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So, What Really Constitutes ‘Tanking’?

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Miami Dolphins v Atlanta Falcon Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Ever since team owner Stephen Ross said at his season ending press conference two weeks ago that the Miami Dolphins might have to go 3-13 next year to get where they want to go, there has been quite of hand wringing and what I like to refer to as manufactured outrage. Both of the major South Florida newspapers that cover the Dolphins, the Miami Herald and Sun Sentinel, have run articles about how ‘tanking’ won’t work and why the Dolphins shouldn’t attempt to do so. As most of the regulars on this site know, whenever I’ve lamented Miami winning meaningless games late in the year, thereby greatly reducing their opportunities to land a franchise type player in the draft, I’ve been met with everything from people citing extraordinary exceptions to the rule -- “Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round”, “Aaron Rodgers went 24th”, “Marino went 27th”, etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum, to outright ridicule from my fellow Phinsider brethren. As if something that happened 19, 15 or even 36 years ago has any relevance whatsoever to the here and now. Oh, and they like to bring up Russell Wilson, too, because, hey, quarterbacks who are 5’11” tall win championships all the time. It’s simply amazing how much money is made, and lost, and how much energy is expended by people who really, truly believe that because something happened one time out of a thousand, that it just has to happen again, and that it will happen to them. As I’ve said before, that’s why they sell lottery tickets. Here in Illinois, millions of people play the ‘Mega Millions’ lottery every year. There’s just one problem: the last time someone won the ‘Mega Millions’ was in 2012, nearly seven years ago. A whole lot of roads have been paved and schools built since then, by what has become known as the ‘tax of the ignorant’. But don’t tell those nice, well meaning folks who stand in line day after day, patiently waiting for the privilege of paying for their tickets. After all, they’re special, so they’re going to beat the one in three hundred million odds against them, or so they believe.

When I said a few weeks back that the Dolphins will only get better with better players, one commenter responded with something to the effect of, “Dude, don’t you think we know they need better players?” Honestly, I’m not sure we do know that. If we’re going to sit here and say, with a straight face, that a draft pick in the mid twenties is every bit as good as a top 10-15 pick, because, ‘It’s not where you pick, it’s who you pick’, we might as well go out and join the ‘Flat Earth Society’ (yes, there is such an organization; you can look it up). Does anybody really think that the Dolphins will be as good as the Cleveland Browns next season? Do we think the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to go 4-12 again next year, after playing in the AFC championship game a season ago? Do we think that the Los Angeles Rams amassed their gaudy regular season record solely on the basis of outstanding coaching? Let me help you out a little bit here: the answer to all three questions is, or should be, ‘No’. The common denominator between the Browns, Jaguars and Rams is that they had superior draft position in years that some really good, game changing players were available. Players like Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Joel Bitonio, Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette, Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. Both the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2015 Denver Broncos won Super Bowls without even having a franchise quarterback, because they stockpiled stud defensive players that were selected with high draft picks.

I don’t mean to sound harsh or negative, but with all the hoopla, hubbub, hullabaloo and ballyhoo going on about who the Dolphins’ next coach is going to be, I really don’t care all that much. He may very well be fired by the time the team gets good again, anyway. What I do care about is the Miami Dolphins becoming a much better football team, and without a lot more good players, that wouldn’t happen if they brought in Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll or Don Shula, circa 1972. At the risk of stating the obvious, we should remember that all NFL teams run, essentially, the same plays. It’s which players are attempting to execute those plays, along with when they’re called, that matters. I’ll grant you that throwing the ball on third and one, or running it on third and ten probably isn’t a good idea, but then again, perhaps if the team had some linemen who could actually block, they wouldn’t be throwing on third and one to begin with.

But, back to the concept of tanking. What does it really mean, really entail? According to Wikipedia, tanking, as it relates to sports, is ‘match fixing, or when a competitor deliberately loses without gambling being involved’. At no time, to my knowledge, has anyone ever suggested that the Dolphins intentionally lose a game for the purposes of increasing the value of their draft picks. I’ve never suggested that, and certainly neither has Stephen Ross. All I’ve said is that the Dolphins have a nasty habit of winning games late in the season, when it has either already been determined that they weren’t going to the playoffs or that if they did go, they would be immediately trounced by the top seeded team in the conference in their very first playoff game. The latter was certainly the case in 2018, when the Dolphins were ranked near the bottom of the league on both offense and defense and also had a lot of players on injured reserve.

What I’m fervently hoping for is not that the Dolphins intentionally lose games, but rather, that they don’t expend every last draft pick, every last free agent dollar and make every last personnel move to try and win the Super Bowl that same year. In other words, I’d like them to take their collective foot off the accelerator once in a while, instead of going for all the marbles when they clearly don’t have the horses to try and make a title run. That’s exactly how a team ends up finishing 8-8, which, in turn, leads to . . . . wait for it . . . . more 8-8 finishes! You have to build a team from the bottom up; you have to have a solid foundation in place before you build a house, have an actual cake before you add the proverbial frosting. You don’t spend six draft picks in a three year period on wide receivers when your offensive line has been decimated by ‘BullyGate’. Some of the coaches the Dolphins have had over the past couple of decades seemed as though they were a lot more concerned with their W-L record after they left than they were about the long term success of the team they were coaching at the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but we need the head coach and the front office for the Dolphins to be on the same page as an organization. If you think that the Dolphins haven’t regressed mightily over the past few seasons, let’s compare the 2018 team to the 2013 edition. In 2013, the second year for both head coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Miami went up to Pittsburgh in late December and beat the Steelers in the snow. They also, in just the second week of the season, traveled to Indianapolis and whipped the Colts at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, winning the game on the road in the process. Could the 2018 Dolphins have accomplished either of those feats? Of course not.

At the end of the day, we’re all just fans here, and we all want to see the team do well. It’s the ‘doing well’ part where our respective opinions have a tendency to greatly diverge. I’ll say it right now: if I have a choice between the Dolphins going to the playoffs as the fifth or sixth seed, or not going to the playoffs, I’d rather they stay home. For the amount of physical wear and tear a playoff run causes the players to have to endure, plus having our draft pretty much ruined three months later, I don’t want to see them in the playoffs. Give me a third seed or higher, or give me nothing. Since the league added wildcard teams to the playoff field in 1978, only four teams over the ensuing 41 seasons have won three consecutive games on the road, in the playoffs, to advance to the Super Bowl: the 1985 Patriots, the 2005 Steelers, the 2007 Giants and the 2010 Packers. Every one of those teams either had one or more future Hall of Famers, a franchise quarterback, a dominating defense or some combination thereof. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anything in that group of qualifiers that describes any member or unit of the current Miami Dolphins team, unless you want to count Cam Wake, as a potential HOF’er, and who was barely hanging on at age 36 last year.

Here’s to hoping that the Dolphins do find a good coach who can oversee what promises to be both an eventful year and a forgettable 2019 regular season. If we do go 3-13, I’ll be doing cartwheels down the hallway of my building, and I don’t know if I’ve ever even done a cartwheel. Also, if someone could come out with a ‘Miami Miracle’ hoodie and T-shirt, perhaps we could come up with a similar product for the next season or two. We could have a slogan like, ‘Better Tanking For Two Years Than Stanking For Twenty’, etc. What do you think? Have a great week, everybody.