clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Sports Illustrated MMQB: Dolphins ‘probably the worst team in the NFL’

New, comments
NFL: Miami Dolphins-OTA Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I think it might be safe to say, Sports Illustrated/Monday Morning Quarterback’s Jonathan Jones does not have high expectations of the Miami Dolphins for 2019. At the end of last week, Jones published an “AFC East Offseason Reports” article, looking at the Dolphins along with the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots, and New York Jets. Those reports took a look at the 2018 performance for each club, their key offseason additions and losses, areas where the team improved, areas they still need help, and the biggest question mark for the team heading into the regular season.

Jones’ write-up about the Dolphins was headlined by the team’s biggest question mark: How much losing can one team take?

Yeah, it does not see the Dolphins as a very good team.

In fact, he writes, the Dolphins are “probably the worst team, on paper, in the NFL.”

Well, okay then.

Jones highlights the Dolphins additions of quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, defenisve lineman (first-round pick) Christian Wilkins, cornerback Eric Rose, tight end Dwayne Allen, and offensive lineman (third-round pick) Michael Deiter in his “new players” list for Miami. In the “players lost” section, he lists defensive end Robert Quinn, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, offensive lineman Josh Sitton, wide receiver Danny Amendola, linebacker Cameron Wake, offenisve lineman Ja’Wuan James, and running back Frank Gore.

Then them in the “what areas did the team improve” section, he writes:

As I’ve written many times this offseason, the Dolphins are destined to tank in 2019. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But Miami has not improved at any position since they last played. The area the team did improve is a more focused direction of the franchise, though. With Adam Gase out, and Chris Grier and Brian Flores in lockstep, the Dolphins have a clear vision of the future. They got a quality young quarterback in Rosen for peanuts and should be bad enough this year to get one of the top-tier QBs in the 2020 draft. Now Miami needs to lose a lot in order for this tank job to be successful.

First, why is a “tank job” required for the team? If they got a “quality young quarterback in Rosen” would that not remove the need to “get one of the top-tier QBs in the 2020 draft?” If Rosen pans out, the need for the “tank job to be successful” seems unnecessary. So, either the Dolphins did not get a quality quarterback in Rosen, or they do not need to tank to find a quality quarterback. Having two young, talented quarterbacks would be nice - either with Rosen as the backup or Rosen as trade bait, but it feels like the idea of tanking is creating the need for tanking, rather than the Dolphins need to find a “quality young quarterback” creating the need to tank.

Second, the Dolphins did not improve upon any position since they last played. Seems a pretty clear statement that the Dolphins are tanking, right?

Dolphins 2018 Week 17 starters:

WR - Kenny Stills
TE - Mike Gesicki
TE - Nick O’Leary
LT - Laremy Tunsil
LG - Ted Larsen
C - Travis Swanson
RG - Jesse Davis
RT - Ja’Wuan James
WR - Danny Amendola
QB - Ryan Tannehill
RB - Kenyan Drake

DE - Cameron Wake
DT - Akeem Spence
DT - Davon Godchaux
DE - Robert Quinn
LB - Kiko Alonso
LB - Raekwon McMillan
LB - Jerome Baker
CB - Torry McTyer
CB - Bobby McCain
S - Reshad Jones
S - Minkah Fitzpatrick

Injured reserve: Chase Allen, Jake Brendel, A.J. Derby, Luke Falk, Frank Gore, Jakeem Grant, MarQueis Gray, William Hayes, Daniel Kilgore, Josh Sitton, Cordrea Tankersley, Vincent Taylor, Albert Wilson

Dolphins 2019 Week 1 Starters (projected):

WR - Kenny Stills
WR DeVante Parker
TE - Mike Gesicki
LT - Laremy Tunsil
LG - Michael Deiter
C - Daniel Kilgore
RG - Jesse Davis
RT - Jordan Mills
WR - Albert Wilson
QB - Ryan Fitzpatrick (Josh Rosen)
RB - Kenyan Drake

DE - Vincent Taylor
DT - Davon Godchaux
DE - Christian Wilkins
LB - Charles Harris
LB - Kiko Alonso
LB - Raekwon McMillan
LB - Jerome Baker
CB - Xavien Howard
CB - Bobby McCain
S - Reshad Jones
S - Minkah Fitzpatrick

Maybe the Dolphins did not go out and add big-named free agents this year, but that does not mean the team did not upgrade from the end of 2018 to the start of 2019. They did in a big way - health. Miami has been crushed by the injury bug each of the last two years. They had 13 players on injured reserve at the end of the year, with Brendel starting the year on IR then being activated and landing back on IR, and that does not include players like Xavien Howard who missed time due to injury but did not land on IR. In 2017, the Dolphins had 16 players on injured reserve at the end of the season.

Health is the biggest improvement the Dolphins can make to their roster in 2019. Keeping their starters on the field will move the team forward no matter if you do not think they are quality starters or not.

Losing players like Ja’Wuan James and Cameron Wake will hurt, there is no way around that. But, having the starters in Week 1 also available in Week 17 would be a huge improvement for the Dolphins. Not every starter will make it, but 13 and 16 players - and a large number of them starters or key reserves - on IR the last two seasons is too many for a team to overcome.

The Dolphins may not be contending for the Super Bowl this season, and they could end up being the team with the worst record in the league, but to say they did not improve at any position is a little hyperbolic.

Of course, Jones still had other issues with the Dolphins - including the “worst team, at least on paper,” line. In areas where the team still needs help, he wrote:

Take your pick. Again, this isn’t a good team. It’s probably the worst team, on paper, in the NFL. You could go with pass rush but at least the Dolphins addressed that in a big way by drafting Christian Wilkins in the first round. We’ll go with offensive line here. Miami lost Ja’Waun James in free agency and Josh Sitton retired. The only player brought in was Michael Dieter (sic) in the third round of the draft and a few guys along the way in free agency. I don’t know how a quarterback is going to be successful behind this line, and that’s sort of the point in tanking.

Again, losing James hurt. Sitton played one game for the Dolphins. One. He tore his rotator cuff and was out for the season. It is hard to say the Dolphins are going to have a hard time replacing Sitton when basically they did not really have him on the field. Deiter essentially becomes the replacement for Sitton and Larsen at left guard. That leaves a right tackle replacement as a need, and the Dolphins are hoping Jordan Mills, Zach Sterup, Isaiah Prince, Jaryd Jones-Smith, or Michael Dunn can play their way into that position.

And, if the point of tanking is to have a quarterback not be successful behind an offensive line, why would the Dolphins use the second-round draft pick this year to add Rosen? If you know the quarterback is not going to be successful, why get the quarterback? Seems like a waste of a draft pick to select someone who you know will not succeed.

Finally, in asking the biggest question remaining for the Dolphins, “How much losing can one team take?” Jones writes:

Of course Flores is going to coach to win games. And of course the players are going to play to win. But they’re at a severe disadvantage from a talent perspective in almost every game they’re going to play. That has to weigh on a team’s psyche. That’s why it was important for the Fins not to draft a rookie quarterback in April’s draft, so that he wouldn’t get beaten up—physically and mentally—by all the losing. This isn’t throwing shade at all on tanking. I believe it’s a great thing to do for one year to serve as a hard reset, but it’s going to be very tough on the 53 players this season.

Again, we have the quarterback will not be successful there, with the Dolphins not drafting a rookie quarterback in order to protect his psyche and not put him in a position where the team is going to lose. Instead, they used a draft pick on a second-year quarterback who is coming from a team that lost their way in 2018 to clinch the first-overall draft pick this year. What was the point of that move if the team is planning to tank, lose as many games as possible, and draft a quarterback?

I am not trying to say Miami is winning the Super Bowl this year. I am not trying to say they are a playoff team. I am not even trying to say they will not be the fourth-place team in the AFC East this year. I am just saying the “tanking” theme and that the Dolphins “did not improve any position” storyline seem a little like overkill.

This is a reset year for the Dolphins. They are getting younger. They are fixing their salary cap after years of chasing the talent and spending big on players. They are not looking to win it all this year.

But it feels like there is more talent on this roster than people realize or want to credit. The Dolphins are not fielding a team of scrubs. They are not heading into 2019 looking toward the 1-15 2007 team as their inspiration. This team wants to win games. They have the ability to win games. And they are going to win games. Maybe it will not be a lot of wins, but they will get some - and somewhere along the line, people will start to realize this team has talent.

Next year will be a huge step forward for Miami with double-digit draft picks and being among the teams with the most salary cap space available, but they do not have to take three-steps back this year just to make 2020 great.