As the 2019 NFL regular season begins, the Miami Dolphins and their fan base now find themselves facing the unenviable task of paying for all those warm, fuzzy visions of future Pro Bowl players, division titles and yes, maybe even a conference or league championship someday.
That huge pile of draft picks and freedom from all those bad contracts that other teams bailed us out of had a price tag attached, even if we didn’t necessarily want to acknowledge it when the team made those deals, and the bill now comes due, in the form of what promises to be a truly dreadful season for the team. And let’s be honest for a moment here -- every single one of us knew, deep down, that games like Sunday’s 59-10 nuking at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens were part and parcel of the rebuilding program that Dolphins’ ownership and management embarked upon last January. To pretend otherwise is foolhardy.
When your favorite team, a week before the regular season begins, releases a depth chart with a blank space where the names of both starting offensive tackles should be, you know you’re in for a world of hurt. We all knew this was coming, and most of us were excited about the bounty of draft picks the Dolphins secured for the two players they traded to Houston, yet now we want to complain and bash the team for trying to improve itself? One guy who commented on the game thread Sunday evening summed up the situation rather succinctly, in my opinion, when he said that even if Ryan Tannehill, Cam Wake, Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Kiko Alonso had been playing for Miami on Sunday, they still wouldn’t have had a realistic chance of winning the game. If that’s the case, and none of those guys were part of the team’s long term plans, then why on earth should the Dolphins have kept them on the roster? To try and go 8-8 again for the umpteenth time?
Shortly after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in early 2003, one NFL beat writer pointed out that even if the Bucs went 11-5 every year for the next thirty years, they would still have a losing record over the course of their entire history, dating to their expansion days in 1976. However, it didn’t matter, because in 2003, they were the reigning champions, and head coach Jon Gruden’s likeness was being readied for a spot on the coaching equivalent of Mount Rushmore, which he recently parlayed into a ten year contract with the Raiders, the very team the Bucs’ defense suffocated in that Super Bowl. No one remembers who went 7-9 or 8-8 in any given year, but everyone remembers what an inspiring victory that Super Bowl win was for Tampa Bay. Just as surely, if the Dolphins can use the top three pick they’ll have next Spring, as a result of this nightmarish season, to either draft a franchise quarterback or trade for a huge bonanza of picks, no one will be talking about what their won-loss record was five years from now.
So, you say, having high draft picks doesn’t guarantee that a team will be successful in the future? Perhaps not, but I’ll tell you what is guaranteed: no team that plays .500 ball over a long period of time is going to suddenly rocket their way up the standings and win a championship. How do I know this? Because in the half century that has passed since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, no team has ever won a Super Bowl after a long period of mediocrity, without having at least one or two really bad seasons. People love to cite the Patriots’ perennially low draft position as supposed proof that draft picks don’t matter, but they conveniently leave out the fact that many of the league’s top players -- like Antonio Brown, for example -- are begging their agents every year to somehow get them a contract to play for New England, a contract that is almost invariably for considerably less money than they could get elsewhere. As I’ve said many times before, pointing to exceptions to the rule only serves as confirmation of just how all encompassing and ironclad that rule really is.
Yeah, the Dolphins are in for a rough year. What the team has done, in effect, is to plead guilty of mismanagement, rather than go through the trial of another five or six seasons of middling play, in the hopes of somehow catching lightning in a bottle with a roster rife with dead weight and expensive free agents. They’ve been sentenced by the football gods for their past transgressions and must now, in essence, do their time. And whether we like it or not, we as fans must do the same.