Every day for weeks now, Miami Dolphins fans wanting their team to blow it all up and start over have been reaching out, asking that I advocate this approach for 2019.
Get rid of everybody is the general desire of more people than anyone knows. And I’m not quite there. I’m not for a total top-to-bottom rebuild at this point (Key words: at this point). I would need to see more and the season’s last month would have to be disastrous to convince me such a drastic approach is needed.
And the significant news for the blow-it-up crowd is lots of changes that could be made this offseason — and I think should be made — might not happen, barring a collapse this season’s final month.
I’m already on to looking for the next quarterbacks. Yes, two.
I’m remaking the offensive line, yes, again.
I’m done waiting for this defensive line that is highly paid to play like, well, it’s highly paid.
The Dolphins aren’t there yet on any of those based on what I’m hearing from inside the team.
One NFL rite of passage is that every year practically every team has significant turnover in the locker room. Good teams lose good players to higher salaries in free agency. Bad teams jettison disappointing players or players who didn’t play up to the expectations implicit in their contracts.
The Dolphins fall in the latter category.
So it stands to reason this locker room is about to get wiped clean of a lot of overpriced and underperforming players, right? Maybe. Only maybe.
Defensive end Robert Quinn, who has 2.5 sacks, is scheduled to be Miami’s third-highest costing player on the salary cap at $12.9 million in 2019. And cutting him would save every penny of that nearly $13 million. So, absolutely, know-nothing Fake GM Mando is cutting Quinn this offseason.
But here’s the thing: The Dolphins don’t agree at this stage. For the money he’s costing this year and what he’s due next year, I would expect a premier edge pass rusher. He hasn’t been that through 11 games. So I’m moving on because he didn’t meet expectations.
Except the Dolphins talk as if he is meeting expectations.
“I think he’s about what we expected,” defensive coordinator Matt Burke said. “I think he started out pretty hot and kind of hit a little lull. They all get banged up. I’ve noticed just a difference in him physically in the last probably three weeks. … I see him just kind of moving around lately like he was earlier in the season. That’s been encouraging. Like I said, the production has been coming.”
Burke goes on to say Quinn typically collects sacks in bunches. ”He gets shut out for three weeks and all of a sudden he goes on a tear and he’s unstoppable,” Burke said.
I don’t know this. I haven’t seen unstoppable Quinn in 2018.
But even if Quinn suddenly becomes unstoppable, it would only prove he’s not consistent. That’s not worth $13 million next season to me.
Then the Dolphins bring up other factors that might save Quinn and other players on the current roster. They talk privately about the cost and ability of replacing guys.
The team is currently doing extensive work scouting potential high draft picks at quarterback. But even amid this work, the talk is they would have to find “the right guy” and “someone we have a deep conviction about” before they might decide to move on from Ryan Tannehill.
The team doesn’t want to get it wrong and end up with a player inferior to the one it just released or traded.
But dig deep into this approach and you see fear.
There is fear that upgrade might not be available. There is fear the right player is hard to identify. There fear is the Dolphins might take a step back from the current mediocrity.
All I know is Tannehill is neither terrible nor great. He’s the definition of mediocre.
And I wish the Dolphins would develop a healthy fear of mediocre.
That fear of not knowing if one can upgrade at a position where there’s already a player that has considerable warts pervades the Dolphins roster.
Left guard Josh Sitton, for example, could be cut next offseason after playing only one game. And the savings would be $5 million for moving on from a player who will be 33 years old next season. But the Dolphins are probably leaning toward keeping Sitton despite his age and what is now an injury history.
Because Sitton fills a starting spot and he’s — 1. great in the locker room, 2. good on the field, 3. occupying a spot the team has struggled to fill for years.
So the Dolphins are likely to risk another disappointment from Sitton next season versus having to identify and draft or sign a replacement amid having so many other needs.
The case for starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James is fascinating. Coaches love starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil. They kind of like James.
“I think Laremy Tunsil has played very well. I’ve been extremely impressed with him,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He’s as good of a left tackle as I’ve ever been around. And Ja’Wuan has been solid. There’s obviously things that each one of them need to improve on. We’re not where we need to be yet as an offense. They still have room to grow, both of them, so does Ja’Wuan. But he has been a solid player for us.”
Loggains has been around Joe Thomas and Michael Roos in his career and compares Tunsil to them. But James has been what he has generally been his entire career since being drafted in the first round of 2014.
The problem is he’s unsigned for next year, and to get him signed the Dolphins might have to pay $10 million per season and perhaps more before he hits free agency. He’s costing $9.3 million this season.
So are the Dolphins moving on and letting a solid player walk in free agency — because merely solid players should not cost $10 million? Or are they swallowing hard, as they did last offseason, and paying the heavy freight because they don’t want to have yet another hole to fill?
Me? I don’t pay $10 million for “solid” players who do not change games.
The Dolphins already do.
And might again.
Defensive end Andre Branch is another solid player who is costing $10 million against the cap this year. He has collected one sack. Next season he’s under contract and scheduled to cost $9 million.
So do the Dolphins move on because the price they’re paying and the production they’re getting don’t align? The answer is uncertain, which is mind blowing.
The fact is Cameron Wake is unsigned for next year and Charles Harris, the 2017 first-round pick, has not played up to his draft pedigree. So at a premium position, the Dolphins might see themselves forced to keep an underperforming player because they need the body and finding a replacement might be difficult.
And here’s the problem with the Dolphins’ approach: When a team pays handsomely for mediocre players who do not reward the investment handsomely, it limits opportunities for upgrades.
In 2017, the Dolphins knew Branch had averaged 3.5 sacks in five NFL seasons but had 5.5 sacks for them in a contract year. So they paid an average of $8 million a year for that. They also brought in Jabaal Sheard, whose average stats were superior to Branch’s, on a free agency visit but let him leave without a contract because he was asking for basically the same money they paid Branch.
Sheard signed a deal with the Colts that pays him an average of $8.5 million per season.
And since the players signed their deals in ‘17, Sheard has 11 sacks to Branch’s 5.5. Sheard has 25 quarterback hits to Branch’s 11. Sheard has 20 tackles for loss to Branch’s 8.
The Dolphins could have moved on from a solid-but-not-great player in 2017 but chose to re-sign him for significant money. And that, in part, kept them from signing an upgrade.
The Dolphins are 29th in the NFL in sacks this season.