Having observed countless articles on the Dolphins the last several months my mind has been turning its gears to summarize and estimate a prediction of strategy and analysis on what they are doing. They have made some curious choices with the QB search approach, free agency, and their draft preparation. Above and beyond their choices, their direction can be summarized by two things: Jeff Ireland’s philosophy of professional, non-emotional valuation of talent and positions, and Joe Philbin’s draft-focused team-building approach of character, motor, leadership and intelligence as the primary attributes of the best football players.
QB Search Notes
- The pursuit of Peyton Manning as their QB of choice was so narrowly focused because Ireland and Philbin determined he was truly the only franchise quarterback available. Their lowball offer to Matt Flynn ($4 million per year) was a result of their evaluation of him as two things: not likely to be a franchise QB, and the fact that they didn’t consider him as an upgrade to Matt Moore.
- They value Matt Moore tremendously. The evidence: the fact that the only real alternative considered so far was Peyton Manning, who would be an upgrade over almost anyone. Also, Joe Philbin’s comments that a lack of productivity at QB was likely a result of poor offensive line play. This translates to: behind closed doors we think Matt Moore could have led us to a winning record if he had a better right side of the offensive line.
- Joe Philbin may really like Matt Moore, but it must also be concluded that it is not yet determined yet if he is a good quarterback for the west coast offense. The Dolphins will not put all of their eggs in Matt Moore’s basket this year. Thus, the signing of David Garrard to create competition and the drafting of a QB with potential WCO ties this draft.
- Several draft prognosticators have stated there are only 4-5 franchise quarterback possibilities in this draft. It is likely the Dolphins also buy this. Who besides Tom Brady has emerged as a franchise QB after the first round? Two: Dree Brees (32nd) and Andy Dalton (35th) overall. They were essentially first round picks anyway. The only likely probabilities for franchise QBs in this draft are: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, and Kirk Cousins. All are hard workers, leaders, and accurate, the key indicators of a franchise QB. The first two are taken, but the skill sets of the other three are very good, but each has some type of weakness. Consider:
- Tannehill: If he had 30+ starts instead of 19, and if you recalculate his completion percentage by removing the 64 drops his receivers has last year, and take into account his natural athletic tools, then he grades out better as a prospect than Jake Locker or Christian Ponder of last year. His intangibles and game leadership skills are already better than Blaine Gabbert’s.
- Cousins: Above average in almost every category, but has played a role mostly as a game manager. The comparison to Andy Dalton is apt, but Cousins shows better leadership capabilities and slightly better physical skills. I expect Cousins to be off the board in the top 10 picks of round 2.
- Weeden: Weeden’s coach has said he is the best he has ever coached, has almost perfect accuracy on every throw, and is the ultimate professional and confident leader in the huddle. What’s not to like? Age will be 29 in October. As a pure passer, most evaluators considered him as better than Cam Newton in almost every category last year...except for athleticism and age. However, where Tannehill would likely need two years to sit and gain the skills and practices to become the franchise QB, Weeden could come in to compete automatically. My guess is he is Cleveland’s pick at 22 or top of the second.
- Osweiler, Foles, Russell Wilson and others are not on the list because they lack in some of primary fundamental attributes of a franchise QB: accuracy, leadership, lack of confidence, or lack of physical skills. Most NFL talent evaluators consider accuracy as something that cannot be taught to a QB, they must just have it. And what is the likelihood of Wilson becoming the next Doug Flutie? 1 in 50? I wouldn’t take those odds until maybe the seventh round.
- They have shown interest in Ryan Lindley, who has potential as a midround pick, but that would most likely be only in the draft scenario where they bypass Tannehill, Weeden, and Cousins either due to value or waiting on the position for another year.
Free Agency Strategy
Jeff Ireland’s past approach to free agency has been: find the biggest weakness on the team, and fix it. He did this with Karlos Dansby and Brandon Marshall two years ago, and Kevin Burnett and Reggie bush last year. Last year the Dolphins were in the top 40% of sacks, and a top 6 defense for run yards allowed, however, they had secondary weaknesses against the pass and a weak spot at RT. Some sacks can be attributed to Jake Long’s absence due to injury as well.
- Philbin’s and Ireland’s philosophy is more important than player talent. This was illustrated in the trade of Brandon Marshall. The most important offensive principles for Philbin are scheme flexibility to create matchup advantages and having a great offensive line.
- Miami has lost Will Allen but added Richard Marshall. This helps address the secondary weakness and a more dynamic secondary for interceptions. Marshall can play FS, CB, or Nickel CB, which will keep the offense guessing on the defensive scheme.
- I don’t believe Ireland or Philbin saw many WCO guards or tackles with the required athleticism in free agency. Hicks could be an adequate starter at either position, offers veteran leadership, or at the worst is a great WCO backup. Also, many quotes have circulated of Philbin and ireland seeing ‘hidden talent’ on the game tapes. Who is this mysterious talent? Likely Ryan Cook, John Jerry, or Nate Garner, as Murtha didn’t play last year and Carey is gone. People assume Offensive Line is a need for draft. I agree, but don’t think they’ll take one until at least round 3 unless a great value drops.
- Which other players do not fit the scheme or philosophy of Philbin’s philosophy and are likely to be gone? This doesn’t mean they will be gone, but just that they have a greater probability because of scheme selection and past performance. Some options are below:
- Daniel Thomas - Thomas is not a West Coast Offense RB. He doesn’t have the speed to break out to a 4 wide set and be effective, and isn’t a good enough blocker or pass-receiver in the flat to justify starting.
- Clyde Gates - So, Julius Pruitt is just as fast as Gates, is an amazing special teams contributor, and probably close to as good of a route runner? Gates may be able to burn it over the top, but so can Pruitt, and Gates does not seem to fit the mold of the ideal WCO WR of having great route-running, great hands, creating separation, and a high number of YAC.
- John Jerry - Jerry might have filled in alright for Murtha last year, but was really only adequate when you crunch the numbers on the amount of pressures and sacks he allowed. Also, that was not primarily a zone blocking scheme, and he lacks the athleticism to pull as a G. Unless he proves himself better as a flex tackle than Murtha, Hicks, a draft pick this year, or Garner, thenJerry appears to be an odd man out on the line.
- Will Yeatman - The TE obtained from waivers from the Patriots last year is primarily a blocker, a 6th offensive lineman. For the WCO the TE must be fast, is primarily a receiver, and must have good hands. Yeatman does not fit this mold.
- Roberto Wallace and Marlon Moore - The Dolphins are likely to draft AT LEAST two WCO WRs this year. That means Wallace and Moore not only have to outplay Gates and Pruitt to get a spot, that still leaves 6 WRs and one would likely be cut. My hunch would be Pruitt stays, Wallace and Moore are gone.
- Nolan Carroll - There are several secondary options for the Dolphins, but in almost every scenario I foresee, even before the draft, Carroll is behind Davis, Smith, Marshall, and Wilson at CB. If the Dolphins draft a CB, Carroll looks like an outsider unless he, Wilson, or Marshall move to Safety.
- Miami’s strategy of releasing Yeremiah Bell and letting Kendall Langford go makes complete sense when you take into account Philbin’s philosophy of improving through the draft. How can a young player ever prove himself if you never give him a chance to start? Trust your draft picks and throw them into the fire in year two or three once they are developed. Miami had a logjam at the safety position: Culver, Rashad Jones, Chris Clemons, and Jimmy Wilson are all possible starters at either FS or SS, so why not see who the best is you’ve got in training camp and throw them into the fire? Also, why keep Kendall Langford? Six million a year for 3-4 DE who doesn’t generate a passrush does not make sense, and with either the 4-3 or 3-4 front line you still have an extra starter capable linemen for a limited number of spots (Wake, Starks, Odrick, Soliai, and Daniels). You have three alright backups that are flexible too in Westerman, Baker and Merling. Let Odric prove himself now in his 3rd year.