The Miami Dolphins are taking a page out of the Darcy Regier rebuilding playbook this season.
It’s not just a rebuilding project. It’s a take-it-down-to-the-ground project. The only thing missing is Miami coach Brian Flores channeling the former Buffalo Sabres general manager and saying, “It may require some suffering.”
There’s no question that an all-out rebuilding effort and even some degree of tanking was justified for the Dolphins after last season. Their 2016 playoff season was a fluke, a new regime took over, the roster was bad and a number of their better players – like edge rusher Cameron Wake – were old.
Fine. The issue, as the Miami Herald’s Armando Salguero has written, is the Dolphins have not just cut the fat, they’ve cut “meat.” Like the Sabres of 2013, have the Dolphins taken the tank too low?
The two major, questionable moves the Dolphins have made since the opening week of the season were trading 25-year-old franchise left tackle Laremy Tunsil and 22-year-old safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the 11th pick in the 2018 draft.
Those were guys who could have been cornerstone players for the Dolphins.
The starting roster the Dolphins roll out Sunday against the Bills arguably has just two cornerstone players, guys who could or should be high-level starters three years from now when Miami’s grand tanking experiment theoretically is ready to bear fruit.
Those two are cornerback Xavien Howard and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, the 13th pick in this year’s draft. That’s it.
The Dolphins have stockpiled 15 picks in the 2020 draft and 11 in 2021. In 2020, they have three No. 1s and two No. 2s.
They got Pittsburgh’s No. 1 in exchange for Fitzpatrick. In exchange for Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills, they got Houston’s No. 1 in both 2020 and 2021, plus Houston’s No. 2 in 2021. That’s a great haul. But Miami is defying the First Rule of Holes: When you're in one, stop digging.
The Texans are 4-2 and just beat Kansas City. That No. 1 in 2020 easily could be in the mid-20s. Miami would do well to get a left tackle as good as Tunsil with any of those picks from the Texans. They would do well to get a safety as good as Fitzpatrick with the Pittsburgh pick, which might be in the 10-15 range.
The Dolphins will get a franchise quarterback in the draft, perhaps Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. They will have a load of money to spend the next several years in free agency. They’re at $117 million in space for 2020, according to Spotrac.com. But there currently are 14 teams with at least $60 million in space. Lots of other teams will be offering the top free agents huge contracts.
Cleveland is the other prime example of an extreme tank. The Browns went 1-31 in 2015 and ’16. They haven’t aced the draft. Cleveland traded away picks that turned into Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. But the Browns have acquired cornerstone No. 1 overall picks in Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett and might be on the rise. Maybe.
Is all-out tanking a wave of the future? That might be determined by the fortunes of Cleveland and Miami.
“Right now, it’s a lot of adversity in this building,” Flores said, “but I think in a lot of ways, it’s strengthening a lot of guys in this building. Hopefully we’ll be better for it.”
First losing season ever: Flores never has endured a losing football season since he started high school. That’s a 24-year streak, which will end this season. He didn’t lose a game in four years at Brooklyn’s Poly Prep. “We had a tie,” he said. He was at Boston College for five winning seasons. Then he was with the Patriots in various roles from 2004 to 2018.
So you’ve never endured a losing season in your life? “That is not correct,” Flores said. “Pop Warner.”
“I’ve been fortunate to be on a lot of good teams,” Flores said. “I’ve always been the same. I’ve never made excuses. I’ve never complained. I’ve never worried about anything except for the next day and trying to improve. That’s how I’ve approached everything since those days in high school, and that’s what I learned from my high school coach.”
The 30,000-foot view: Miami’s draft classes prior to this year are not pretty. The top three in 2018 were Fitzpatrick, tight end Mike Gesicki and linebacker Jerome Baker. Gesicki has Dawson Knox speed. But unlike Knox, he’s a poor blocker. He tested better than he played at Penn State and looks like a bust. Baker had some good moments as a rookie but is only 223 pounds and isn’t playing well this year. The top three in 2017 were edge rusher Charles Harris, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and corner Cordea Tankersley. Harris is a try-hard, undersized edge guy. Flores likes butt-kicking edge-setters. Harris got just 12 snaps last week. McMillan is a two-down run guy. Tankersley has done nothing. The top three in 2016 were Tunsil, Howard and running back Kenyan Drake. Tunsil is gone, Howard is good. Drake is on the trade block.
Bills DEs vs. Miami OTs. Miami right tackle J'Marcus Webb has allowed four sacks and 18 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. He has flipped sides with Jesse Davis.
Michael Deiter vs. Bills DTs. Dieter is a third-round pick out of Wisconsin who has allowed three sacks and 16 pressures. Whether the Bills line up Jordan Phillips or Ed Oliver over him, it’s a good matchup for the Bills.
Bills WRs vs. Miami CBs. Howard missed last week’s game with a knee injury. Patriot import Eric Rowe has struggled. Miami’s depth at corner is poor.
Stats for the road: The Dolphins are on pace for all kinds of bad records. They’re averaging 8.4 ppg and giving up 36 ppg. The lowest-scoring offense in the last 40 years was the 1985 Bills (12.5 ppg). The low-scoring record is held by the ’77 Bucs (7.3 ppg). The ’81 Colts hold the record for most points allowed (33.3 ppg).