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The Deep Issues Of The Miami Dolphins And How To Solve Them

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Let’s face reality, one that even the most devoted Miami Dolphins fan knows deep down in their heart-of-hearts that is true; this is a terrible Miami Dolphins team.

Let’s add another sobering factoid onto that by saying that this Dolphins team may be the worst 4-6 in the past decade.

The Miami Dolphins earned their prime time, national television slots this year after an incredible and improbable playoff run last year in head coach Adam Gase’s first season at the helm.

And Miami deserved it for that run, but much of what the Dolphins have done successfully has been based more in ‘smoke and mirrors’ then in ‘reality’.

As someone who has rooted for the Dolphins since I was 5 years old, a total of 30 years, I have sometimes fallen into the pitfall that fans often do, especially the most devout, you cannot separate fandom from seeing your team as they truly are.

Miami was a team on the rise and one that seemingly fixed a lot of the issues that had plagued their franchise for years, making them a laughing stock, a punchline, and, at times a side show.

Yes, this year’s team has been riddled with injuries, but let’s face it, all teams have to face the harsh reality of injuries and it’s not an acceptable talking point when discussing this season’s failures.

Bottom line is the Miami Dolphins have a roster full of players that look lost, overmatched, outhustled and not invested.

So, how do we go about fixing these issues?

I’ll put on the General Manager cap, the team owner suit and go to work on explaining how Miami can fix for the future, because the present is a devastatingly lost cause.

Scale Back the Roster

A lot of these suggestions won’t win many popularity contests and may be a burden financially, but when you’re not producing a winning product then the financial investment is already yielding a poor ROI.

Ndamukong Suh

The Dolphins’ highest paid defensive player simply hasn’t lifted this defense out of the cellar of the NFL rankings.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

It’s hard for Suh to do it by himself, so Suh may have been set up to fail the day he inked his massive free agency deal.

Constantly double-teamed the blueprint of having Suh along your defensive front suggests that pass rushers such as Cameron Wake and Andre Branch would feast on one-on-one matchups.

The results have been horribly underwhelming.

Suh’s addition has been all hype and little substance. Suh is a top tier defensive lineman who is stuck playing out the prime of his career in a weak defense.

If you’re not winning with your massive investment, than what’s the point?

Suh will be 31 come January and history suggests that his best days will soon be behind him.

Cutting Suh, while it will hurt financially in areas, will free up money to tie up younger players such as Jarvis Landry and give the Dolphins breathing room to address their offensive line.

Cameron Wake

At the end of the 2016 season we were all in awe of how Cameron Wake, 35, could still play at the elite level he was playing at.

Fast forward to 2017 and Wake has finally seemed to hit that proverbial “wall” that forces aging talent to realize that Father Time is undefeated.

Wake is a part-time pass rusher who has lost a step and has racked up only 6.0 sacks in 10 games this season.

Wake should retire a Phin, but also be given the respect of being offered a way out of town, via trade, to a contender should he choose to do so.

Should Wake play out his contract, then he needs to take more of a back-seat and become solely a 3rd down pass rusher as his playing days wind down.

Defensive Line

Andre Branch signed a nice contract in the offseason and faded off thereafter. After posting 5.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in a 2016 campaign that led his new deal, Branch has been almost invisible this year, posting only 3.0 sacks.

Jordan Phillips continues to prove he is just another bust in a long-line of draft pick busts for the Dolphins in the past few years. Phillips is just another example of a team that clearly has deficiencies in talent evaluation (see more below).

Charles Harris, the 1st round draft pick, has moments but fails to flash the first-round talent consistently. For a Dolphins team in need of ready-to-play impact players, choosing a “developmental” player such as Harris was foolish.

Harris could very well develop into a fine player and when he does flash that talent it shows that he likely will be a fine player, but was he a smart 1st round pick for a Dolphins team that desperately needed impact players? No.

Linebackers

Am I really going to blow your mind with analysis that is clear as day to anyone with working eyes?

The linebackers are terrible.

Lawrence Timmons should have been booted the second he went AWOL, off visiting the Steelers after skipping out on the Dolphins unannounced. The fact he was welcomed back after a brief and meaningless suspension sent the wrong message to players, fans and the league.

Kiko Alonso is out of place as the “lead dog” and tries too hard to over-compensate for his teammates. Alonso also has drastically struggled in pass coverage and his frustrations lead to an over-aggressive playing style that does more harm than good.

Alonso is a complimentary player, not your centerpiece, and Miami needs to bring talent to the team to both help Alonso and mask his shortcomings by allowing him to play a freelancing style, not a “lead dog” style.

Guess what Miami did in the offseason? Ignored the linebacking unit. Sure, you can tell me that signing Timmons was “addressing” the issues, but adding one veteran player, 31 years of age, as your “elixir” is terribly thought out and lazy.

Secondary

Xavien Howard, meet Jordan Phillips, you two have a lot in common. Dolphin fans, meet

Dolphins corner Xavien Howard is another example of a wasted high-draft pick (ESPN)

Xavien Howard, another 2nd round bust that has been a horrible reminder of just how poorly the Dolphins are at talent evaluation (more on this later, trust me).

Cordrea Tankersley, another “developmental” pick, has played admirably considering he was thrust into the starting spot opposite Howard, but another example of a higher-end draft pick (3rd round) that could have been spent on other areas of need, cough, like the offensive line.

The Dolphins are so delusional that they probably think that Tony Lippett, who played very well for them in 2016, is going to fix all of their woes in 2018. While Lippett is good, he is another “developmental” pick that actually has worked out for the Dolphins, but not to the extent that he should be the #1 corner moving forward or that Miami is fine with the status quo moving forward.

The defensive backfield is the only promising area of the secondary unit. Reshad Jones is the Dolphins best defensive player, bar none, and he finally has a complimentary running mate in the hard-hitting TJ McDonald.

The thought of Miami wasting the years that these 2 will be playing together hurts my head, but it is ONE area that the Dolphins do not need to worry about moving forward.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler’s tenure in Miami has been a disaster (Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum get equal blame for the Jay Cutler fiasco. It has been a train wreck and said train wreck has forced Matt Moore into playing time that has exposed his deficiencies.

Not the ideal quarterback situation.

Now, Ryan Tannehill will be returning in 2018 and will look good running this offense but if Miami simply moves forward with a quarterback with 2 major knee injuries under his belt and who will be 30 in 2018 without an eye on the future, or a worst case scenario, is foolish.

I’m fine keeping Tannehill and Moore as his backup, given that Miami uses a high draft pick, Rounds 1-3, to get a guy that can be groomed to supplant Tannehill.

Tannehill’s contract provides Miami some financial leeway and that leeway needs to be utilized for developing a true successor.

Give Adam Gase a quarterback to groom, in his system.

Running Back

It’s impossible to truly grade either Damien Williams or Kenyan Drake when they have to run behind a putrid offensive line.

Sadly, this is incomplete.

Wide Receivers

Pay Jarvis Landry. Landry is the emotional leader of the offense and, far too often, seems to be the only player that visibly gives a damn.

DeVante Parker has been mostly disappointing, despite a skillset and potential of being an Aj Green-type receiver. You can blame it on the offense, and get away with blaming the quarterback, but Parker is inconsistent with his effort, showing amazing playmaking ability one week and then appearing to be “checked out” the next.

Kenny Stills is an Adam Gase favorite, but his play has warranted the contract Miami gave him in the offseason.

Leonte Carroo is another sad example of poor talent evaluation and Miami being on the losing end of a trade.

Tight End

The Julius Thomas fiasco will come to an end at the end of the season. Thomas is slow, broken down and a shell of what he once was.

Anthony Fasano is worth keeping around. He plays with passion, can throw a block and can also catch the ball when called upon. He isn’t a #1, but certainly a viable #2 tight end for the next season or two.

Offensive Line

Laremy Tunsil is out of position. He played left tackle in college, was graded as a Top Overall pick on many mock drafts before falling to Miami and played admirably when thrust into the starting left guard position during his rookie year.

As a starting left tackle he has looked terrible. The left guard play is certainly a contributing

Laremy Tunsil (Associated Press)

factor, but Tunsil needs to be shifted back to left guard, where he played so well during his rookie year.

Speaking of left guard, where the heck is Isaac Asiata? You know, the guy that Miami drafted when they finally decided to address their offensive line in the 5th round of the draft?

The problem isn’t just that Miami poorly assessed Asiata, or that they ignorantly ignored the offensive line early in the draft, it’s that Miami was foolish enough to think Ted Larsen was the answer at the position.

Again, terrible talent evaluation and a stubborn thinking that has handcuffed Miami’s future.

Miami pointed to New England when explaining why they didn’t spend money on any of the top tier free agent offensive lineman or why they didn’t spend a high end pick on any position along the line.

They looked at the Patriots, who plug and played their way to successful offensive line play.

But New England has impeccable coaching and superb talent and roster evaluation, something that the Dolphins pathetically fail to grasp even at the rudimentary level.

Mike Pouncey is the “lead dog” of the offensive line, but they have pretty much had to keep him bubble wrapped to ensure he plays on Sunday and frankly he has regressed considerably from his once Pro Bowl stature.

Nothing speaks to Miami’s clueless approach more than relying on a center with bad hips to carry a line that is horribly put together.

Furthermore Miami relies on Pouncey to mask both guard positions who constantly compromise the entire unit.

Jermon Bushrod is likely playing his final games in the NFL, leaving another gaping hole on the offensive line.

And while Ja’Wuan James has played well at times, he was another high end draft pick that was a considerable reach.

It doesn’t matter how many 1st round picks are on your line if you cannot demonstrate the ability to properly evaluate talent. In the case of the Dolphins, 1st round picks don’t mean 1st round talent and it is painstakingly obvious that the Dolphins fail to connect the dots in that area.

Coaching

I’m fine with Adam Gase as head coach and that may come to a shock to some of you that are reading this due to how I have lambasted most of the Dolphins roster, but Gase isn’t the problem.

Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Gase has been forced to scale back his playbook and had to cut ties with a problematic Jay Ajayi while working behind an abysmal offensive line.

Sure, the bubble screen failures and abandonment of the running game don’t speak well for Gase, but he coached the Dolphins to a playoff run in his first year.

Gase has made mistakes with trusting veterans such as Jay Cutler and Julius Thomas, who have played in the past for Gase, to do things they could no longer, or in the case of Cutler ever could, do.

But his personality type, his pedigree and the culture he started building in Miami are worth noting, this year aside.

What Miami needs, desperately, is a defensive coordinator, a proven DC to step in and take the reigns on not only coaching the unit, but directing the Dolphins draft in the defensive department.

On Twitter, I called for Rex Ryan. Why? because, in my opinion, Ryan is very much like Gase. A mastermind on one side of the ball, who possesses a presence that needs to step back from what they don’t do well (the other side of the ball) and stick to their skillset.

That, along with a myriad of other issues, is one of the issues Ryan has had as a head coach but nobody can argue that he didn’t build solid defenses in Baltimore, New York and Buffalo.

Plugging Ryan in allows Miami to rebuild a defense that needs to be gutted, implant a fresh new personality and gives the Dolphins a much-needed boost in talent evaluation.

Ryan gives you that. Matt Burke, as hard as he has tried, simply hasn’t moved the needle on this defense and the Wide 9 approach fits horribly.

The offensive line needs an established coach, one with a pedigree, one with a track record, one that comes with a big price tag, and one who can shovel this unit out of the zone blocking scheme that needs to be disposed of.

Miami needs a power-impact line that relies on power running to setup a deadly play-action game and they need players that fit that scheme and can be coached to do just that.

Isaac Asiata was a player I was excited to see, due to his nasty streak, but the fact that he has failed to stay on the field at all speaks a lot to the failures in the development area, mainly coaching, that existed long before Chris Foerster was fired.

Front Office

Mike Tannenbaum has worn out his welcome and, shockingly, may have performed worse than his predecessors.

Team owner Stephen Ross entrusted Tannenbaum, another mistake in a long line of bad decisions made by Ross, based off a lackluster tenure with the Jets in New York.

Ross needs to find a trusted, proven football mind to lead the team into it’s future. It would behoove him to look at Jacksonville, who brought legendary coach Tom Coughlin back into the fold to help right their ship and the results have been obvious.

It’s a tough situation as any move away from Tannenbaum creates issues as many football heads want to make their own staff hires and Gase will be tied to the team regardless of who comes to the rescue, for better or worse.

Bottom line that draft failures, free agency misses and the poor talent evaluation has plagued this franchise and while there are young, talented players on the team, the Dolphins run the risk of wasting their prime years as they continue on this stubborn, lackluster path of mediocrity-at-best that is constantly sold as “progress”.

In Conclusion

There is a lot of work to do for the Dolphins and Adam Gase needs to guide this ship through some trying waters, but just as the players are asked to improve, the decision makers need to do the same and remove their ego from the process.

Talent and roster evaluation are what separate the perennial playoff teams from the likes of the Dolphins, the Bills, the Browns and a host of other cellar-dwellers that have struggled to move towards a bright future despite having a handful of promising young talent on board.

Should Miami self-assess honestly and properly, maybe they can come to the realizations, conduct similar analysis and recognize what has plagued this team much like many beat writers, analysts and smart-minded fans have been doing.

Miami needs to stop drinking the Kool-Aid of a “Smoke and Mirror” 2016 playoff run and turn to truth serum, as bitter as it may taste, to get a grasp on what is really needed.

Otherwise, the same old record will keep playing the same sad song.

AFC

Bills Sign Lee Smith

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Lee Smith

The Buffalo Bills have signed veteran tight end Lee Smith to a three-year, $9 million deal, according to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport.

The signing marks a return for Smith as he played for the Bills from 2011 until 2014 before heading off to spent the last few seasons with the Oakland Raiders.

Smith is known for his blocking skills and is widely considered one of the league’s best blocking tight ends.

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AFC

Dolphins Sign Mark Walton

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Mark Walton

The Miami Dolphins have signed troubled running back Mark Walton, according to to ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe.

Walton, a fourth round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this offseason after he was arrested for the third time in three months.

Walton has the talent, and may be a good pickup for the Dolphins, but he is likely facing a suspension from the league for the arrests.

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AFC

Chargers’ Phillip Rivers Content with Contract Situation

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Phillip Rivers

The Los Angeles Chargers will enter the 2019 season as one of the favorites in the AFC and veteran quarterback Phillip Rivers is feeling good about the upcoming season, as well as his current contract situation with the team.

The Chargers and Rivers could work out a contract extension, but Rivers isn’t stressing about that right now:

“I just feel at peace,” Rivers said, during an appearance on FOX Sports Radio San Diego. “If the extension is what works best for both of us and that’s how it plays out, then great. If not, shoot, let’s go have a heck of a 2019 and then we’ll worry about 2020 when we need to worry about it. I say that with every intention of being the quarterback in 2020 here. It’s not for any reason other than, hey, I signed up for this many years and this year is the last year running and let’s go if that’s what’s best. I really do feel at peace about it and feel good.”

Rivers is slated to earn $11 million in the final year of his contract.

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