MIAMI -- The 2019 Miami Dolphins are unlikely to be playoff contenders -- that much has been made clear in the weeks since the firing of coach Adam Gase.
For a Dolphins team mired in mediocrity and set to hire its fourth head coach this decade, rebuilding seems like a wise choice to eventually become a championship contender. Fans should see that path as a bright light to a potentially golden end.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier this week that the Dolphins are thinking about rebuilding and trying to land one of the top quarterbacks from the draft class of 2020, which will likely include Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa, Oregon's Justin Herbert and Georgia's Jake Fromm.
A key part of that report worth examining is that the team already is eyeing a top-10 pick in the 2020 draft -- an event 15 months away -- betting on prospects who have at least a full year to show their strengths and warts in college.
That the Dolphins are thinking they'll be in position to pick one of those top quarterbacks makes it worthwhile to bring up another term -- tanking -- which is essentially a curse word for NFL players and coaches whose job security largely depends on performance and wins. Teams never openly admit or commit to not doing everything they can to try to win. It kills organizational morale and ticket sales.
This offseason, the Dolphins face a series of choices that will be predicated on the dangerous balance between rebuilding and that T-word in 2019.
What’s the difference between the two? ESPN’s Bill Barnwell addressed the topic in depth in 2017. Is a team actively trying to field a competitive roster with a chance to win every Sunday, even if it is made up of primarily young players, or is the main goal setting up for the following year?
The 2018 Buffalo Bills were rebuilding, but they were competitive through much of the season and actively attacked their rebuild.
The Dolphins seem likely to follow this path -- whether they take a swing at their franchise QB in 2019 or 2020. They should resist any urge to do something more drastic.
How can the Dolphins brass tell their expected new head coach, Brian Flores, to build a winning culture as a first-time head coach while still banking on a losing season?
In the NBA, teams have shown that the most cost-effective way to a high draft pick is to gut the roster of the veteran talent needed to compete at a high level, largely avoid free agents who would help the team win now and give playing time to players who are young and often raw. But there are only five starters in the NBA instead of 22, and one great player can make a much bigger difference.
The Dolphins have finished between 6-10 and 10-6 in every season over the past 10 years. They haven't picked in the top 10 in the Ryan Tannehill era.
To an extent, it's tougher to be bad than mediocre. With the salary cap, the NFL is designed to draw teams to 8-8.
Miami does have some talent along with competitive young players who know how to win -- that's a credit to Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and his staff. But there clearly needs to be a refresh and the supply needs to be replenished. Schefter also reported that the Dolphins are likely to build the offensive and defensive lines in 2019, develop their young core and wait for the 2020 QB class.
But there are worthwhile questions to examine. There will be other bad teams, so how can the Dolphins -- even if they have another losing season in 2019 -- guarantee that in 15 months they will be in position to pick a franchise quarterback? What if Tagovailoa or Fromm decides to stay for his senior season in 2021? Why would the Dolphins make a decision on attacking the 2020 class before fully trying to find a franchise QB in 2019?
The Dolphins should do a thorough evaluation in the next few months on the 2019 QB class that features Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, among others. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they found someone who could be their guy in Year 1 of the rebuild.
A popular alternate acronym for the NFL is "Not For Long," and that goes for players, coaches and executives. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is preaching patience, but that will be tested in two years if the team has gone 8-28, ticket sales are down and the fan base is apathetic.
Miami must sell its fan base on a clear plan going forward -- ideally one that is focused on competitively rebuilding. Fans have hung around through a bunch of mediocrity, so they could see this next era as either a much-needed positive sign of change or another step to push them away.
That takes us back to Flores, who deserves a chance to prove he can be a good head coach. After 15 years in New England on Bill Belichick's staff, he'd be coming from a place where winning was the expectation and not the hope. For him to buy into the Dolphins' plan, he'd be trusting that they let him see it through. NFL coaches have been fired after one season (Steve Wilks, Arizona) and two seasons (Vance Joseph, Denver) in recent weeks.
Successful rebuilds can happen pretty quickly -- the Seahawks made the playoffs in a season when many expected them to take a step back -- but playing to lose rarely carries a benefit. Miami has a chance to rebuild its team the right way.