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The Plan: Finding Unexpected Beauty in the Dolphins’ Decisions at the 2016 NFL Draft

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Few franchises have shown less cohesion over the last 10 years than the Miami Dolphins. The team has become famous for making picks that not only fail in terms of talent evaluation, but also don’t fit what the coaches need to execute as they would like to in their system.

Dennis Hickey was the team’s best shot as a lone GM, but the constant presence of a football czar seemed like a curse on the team’s ability to succeed. Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland made questionable decisions at every turn, attempting to build a 1980s style team in the year 2008. Then, Mike Tannenbaum was brought in as the next bridge between Stephen Ross and the world of football.

In 2015, the organizational structure hit rock bottom. There were essentially two GMs competing in Davie, displaying a lack of cooperation in evaluation and in terms of relationship with coaches. Tannenbaum couldn’t work with Hickey, Hickey couldn’t work with Tannenbaum, and neither could work with Philbin.

Many believed that the 2016 offseason would be more of the same. Another series of disjointed decisions and poorly calculated signings? Miscalculated value of draft picks, merely used to add to a roster built upon free agency (the opposite methodology that is used to find success in the NFL)? Neither would have been surprising.

It appeared that the team was once again on their way to a misguided rebuilding process, not because they didn’t need it, but because they didn’t know how to execute it. Heading into the 2016 NFL Draft, confidence was at an all-time low for the usually hype-infused Dolphins fan base. Rumors swirled of Eli Apple being the team’s preference 13th overall, and everyone let out a joint sigh synonymous with a phrase that many fans have lived by since the early 2000s.

"There’s always next year."

Fast forward to April 28th, as NFL teams settle into their war rooms for the annual proceedings centered at the Roosevelt Auditorium in Chicago. Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier, and Adam Gase form the Dolphins’ brain trust, and owner Stephen Ross joins them. Usually, Ross’ approval is not needed on draft picks. Tonight, they would need his blessing to take a massive leap of faith.

Minutes before the draft is set to begin, as you all now know, the class’ top prospect is shaken out of his throne atop player rankings as video evidence surfaces online of him smoking marijuana from a gas mask bong. This is unprecedented, as teams’ boards have been set for weeks, convinced they had already dug up any dirt that exists on these players.

Most Dolphins fans didn’t think too much of this. It was a fair thought that Baltimore would still grab Tunsil with the 6th overall pick.

When the Dallas Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott off of the board, the collective heart rate among Dolphins fans jumped a bit. Landing him at 13 was somewhat of a pipe dream, but that didn’t stop fans from fantasizing about the Buckeye slashing through defenses in aqua for the next decade.

"The Jacksonville Jaguars select, Jalen Ramsey, cornerback, Florida State."

There it is. Laremy Tunsil signed, sealed, and delivered to one of the league’s savviest general managers in Towson, MD.

"The Baltimore Ravens are now on the clock."

Then, it happened.

The Miami Dolphins rarely have these moments. History usually goes out of its way to make sure the Dolphins will be painted in a light that illuminates their dysfunction and struggle, seemingly out for an example to carve into the inglorious tablets containing every failed effort from 2007-2015. Fans did not expect the 2016 NFL Draft to be any different, let alone a potential watershed moment for the team.

The boos rain down, and the commissioner reaches the podium.

"With the 6th pick…in the 2016 NFL Draft…the Baltimore Ravens select…Ronnie Stanley, tackle, Notre Dame."

The skepticism was still blinding. Dolphins fans refused to believe that Tunsil could slide remotely into the team's grasp.

Then, as the Tennessee Titans traded up to the 8th overall pick with the Cleveland Browns, fans once again resigned to the potential of selecting Myles Jack, whose medical concerns made him a risky proposition at best.

"With the 8th pick…in the 2016 NFL Draft…the Tennessee Titans select… Jack Conklin, tackle, Michigan State."

Is this happening?

Hope was slowly winning the battle with disbelief. If the Miami Dolphins’ luck on this night was not enough to wrestle away the demons of their own history, maybe some magic behind the scenes could put them over the edge.

There is a strong link between the Miami Dolphins and Laremy Tunsil that existed well before the team knew they would be able to draft him. Jimmy Sexton, NFL super-agent, doesn’t just represent Laremy Tunsil. He also represents Mike Tannenbaum.

Oh, and Adam Gase.

Wait…doesn’t he have Ndamukong Suh signed as well?

In a fury of information gathering for teams, the Dolphins simply had to make one phone call. Convincing the team to make a pick he knew was risky would be a poor business decision for him, as he would be sinking three clients so one could benefit. He had no reason to lie.

Two years old. The now infamous video of Laremy Tunsil with his face engulfed by a gas mask was taken during Tunsil’s freshman year at Ole Miss. He had passed every drug test. He had a few minor off the field incidents, but Sexton’s endorsement was enough.

Before they were on the clock, the Dolphins knew what they were going to do.

Successful NFL teams are built on the line of scrimmage and through the draft. The Dolphins needed to help their offensive line, and might have finally realized that they cannot do this in free agency.

Here is the moment that made Dolphins fans so uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable because it was so unfamiliar.

Was luck finally going to turn? Are the Dolphins actually going to win in one of these situations that seem to only happen in New England or Green Bay?

"With the 13th pick…in the 2016 NFL Draft…the Miami Dolphins select…"

And they did it.

After trading down from the 8th overall spot in March, securing two starters, and seemingly taking themselves out of the range of a truly elite prospect, the Dolphins landed the best player in the 2016 NFL Draft class.

Laremy Tunsil is as sure-fire of a prospect as you will find. Ian Wharton, one of Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft analysts, gave Tunsil his highest grade since Andrew Luck.

However, was this an isolated incident? Did the Dolphins merely stumble into a pick that they couldn’t refuse, or was there a plan at work?

Over the next 72 hours, Mike Tannenbaum did what he does best. He manipulated the draft board using trades to secure players that he had his eye on.

This is where it gets interesting.

For the first time in Mike Tannenbaum’s career, he wasn’t the only one whose consideration was factored in for the front office. Chris Grier also made his presence felt.

In a turn that is not unusual for most teams, the Dolphins then started drafting players that their coaches could actually use. It seemed so logical that something had to be wrong.

The Dolphins first secured the cornerstone of their offensive line. Then, they drafted a defensive back who perfectly fits their coordinator’s mold for zone coverage. A running back here, some receiver depth there, another body in the secondary a bit later… it all made too much sense.

Many disagree with Tannenbaum’s plan here. The big picture effort has his name all over it, with evaluations that clearly came from the stoic man who does the ground work behind the scenes, Chris Grier.

Drafting a litany of offensive players this season, the Dolphins clearly plan to rebuild the defense in 2017, allowing Adam Gase to get his offense lined up as he would like it during year one thanks to a wealth of draft selections used on that side of the ball.

Regardless of what you thought of the Miami Dolphins draft, there is no way to argue that we have seen progress from the front office. The team appears to be prepared to work together in an effort to scout, select, and implement players who coaches feel can help them achieve their ultimate goal.

Whether or not that plan works remains to be seen. In 2016, expectations are fairly low for the performance of the Dolphins. One thing that would make the season worthwhile for most fans?

Show something that allows them to have faith. At this point, having faith in the team’s direction is what fans want the most.

After the draft, it is easy to see steps being taken in that direction. If the Dolphins can turn the cohesive plan they appeared to have at the draft into a recurring theme in the organization, then they might just have a fighting chance.

After years of rampant dysfunction, a fighting chance is more than most could have asked for from the Miami Dolphins.