Tannehill will continue where he left off prior to his knee injury. The Dolphins felt they had too many holes they needed to fill and could not afford to essentially give up their whole draft for an unknown rookie QB.

The Dolphins were perfectly willing to allow one of the top four QBs to fall to the 11th pick. The Arizona Cardinals sent the No. 15 pick, a 3rd-round pick (No. 79) and a fifth-round selection (No. 152) to the Oakland Raiders to jump ahead of Miami and take Josh Rosen. Carson Palmer was 38 years old and retired from the Cardinals who were left with Sam Bradford - Now you’re talking injury prone.

No matter what the pundits believe, the Cardinals were desperate for a QB and the Dolphins were not. It’s as simple as that.

In two previous articles:

The real issues that led to Miami’s demise, aside from Jay Cutler being Jay Cutler, were evident by the end of the 2017 season.

The Dolphins allowed 94 catches by tight ends, the most in the league. Only Oakland allowed more tight end receiving yards (1034 to 1038) than Miami. Tight ends scored 10 touchdowns against the Dolphins, tied with Cleveland for second-most and behind only the Giants (13).

The league is evolving and Miami was not: The Patriots had 221 snaps in Dime (6-DB) Personnel and an astounding 161 snaps in Prevent (7-DB). Miami had SEVEN total snaps in a Dime defense. The Patriots faced 3rd & 10 or more on 54 snaps this year and yet they played 6 or more DBs on 382 snaps.

The Miami Dolphins used the Dime package only 7 times…

It’s humorous to hear the talking heads berate the Miami Dolphins for picking Minkah Fitzpatrick in the first round. Maybe lining up only 7 times in a dime package is a tiny clue to what Miami REALLY needed.

It’s also humorous to hear how Fitzpatrick will displace T.J. McDonald in the defensive backfield. Stats are for losers, but 7 times versus NE’s 161 times and a total of 382 snaps with 6 or more DBs.

T.J. and Minkah will be playing alongside one another a whole lot in 2018.

NFL teams are not “supposed” to draft for needs but one thing is very clear, Fitzpatrick was a much greater need than drafting Tannehill’s future replacement.

The Miami Dolphins literally had no starting TE prior to the draft. Julius Thomas caught 4 TD passes for Miami and that’s it. The Eagles? 14… The Patriots, 10. Of the TEs with the most TD receptions, 4 of the top 5 were on playoff teams and 2 were in the Super Bowl.

The Dolphins cut Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano retired… Miami threw out the old axiom of not going into the draft with a need so the team could select the “best player available.”

What were they going to do, hide it? Tight Ends haven’t existed in Miami since long before Mad Dog opened the pearly gates.

The pundits are still stomping for Mason Rudolph but the sight of Mike Gesicki in Dolphin teal warms the heart of any true Miami fan.

The Dolphins did not only draft exactly what they needed, but they actually followed the Jimmy Johnson credo and doubled down! They selected coverage LB Jerome Baker in the 3rd round and the Kelly green hulk TE Durham Smythe in the 4th round. (Hey Paul, any relation?)

Kalen Ballage in the 4th as the bruising RB to spell Kenyan Drake. They added CB Cornell Armstrong and LB Quentin Poling in the 6th, along with a kicker, Jason Sanders in the 7th.

Mel Kiper can grade Miami wherever he likes…

At the beginning of the day, this Miami fan is smiling.

At the end of the day, Mel Kiper can explain trading away Jarome Baker and Durham Smythe for Lamar Jackson to sit on the bench for a few years.

Hey he’s the expert after all…