Well, it’s been an interesting week, to say the least. The Miami Dolphins, despite a valiant effort, succeeded in losing -- which means they actually won -- the ‘Tank Bowl’ to the nearly as woeful Washington Redskins, inching them ever closer to the number one overall pick in next April’s draft. I think I’ve seen more contrived, manufactured outrage here on this site than at a PTA meeting in the Bible Belt a half century ago, and enough pearl clutching to warrant Zales jewelers giving serious consideration to opening a dozen or so new stores in the greater Miami-Dade metropolitan area.
For those of you who don’t like the Dolphins’ strategy of accumulating draft capital for the next two years, you should understand that when you disparage and denigrate those of us who happen to agree with this approach, you aren’t just disparaging us; you’re also disparaging the team itself, since Steve Ross and Chris Grier are the ones who chose to implement this strategy in the first place. Hey, it’s a free country. If someone would prefer to see Miami finishing around the .500 mark for another fifteen or twenty years, who am I to question them? All I ask in return is that you extend the same courtesy to those of us who do agree with the Dolphins’ moves this past off-season.
So, how did the Dolphins become such a bad team? Sure, trading their starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil and former first round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick didn’t help matters, but let’s be honest; the Dolphins weren’t going anywhere even if they’d kept those players, so if I were Grier, I wouldn’t have wanted to pay big money to either of them in another couple of years, myself. And although choosing Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees in 2006 remains a favorite culprit of the team’s fan base for the Dolphins’ long run of mediocrity, I don’t really buy that one, either. Although they’d already been bad for quite a while previously, the Miami Dolphins’ recent reign of futility and frustration can be traced to a series of fateful events and decisions that began eight long years ago, during the 2011 season.
Despite starting the 2011 season 0-7, the Dolphins went on a tear in November and December, winning six of their relatively meaningless final nine games. Going 6-3 down the stretch didn’t earn them a playoff berth, nor did it save head coach Tony Sparano’s job; he was fired in mid December after an ugly home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. What those six seemingly innocuous wins -- two of which were at the expense of the Buffalo Bills -- did do was to help weaken Miami’s NFL franchise for years to come, and facilitate a tectonic shift in the balance of power in the AFC Eastern Conference Division.
Here’s why: when two or more teams finished with identical W-L records the previous season, the team that picks first from that group of teams in round one picks after the others in the second round, and this process repeats itself in subsequent rounds. Because of this quirk in the draft’s bylaws, the Dolphins held the 42nd overall pick in the second round of the 2012 draft, and then general manager Jeff Ireland wanted one of two offensive tackles: Georgia’s Cordy Glenn or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin. The only problem was, Buffalo held the 41st overall pick, just ahead of the Dolphins, and their GM, Buddy Nix, also wanted an offensive tackle. The Bills selected Glenn, leaving Martin, and the media aided destruction he would wreak, for Miami to choose one pick later, and the rest is history. To this day, the ‘BullyGate’ scandal continues to devastate the Miami Dolphins franchise; of the three offensive linemen the Dolphins lost as a result, only Martin has been out of football for any length of time. Richie Incognito was in the starting lineup for the Raiders during their win over the Bears last Sunday, and John Jerry started for the New York Giants for four years. He’s now with the Cincinnati Bengals. Just to make sure that as much salt as possible gets rubbed into our collective wound, HBO is now apparently going to publish a feature film based on the BullyGate scandal, because hey -- you only get so many chances to capitalize on something like this. You can bet the ranch that if Incognito had been the one who was victimized, and Martin and Jerry had been the perpetrators, this never would have been a scandal to begin with. Suffice it to say that HBO is becoming nearly as bad as ESPN.
But there’s so much more. Although the South Florida beat writers who cover the Dolphins repeatedly insisted at the time that this was in no way, a story, I guarantee you that anytime an NFL team chooses to select an offensive player in the first round of the draft eight out of twelve years, and chooses only one defensive player in the first three rounds of the draft over a three year period (2014-16), when no other NFL team before or since has done anything like that, it is a very, very big deal. But the Dolphins had selected a project QB in Ryan Tannehill, in the first round of the 2012 draft, and come Hell or high water, they were going to bring in as many shiny new toys for him to throw to as it took for him to become a top flight quarterback. Except. . . it never happened. They spent a king’s ransom to sign former Steelers WR Mike Wallace, and then the fans complained that Wallace couldn’t track the deep ball. They spent an NFL record first, a second, two thirds and a fourth round pick on WR’s in a three year period. They signed former fourth round, wispy thin WR Brian Hartline to an obscenely huge contract and let stud cornerback Sean Smith leave town in free agency. Smith signed two lucrative contracts, with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, and has probably earned around sixty million since the Dolphins let him walk. At the risk of stating the obvious, when a player has those kind of career earnings, it means he’s pretty good. Hartline, on the other hand, was eventually cut by Miami and played a handful of games for the Cleveland Browns before they too, let him go. Brian Hartline has been out of football since 2015, but the Dolphins’ cornerback unit has been a mess a lot longer than that.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Aside from my wish that the ‘Culture Vultures’ versus ‘Tanker Bankers’ mega wars that are being fought on this site every day be dialed down a bit, there are two thoughts I’d like to leave you with: number one, the single worst thing an NFL team can do in the first round of the draft -- unless they truly believe that they’re a viable Super Bowl contender -- is to select a wide receiver. The position carries one of the highest bust rates in the NFL and there are literally dozens of guys available every year in the later rounds who are very similar to the players who are selected higher. Maybe the Dolphins will take Jerry Jeudy early in round one next Spring, and maybe he’ll turn out to be a generational talent, but the odds are against it. Number two: guys, this is a multi billion dollar business, and every single thing in this business, matters. All of it. Every bit of it. You know why coaches and coordinators cover their mouths when they’re calling a play or giving instructions? That’s right, because if they didn’t, some team would hire a lip reader to try and decipher what they’re saying and have the perfect defense lined up to stop them. This is the NFL, not the Pee Wee league. Let’s stop pretending like draft picks don’t matter, and that if the coach just has his players do a few more push-ups and run a few more laps around the practice field, our team will be just as good as the next team. This is a cutthroat, winner take all, dog eat dog business, and every single thing in this business, matters. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.