The 2017 NFL season was a miserable one for the Miami Dolphins. It was one full of injuries, odd timings, AWOL players, and more. It was anything but normal in South Florida for the entire 2017 season, which brings us to today’s topic: What if.
What if Ryan Tannehill, Raekwon McMillan, and Tony Lippett were not lost for the year? What if Hurricane Irma had not caused the rescheduling of Week 1? What if Lawrence Timmons had not gone AWOL before the team’s opener in Week 2? What if the team’s first “home” game had not been in London and they had been able to open their home schedule before October? What if Rey Maualuga had been in shape and had not gotten arrested? What if the entire Chris Foerster episode had not happened? What if Nate Allen, Lamin Barrow, Jermon Bushrod, Leonte Carroo, Isaiah Ford, William Hayes, Ja’Wuan James, Tony Lippett, Koa Misi, Maurice Smith, Anthony Steen, Vincent Taylor, Julius Thomas, and Michael Thomas all did not join Tannehill and McMillan on the injured reserve list?
Basically....what if 2017 had not been 2017 for the Dolphins?
Even if just a few of those things did not happen - and I am probably forgetting something - the Dolphins may have had a different 2017.
The Dolphins were growing into their own in 2016, beginning to look like a team that could become a power in the AFC. Instead, 2017 saw them regress as they dealt with body-blow after body-blow. Tannehill had career highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating in 2016 - then missed 2017 with the knee injury. Jay Cutler, who was brought in to replace Tannehill, threw for fewer yards in 2017 than Tannehill in 2016, as well as had a lower completion percentage, fewer touchdowns, more interceptions, a lower yards per attempt average, and a lower passer rating. If Tannehill had just been able to do the same in 2017 as what he did in 2016, the Dolphins would have been better at the end of 2017 than they were.
Miami just was never able to respond to losing Tannehill, as well as McMillan who should have been the starting middle linebacker for the Dolphins in his rookie season. Instead, on the opening kickoff of the first preseason game, McMillan tore his ACL and was out for the year. If the Dolphins had not played McMillan on kickoff coverage, his ACL probably would have still torn at some point - there was not a lot of contact on the play when his knee gave out. The defense could have used McMillan, both for his athleticism and his ability to run the defense. That side of the ball probably would have been better with McMillan in the game.
The Dolphins had to deal with Timmons disappearing just before the team’s Week 2 game, then had him suspended for Week 3. They had to deal with staying in California to avoid Hurricane Irma. They then had to travel back to the east coast to visit the New York Jets, then head to London, before finally seeing the Tennessee Titans in Miami. It was a lot of travel to start the season - even as the team went 5-2 to start the year.
Then Maualuga, who Miami signed when McMillan was injured, could not get into playing shape until Week 4. After making six appearances for the team, with four starts, Maualuga was arrested on battery charges, with the Dolphins releasing him the next morning. Then the Foerster video, with the offensive line coach snorting white powder off his desk, happened and threw the team into more turmoil.
And injury after injury.
Again, what if 2017 had not been 2017 for the Dolphins?
How things could have been different. The Dolphins should have been again challenging for a playoff spot. They should have been a better team than they were in 2016.
But, they could also be heading into 2018 with much the same team as they had in 2017. Would Jay Ayaji, Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh, and Mike Pouncey still be in Miami if some of those things had not happened to the team? Would the Dolphins have looked to get younger and add depth this offseason? Would the “culture change” that has been a storyline all offseason still have happened?
There are a lot of what ifs surrounding the 2017 Dolphins. We can never know what would have happened in 2017 for the Dolphins, but it definitely is a consideration in the “what if” discussion about the history of the team.