What a difference one offseason can make. At this time last year, many Miami Dolphins fans were vehemently debating what the team should do with wide receiver Jarvis Landry and lamenting defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh’s nosebleed salary cap number. Today, Landry is a member of the Cleveland Browns and Suh is at least partially responsible for fellow defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s contract holdout with the Los Angeles Rams. Recognizing that no interior defensive lineman, even if he’s one of the top two players at his position in the game, should be the highest paid player on your team, the Dolphins acquired Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who has replaced Suh as Miami’s best paid player. With a 2018 cap number of $11.4 million, Quinn is still going to make about $3 million less than Suh (who also took a hefty pay cut to join the Rams), is two years younger and figures to give the team more sacks as a proven outside pass rusher.
The single biggest reason why the Miami Dolphins have not been a major threat to the rest of the league since Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino retired is largely the same reason they didn’t win much when Marino was playing: the team has repeatedly committed the cardinal sin of trying to use a few great players to cover up a lot of bad players. There was a time in the National Football League when a top flight quarterback could win a title almost by himself. Unfortunately, that era ended ten or fifteen years before Marino arrived in Miami in 1983. Since Marino retired after 1999, the Dolphins have faced the double-barreled issue of not having a franchise quarterback, while also having too many average players on the team. Mercifully, this appears to be finally coming to an end. Rather than having one or two players that the opposition can line up to stop, forcing Miami to use other guys who aren’t up to the task, the Dolphins seem to have finally moved into the twenty first century, from a strategic standpoint.
Generally speaking, the topics which tend to create the most controversy and debate are those in which more than one argument can be considered valid. Case in point: Landry. Those who say that Landry’s production can be gotten from other players are right, yet, others who point out that if Miami had any other players who could do for them what Jarvis did, those guys would have been contributing more to the offense the past few years, are also right. For whatever reason, when Landry was on the team, defenses would sit back and let him catch the ball, then immediately tackle him for a short gain, knowing that eventually a drive killing sack or penalty would probably come their way. I, for one, am very pleased that Landry is gone. Not because he wasn’t a good player but because he wasn’t the class guy that Cameron Wake, Ryan Tannehill and, to some extent, even Suh was, to justify paying him the kind of salary he wanted. There comes a time when you have to decide who is going to comprise the nucleus of your football team, and the Dolphins’ front office decided that they didn’t want Landry as part of that nucleus. All you have to do is listen to his expletive laced tirade with the Browns this week to confirm that Tannenbaum, Gase and Grier made the right choice there. Teams have to let good players leave and continue to win without them all the time. That’s life in the NFL, folks.
Today, the Dolphins are younger, cheaper, faster and more athletic, and in more than forty years following this team, I can’t remember a time when they’ve made more moves that I approved of. As always, my mantra is, ‘Well coached players on offense, stud athletes on defense’, and as most of you know, I’m here to champion defensive football, because defensive football wins championships. The Dolphins have gotten serious about upgrading that side of the ball the past couple of years, and I think Gase deserves a lot of credit for it. For a head coach who comes from an offensive background, that takes guts. It also demonstrates that he intends to be the coach of the Dolphins for quite a while. Best of all, the team is no longer being held hostage by bad contracts, and can replace underperforming players each offseason as they see fit, without having to dump salaries. It’s an exciting time to be a Dolphin fan, which is why, despite living in Chicago, I’ve actually been able to wear a cap with the team’s logo on it for the first time in many a year. Ten wins this season, guys; write it down.