The NFL’s annual spring owners meetings are underway in Arizona, with several rule changes and other items on the agenda. The meetings feature many of the head coaches and general managers of the various NFL franchises, along with the owners. On Monday, Miami Dolphins general manager Chris Grier spoke to the media, with a focus on the team’s plans at quarterback and the 2019 ‘“tanking” plan.
“When (head coach) Brian (Flores) got hired finally, and he got all of the staff in, it really took about two weeks going through it as a staff talking about the offensive side,” Grier said of when the Dolphins knew they were ready to move on from former starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. “Once we got (Offensive Coordinator) Chad O’Shea in and (Assistant Quarterbacks Coach) Jerry Schuplinski and (Assistant Head Coach/Quarterbacks) Jim Caldwell and the rest of the offensive staff, they sat together and they worked hard for two weeks grinding through it. They made their decisions and talked through it. Then, Brian and I obviously discussed it and we made that determination roughly a couple of weeks after they were together as a staff. They really spent two weeks going through all of our offensive film the last couple of years and watching every snap and working through that way. That was the determination and we decided then that we were going to go in a different direction.”
Tannehill was Miami’s first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, spending seven years with the Dolphins. Grier was asked how he would describe Tannehill’s tenure with the Dolphins, to which he replied, “I would say at the end of the day you’d probably say inconsistent; but I would say Ryan gave his heart and soul for the organization. No one is a tougher guy than him. I mean, you guys have seen some of the shots that guy has taken. He never complained. He had some really great moments, some great games that were tremendous. And then he had some games where not only he, but the entire offense struggled. I would say he was inconsistent with moments of really, very good, top football, and then other moments that probably the whole team struggled. But I appreciate him because I know what he went through. At that position, you get judged by wins and losses unfortunately, and he took a lot of blame for things that were out of his control. I wish him the best and I think he’ll do a good job there in Tennessee.”
The Dolphins traded Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans, swapping sixth-round picks with Tennessee and receiving the Titans’ 2020 fourth-round pick. “Really with Ryan, when we made that decision, I called Ryan and talked to him,” Grier said of how the trade materialized. “We had a good talk about it. Obviously he was disappointed, I’m sure; but Ryan is a total professional as you guys have known and been around him. We told him and we also said we’re going to be kind of deliberate in how we do things because we feel Ryan’s a good player in the league and there would be value, we thought, from someone. And we did. There were a couple of teams who had called; but they weren’t in a hurry. I think everyone was waiting to see how it was going to play out in free agency, the early parts of it. And I think also they were doing some of their evaluations of draft prospects. So we were in discussions with a couple of teams and then (Titans Executive Vice President/General Manager) Jon Robinson was probably very aggressive in wanting to do something and so we saw the opportunity and they worked well with us and we got it done in probably about two days.”
Grier was also asked if it was a mistake to keep Tannehill with the team as long as they did. He answered, “I don’t know that because I think Adam (Gase)’s first year here we went 10-6 and made the playoffs and right when he got hurt, he was playing really good in that stretch for about six or seven games. So it was the first time with Adam, working with Adam, and him going down in training camp the following year and then last season, (it was) inconsistent ups and downs. So I don’t think so because I think after that 10-6 year with Adam, you probably thought, ‘Hey, maybe it’s going to turn and now it’s going to be what people hoped he would be as far as being a top 10 pick in the draft.’ The expectations are always – at that position, when you’re picked that high – through the roof. No, I don’t think it was a mistake. I think the one thing maybe we could have all done, and me pushing too, is drafting someone behind him to come through, that could maybe back him up. But we had other needs and it was a different mindset in terms of how we were doing things.”
After trading Tannehill to the Tennessee Titans, the Dolphins signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick as the presumed starter for 2019. Grier explained the team’s vision of Fitzpatrick, saying, “I think when we signed Ryan, first of all for him, it was important for that second year. He wanted that two-year deal. We understand, and Ryan knows too, that he’s not a long-term solution for any team. I think it was very important to have the right type of guy. I think if you talk to anyone about Ryan and what type of person he is, he’s very popular in locker rooms. Last year you know DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans were very vocal in their support of him. And I think for that position, having a guy that’s respected for his leadership and what he’ll do in the locker room is very important, and also if that guy is going to be the bridge in the next year or two for the other guy as a mentor, it’s important he understands that. Ryan is a perfect guy to be a mentor for a young guy, just to show leadership and how to be around guys and how to relate to people. It was very important and that’s why Ryan was a guy we targeted.”
The Dolphins are believed to be looking toward the 2020 Draft to find their franchise quarterback, but they have not ruled out the possibility of adding a quarterback this year - of both years. Grier said of the team’s quarterback plan outside of Fitzpatrick, “I would say that all options are on the table for us still. Like I said, it always has to be the right guy in terms of personality, leadership skills, what you’re asking him to do in terms of, is he going to fit with what Chad (O’Shea) and Brian (Flores) believe in? Again, it’s going to be a lot of time here in the spring, still getting to know a lot of these kids to determine if that’s who Brian and Chad and myself all believe is the right guy to lead us into the future. Whether it’s this year or next year…or maybe we could take one both this year and next year. But I think at that position, you can never be satisfied until you have the guy you really feel can give you a chance to win a championship.”
Grier continued, explaining, “I think it’s imperative that you have one that you can win with in this league. If we get to this year’s draft and we feel it’s him, we’ll be aggressive in trying to get him. And if we feel that it’s not this draft – which we’re still in the process of going through that – maybe there’s someone down the line here that may have potential that we like and then we’ll focus on 2020. But right now, we’re completely focused on the 2019 draft and there’s some interesting prospects in this year’s class.”
He then went on to take a look at the process of scouting and targeting a draft prospect. He stated, “You always look at a two-year window, so when guys are sophomores in college. Obviously if some is a freshman and has a great year, you’re aware of who they are; but you really don’t start getting to digging on them until maybe a little bit in their sophomore year. But there’s coaches in passing that say, ‘Okay, this is a really different kid.’ Then you really start, when they’re juniors, of really painting the picture. But you have to be very respectful of the colleges. There are guys, coaches are invested in them and they’re helping the university win, so it’s also about being respectful and not interfering and making them feel like we’re trying to get all of their players leave early, because that’s not the case. We would like them to be mature, prepared and play as many games as possible before they get in the NFL, but that’s where we are right now.
“I don’t think you can really target guys yet until you get to know them,” Grier continued. “You could have a guy who has all the talent in the world in terms of arm strength and everything, but then you get to know him and maybe he’s not the smartest guy or his teammates don’t like him. You really can’t start targeting them until they get to this point, a couple of weeks before the draft, once you have the complete picture of who he is as a person, on and off the field. Obviously, living in South Beach and Miami, as you guys know – Fort Lauderdale – it’s a different area. There are a lot of temptations, and can your guy, as the face of the program, can he handle that? Is this a small-town kid who’s never been exposed to it and he comes here and is like ‘Oh my god?’ He might not be able to handle that. You really don’t lock in on people until a week or two before the draft.”
If Miami feels they see the quarterback they want to be their franchise player this year in the Draft, Grier said the team will not shy away from jumping up in the selection order to go get him. “I would say yeah [we could trade up]. I would say all options are on the table. I wouldn’t say that we wouldn’t. We also know that that’s the key for any franchise going forward. So if there is a guy there that we like this year that we feel we need to go get, yeah we will be aggressive, trying to get him; but we’ll also be smart about it. There is also a limit to what you should do in terms of being smart about it. People made a big deal about 2020 with what we’ve been doing but that’s also where the market has taken us as far as acquiring those picks and compensatory picks as well. So we’ll have a lot of flexibility to do stuff, whether it’s this year’s draft or next year’s draft.”
While Grier stresses the Dolphins could be aggressive if they see the quarterback they want, many experts see 2020 as the Dolphins real reset, with over $100 million in salary cap space and an expected minimum of ten draft choices. It has led to some reports that Miami will “tank” this year, purposely losing games to get a higher draft pick in 2020. Grier was not having any of that talk, shooting down the “tank” idea. “We’re going to keep building it,” he told the media. “From Day 1, when we made the change, we talked about building the foundation and building it up the right way. So that’s all it is. There’s no tanking. It’s hard when you say you want tough, competitive guys who love ball and you bring them in and say ‘Hey, let’s not do it this year. Let’s just relax and enjoy this year and we’ll come back next year and be tough and competitive.’ So you draft those types of guys and even now, when you add (Ryan) Fitzpatrick to the list, he was leading the league in passing for a while there (last year). So you’ve got Albert (Wilson and) Jakeem (Grant) coming back and Kenny (Stills). You’ve got (Kenyan) Drake and (Kalen) Ballage catches the ball well. It’s been interesting listening to them talk about Mike and how to use Mike Gesicki. We’ve got a lot of guys that can run and catch and a lot of speed. So it would be kind of hard to shut that down. As Brian (Flores) has talked about, we’re competing but we’re going to build it the right way. We’re going to be smart about it. And just acquiring picks is another way to hopefully speed up the process for us.”
The media was not done asking about tanking the season, however, asking if the team wins eight games, is that not a bad thing and something has happened to the plan? Grier simply answered, “Well if we win eight games then it means we’ve drafted well with a lot of good, young players playing. They’re winning games. But also next year we have, I think, 11 or 12 picks right now with stuff going on still. So in terms of the future, we still can do a lot of stuff in 2020.”
Asked again if eight wins would fit within the team’s “master plan,” Grier replied, “I don’t know how many we’re going to win. Everyone keeps saying tanking and we’re going to go and be crap. I don’t know what we’ll be. If these guys go out and we have some good, young players and they play well and we win eight games, we go, ‘All right, we’ve won eight games and we’ve got right now 11 or 12 picks right for next year and with the draft still approaching, who knows if we get more?’ So having that and those picks in 2020 gives you a lot of maneuvering in this year’s draft and next year’s draft to keep building.”
The Dolphins are building their plan for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. It sounds like there is no plan to “tank” the season. The Dolphins may lose a bunch of games in 2019, but that may be simply a result of having to tear down, shed salary cap issues, and starting over with a new head coach and a need for a new franchise quarterback. Whatever the case, the Dolphins are moving on from Tannehill, are not hiding that Fitzpatrick is their bridge quarterback, and that they are looking for a franchise quarterback at some point - whether it is in 2019, 2020, or both.