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Dolphins’ Climb Back Will Be Much Harder This Time

Miami Dolphins Off-Season Workout Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

It’s hard to believe that just 21 months ago, the Miami Dolphins were poised to remake the franchise in what their fans had hoped would be one of the great turnarounds in the history of professional sports. Armed with three first round and two second round picks in the 2020 draft, followed by additional picks that would come from the wildly successful Laremy Tunsil trade, Miami’s front office was the envy of NFL teams everywhere. The burgeoning college crop a year ago was ripe with young talent, and all the Dolphins’ brain trust had to do was pick the right players, and they held five premium picks with which to do so.

Even after two whiffs in 2020’s first round, the team still had a gift wrapped opportunity to galvanize the team again, in the ‘21 draft, but were derelict in improving the weakest area of the team with not one, but two top tier offensive linemen, and then, just for good measure, also bypassed the top defensive player coming out, as well. Today, the Dolphins have the costliest slot receiver in NFL history, an offensive line that is still a woebegone unit, a once proud defense that now appears to be crumbling and with no apparent way to fix any of the mess. Worse still, the three players Miami chose not to select with the sixth overall pick all look like future Pro Bowlers, for the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers.

Folks, your Miami Dolphins are now effectively the new Cleveland Browns of a few years ago, squandering draft picks, frittering away opportunities and letting talented players and coaches leave town to find greener pastures elsewhere. Some fans continue to bash the team for not selecting former Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert with the fifth pick in 2020, but they conveniently forget that Herbert was only rated as the 25th to 28th best player two years ago, while Tagovailoa would gone either first or second that year, prior to his injury, and was given a clean bill of health by team doctors. Tagovailoa had to go before Herbert in ‘20 for the same reason that Peyton Manning had to go before Ryan Leaf in 1998, Donavan McNabb had to go before Akili Smith in 1999 and Andrew Luck had to go before Robert Griffin III in 2012. If Leaf had somehow managed to outperform Manning, it would have just been bad luck for the Colts, and the fact that Herbert came into the NFL and just played out of his mind from the very first day is not the fault of the Dolphins. No mock draft I can recall had Herbert going any higher than about the midpoint of the first round two years ago, but the guys who don’t like Tagovailoa are determined not to see or remember that. When your favorite team seems to be both eternally inept and extraordinarily unlucky, this is the fate that awaits you.

Meanwhile, Tagovailoa has fought gamely to win games for Miami but has been betrayed by a front office and coaching staff that has been completely unable to field a decent offensive line. Guys love to rattle off the names of all the linemen the team has drafted over the years, but many of those players either aren’t here anymore, were forced to play at other positions than what they played in college or were simply overdrafted to begin with. The curse of the Miami Dolphins’ offensive line goes back more than three decades. In a Monday night home game in December, 1987, rookie running back Troy Stradford fumbled the ball without being touched, and in the ensuing scrum, Dolphins’ All Pro center Dwight Stephenson’s career was ended on a cheap shot by Jets defensive end Marty Lyons — his former Alabama teammate. In 1992’s second round, the Fins selected Auburn guard Eddie Blake, who proved to be a bust. Shula did have some success with late round picks on the offensive line from time to time (Harry Galbreath, Chris Gray, Jeff Uhlenhake, etc) but the team, as a whole seems to always miss out on stud linemen in the early rounds. In 1995, the Dolphins were picking late in the first round, as Ohio State tackle Korey Stringer was falling down the board, but, alas, the Vikings selected him one pick ahead of the Dolphins, leaving Shula to settle for University of Houston’s Billy Milner, who was a mega bust, and ‘95 would prove to be Shula’s final season with Miami. Much of the Bills’ dominance over the Dolphins in recent years can be traced back to the fateful events of 2012’s second round, when Buffalo selected Georgia’s Cordy Glenn — one pick before Miami got stuck with Stanford’s Jonathan Martin, who would help destroy virtually the Dolphins’ entire offensive line with the ‘BullyGate’ scandal in 2013. Six years later, Glenn was used as trade bait for Buffalo to move up in round one to select Josh Allen. The Dolphins managed to win one extra game in 2013 — which dropped them five or six slots in the 2014 draft, meaning that Dallas was able to select perennial Pro Bowl guard Zach Martin, leaving the Dolphins stuck with long departed Ju ‘Wuan James instead.

But even after all the bad luck and missteps on the offensive line over the years, the Dolphins needed one final nail in the coffin for the unit, one final, futile gesture of ineptitude for the curse to continue, and as fans, we got it, when General Manager Chris Grier inexplicably passed on two likely future Pro Bowlers to take a wide receiver, in this year’s draft. This move, more than anything else that happened during the now failed rebuild attempt, will ensure that the Dolphins remain mediocre to bad for years to come. Now, rumors are heating up again that Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson will be traded to Miami, and I agree with Darrell Owen; I hope the Dolphins do trade for him, because that will sink the team completely, and many of us won’t have to worry about them for a long time thereafter. With or without Watson, the Miami Dolphins face a long, steep, arduous climb back to respectability, and unlike 2008 or 2020, that climb will be much more difficult. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.