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…