The Adam Gase era in Miami is over, and the long path to fixing the Dolphins is just beginning.
“We’re playing to win; 8-8 sounds a lot better than 7-9,” Gase said in the week leading up to the Dolphins' 42-17 loss to the Bills on Sunday. That statement illustrated maybe the team’s biggest problem.
Fighting for a higher degree of mediocrity isn’t a formula for long-term success, but Miami has consistently found itself in this position since 2000.
Coaches and front-office executives are fighting every year for their jobs in an industry that often shows a willingness to fire after just one year. There's little time for patience, little time for building a program.
Fair or not, Gase won’t get to see his process through -- he was fired after three years. But for the Dolphins, Gase’s ouster provides the opportunity to start fresh with a full rebuild. That’s the best route for this Dolphins team to escape mediocrity.
If owner Stephen Ross is willing to see this route through -- and he might not be -- then the situation could get uglier before it potentially gets pretty.
The Dolphins' salary cap is in rough shape. There’s no clear long-term quarterback answer on the roster, nor is there one readily available to add.
Gase’s loyalty to Ryan Tannehill -- who battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the coach’s tenure in Miami -- likely played a significant role in his exit. Gase bet on Tannehill, who didn’t perform well enough to help him win.
Miami’s roster also has more overpaid, older veterans than young blue-chip players around which it could build.
One Dolphins veteran told ESPN: “The biggest issue with this team is talent. We need more good football players -- guys who love the game, are tough and are difference-makers.”
It’s clear this isn’t a Band-Aid situation. Miami certainly isn’t a player or two away from contention.
So, yes, Gase made mistakes that doomed him in the end. But firing him won’t fix all or even most of Miami’s issues. The people in charge have to be willing to do everything differently if the team is going to become a viable championship contender sometime in the next five years.
After the Dolphins find a new head coach -- a person who should be given the long-term security and confidence to see a rebuild through -- there are three immediate decisions to figure out. First: what to do at quarterback.
Tannehill, when healthy, has been the Dolphins' starting quarterback every year since he was drafted in 2012. Whether Tannehill returns or not, it seems to be in the Dolphins’ best interest to at least add serious competition at the position.
The new coach and his offensive coordinator can look into a weak free-agent market, poke around to see who could be had on the trade market or choose the draft route -- selecting a player in the first three rounds with the goal of him becoming the long-term starter.
Waiting for something different from Tannehill no longer seems like a prudent answer, and the option Miami chooses as a long-term quarterback will greatly impact the team's success.
Defensive line is the Dolphins' position group most in need of an overhaul. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor are keepers as young defensive tackles with upside, but nearly every other defensive lineman is either vulnerable to be cut, a free agent, a stopgap or an underachiever.
Cam Wake is a leader and career Dolphin, but he’s also a year-to-year situational player who turns 37 this month. He’s also a pending free agent. Andre Branch is a likely roster cut. Robert Quinn, the team’s leading sack-producer, could also be cut, as he’s due $12 million in 2019. Charles Harris, a 2017 first-round pick, hasn’t made much of an impact.
Miami will need to add at least two edge rushers, but they don’t have a lot of salary-cap space this offseason. They will need to draft effectively at this position, and the overhaul could take multiple seasons to complete.
It was clear during the 2018 season that the Dolphins were void of any superstars, and they lacked consistent, established young pillars to build around. Heading into 2019, however, cornerback Xavien Howard and left tackle Laremy Tunsil have emerged as potential stars and core players.
Defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick is a contender to join that group, but beyond that there are more question marks than sure things. The new staff has to make it a priority to add or develop multiple young players.
When the Dolphins adequately address these issues, then they can move toward becoming a contender. But the Dolphins should realize this process will take time, and a rebuild offers the best path to long-term success.