This is not a loss.
I know it feels like one right now. I know there’s panic in some circles because the Miami Dolphins don’t have a starting quarterback, and starting QB candidate Teddy Bridgewater on Thursday decided to pass on the opportunity to fill the job.
And instead Bridgewater thought signing a one-year deal to be a backup with the New Orleans Saints was a better option — riding the pine behind Drew Brees being more attractive to him than playing every week for his hometown team.
So the optics of this are not good, particularly when you factor the Dolphins are the NFL’s only team without a starter. Indeed, some pundits started comparing this to the Dolphins missing out on Drew Brees in 2006. Even Bridgewater made a not-so-veiled reference to that on his Twitter account.
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But I’m not buying that narrative and I’m not caring about the optics in this case.
Because the Dolphins are not panicking. And I advise you don’t panic, either.
Well, it would be different if the Dolphins now turned and offered a huge contract to the next available middling quarterback and told us everything’s handled. But that isn’t going to happen.
The Dolphins will sign a veteran quarterback this offseason. And that guy will start for them in 2019. But that guy is going to come at a manageable price.
And that addition, along with the refusal to pay Bidgewater big money, will show everyone something I haven’t seen from the Dolphins in some years: Fiscal discipline.
What we’re seeing this offseason is the Dolphins setting a value for a player, then trusting their homework and sticking to that value in the face of considerable pressure. And, make no mistake, there’s considerable pressure.
Because the NFL is a competitive business. And the Dolphins are run by competitive people. And the people inside that facility in Davie know the New York Jets are making big moves, and the Buffalo Bills are making a bunch of moves, and even the New England Patriots are making moves.
And, again, the Dolphins don’t even have a starting quarterback.
But against that tide of duress, Miami’s management held the line with Bridgewater on Thursday.
And this was the line:
Bridgewater wanted to be paid like a true veteran NFL starter. The native Miamian’s asking price involved no sort of hometown discount. It didn’t need to, by the way. He had a standing offer to return to New Orleans.
Bridgewater wanted Miami to give him a deal that would pay in the $16 million annual range and could balloon from there with incentives. Bridgewater wanted security he would be Miami’s starter for the foreseeable future and the only way to get that is to have a contract that basically says as much.
So I get it. Smart work by Bridgewater’s agent.
But the Dolphins don’t believe Bridgewater is that guy. For the team, Teddy Bridgewater was not Mr. Right. The team viewed him more as Mr. Right Now.
Bridgewater must have recognized this and made the right career move to go back to the Saints.
But the impressive thing is the Dolphins — the team that bid against itself in the Ndamukong Suh negotiation, and overpaid on Josh Sitton, and overpaid on Andre Branch, and paid through the nose for Mario Williams, and on and on — didn’t bow to their need.
They stuck to a philosophy. They didn’t succumb.
Look, I believe you pay superstars who win you championships. I don’t think you can pay Tom Brady enough. I don’t think you can pay Drew Brees enough. I don’t think you can pay future Hall of Famers enough.
But, with respect, Teddy Bridgewater isn’t in that company.
Neither is Ja’Wuan James, who earlier this week set became the highest paid right tackle in the league on an annual average basis. That deal, worth $51 million for four years, pays James an average of $12.75 million per season.
The Dolphins ran in the derby for James. But they pulled out when Denver’s offer got over the $12 million annual range.
I know what you’re saying: Fiscal responsibility never won anyone a Super Bowl.
Really? The Patriots are perhaps the most fiscally conservative team in the NFL and they’ve won six since 2001.
Also, breaking news, the Dolphins aren’t going to win a Super Bowl this coming season with or without Bridgewater.
The truth is the Dolphins are probably going to kind of stink in 2019. Can we just stipulate to that? They’re not going to the Super Bowl at Hard Rock in February of 2020. They’re not going to the playoffs.
They’re most likely headed to the cellar of the AFC East.
But that’s more or less fine because 2019 isn’t about 2019, folks, This season is about building portions of the team that lack high-caliber talent — such as the offensive and defensive lines.
And this year is about finding a true, elite, franchise quarterback in next month’s draft. Or, at worst, putting the team in position to pick that guy early in the 2020 draft.
That’s how I would measure success or failure for this organization this year.
Bridgewater? I like his talent and his promise. But he was a dangerous proposition. Because if he’d accepted Miami’s modest offer and been the starter, he might have gotten the Dolphins to five, six, or maybe even seven wins.
What good is that? What would that accomplish other than blowing Miami’s 2020 chances to have a premium draft slot? How does that serve the ultimate goal of finding a superstar QB in the draft?
Now what will happen instead is the Dolphins will move on to their next veteran bridge quarterback candidate. Maybe Ryan Fitzpatrick or Blake Bortles. And if not one of those guys, someone else who will accept a modest contract to be Miami’s starter right now.
Because the Dolphins thankfully aren’t ready to give any available veteran a deal to be Mr. Right.