If you’re a fan of the Miami Dolphins, it goes without saying that 2019 hasn’t been your year. On the heels of an 0-6 start, with an NFL-worst -148 point differential, a painful-to-watch on-field product, and an upcoming Monday night date at Heinz Field against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is fighting for its season, things are looking pretty bleak for the ‘Phins.
For all these reasons, what I’m about to argue might shock you but it absolutely needs to be said. Most other NFL franchises and fan bases should be envious of Miami’s future. Here’s why.
Miami Dolphins Rebuild Is a Blueprint for the Future
The Dolphins have won between six and eight games in nine of their last ten seasons. While they were never at the bottom of the barrel by any means, they have long been a middle of the road organization, and that is illustrated by only one playoff appearance over the last decade (a 10-win season in 2016). After years of toiling away at or just beneath the .500 mark, it was time for drastic action.
It’s safe to say that drastic action is exactly what has unfolded. The Dolphins will refute any report that they’ve thrown in the towel on the 2019 season (also known as “tanking”), but even a cursory glance at what the team has been doing shows that’s precisely what’s happening. There’s a reason why “Phish Tank” has become a popular term around the NFL and while this approach has led to a painful season for fans, the best is absolutely yet to come.
Look at some of the moves the team has made in recent months:
- Traded former presumptive franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a 2019 sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans for a 2019 seventh-rounder and a 2020 fourth-round selection.
- Traded defensive end Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2020 sixth-rounder
- Acquired a 2020 second-round pick from New Orleans in a 2019 NFL Draft trade-down.
- Traded offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, wideout Kenny Stills, a 2020 fourth rounder, and a 2021 sixth-rounder to the Houston Texans for a 2020 first-round selection, another first-rounder in 2021, a 2021 second-round pick, corner Johnson Bademosi, and tackle Julian Davenport.
- Traded cornerback/safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 2020 fourth-round pick, and a 2021 seventh-rounder to the Steelers in exchange for a 2020 first-round selection, a 2020 firth, rounder, and a 2021 seventh-rounder. (Ironically, no matter who wins the Monday night game, the Dolphins enjoy better draft positioning as they own the Steelers’ first-round pick.)
Building a Surplus of Resources
That’s a huge amount of draft capital for any team to assemble and after all these acquisitions and clever draft maneuvering, the Dolphins have a lot to work with over the next two years. Currently, the franchise is expected to have 12 picks in 2020, including three first-rounders, two-second-rounders, and potentially two third-rounders if the team receives a compensatory selection for offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James. Of course, they’re also well set up for 2021, holding their own first and second-round picks as well as those of the Houston Texans.
It also puts the team in position to potentially land a can’t-miss quarterback prospect. To this point of the season, veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and former 2018 Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Josh Rosen have traded starts and while neither man has been particularly impressive, given the lack of a solid supporting cast it’s hard to point the finger at either of them.
In truth, it’s a particularly unfair situation as it relates to Rosen, as he was bounced from Arizona for Kyler Murray after a single season, and now has been put in as unenviable a position as any young quarterback could find himself. Whether or not the Dolphins decide he’s a potential franchise quarterback is up in the air, but you have to figure that if the team finishes at the bottom of the league this season, a college standout signal caller like Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert could be hard to pass up on draft day.
A Clear Plan
Tanking has been a part of major sports for a long time now, but we’ve seldom seen it executed so blatantly (and so effectively) in the National Football League. The Dolphins have traded away almost all of their established and/or promising talent in a calculated strategy to establish draft capital and leverage for the future.
First-year head coach Brian Flores has clearly been put in a horrible position this year, so it’s hard to fault him for the 0-6 record. This is a team that was reasonably short on talent to begin with and in the aftermath of all these trades is utterly bereft of it. Flores has put on a brave face and done what he can with the team he’s been given, but it’s hard to chalk 2019 up as anything other than a learning experience for the promising Bill Belichick pupil as his team prepares to reload.
And reload they will, as no franchise in recent memory has ever had this much ammunition for two upcoming drafts. There are a lot of people who have a very negative view of tanking and while that’s understandable, the simple economics of running a franchise make it clear that the Dolphins are ahead of the curve.
This team threw away a potential six or seven win season in the hopes of building a long-term a dynasty, an achievable goal provided they make appropriate use of all the draft capital they’ve acquired. With five picks in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft, and four more in the first two rounds in 2021, the Dolphins are poised to add nine potentially high-caliber starters on team-friendly rookie deals. Fiscally speaking, there’s no better way to win in the modern NFL than by building a roster of talented young players on their first contracts, particularly if one of them is a franchise quarterback.
Clearly, the Dolphins have embraced the concept that sometimes, in order to reach the top, you have to bottom out first. There has been nothing fun about the 2019 season for fans of this organization, but if these shrewd moves pay off, Miami could be one of the NFL’s most exiting franchises in two short years. And in spite of the frustration of today, that bright future is definitely something to celebrate.
Embed from Getty Images