The Miami Dolphins seemed to have quickened their rebuild process as they emerged as a playoff contender in 2020. Winning 10 games despite rotating quarterbacks and a clear lack of offensive playmaking, the 'Fins invested heavily into the receiver position and fully committed to Tua Tagovailoa in hopes the changes would take the team to the next level.
However, five games into the 2021 season, the offseason hype has completely died.
Miami sits at 1-4 and every metric for the team is pointing towards a disastrous campaign. Tua has missed the last three games but neither he nor Jacoby Brissett has been able to find rhythm in the new offense. The team has the second-fewest points scored and third-most points allowed on the season.
A Misuse of Assets
The complete regression to 2019 levels is mind-boggling considering the assets the team has spent over the last two offseasons. Investing in Byron Jones, Will Fuller, Noah Igbinoghene, Kyle Van Noy, Shaq Lawson, and Ereck Flowers has had virtually zero impact. Igbinoghene has been the worst first-round pick for the franchise in many years while Van Noy and Lawson were shipped off next to nothing this past offseason.
Flowers was nothing special for Miami and then was traded to Washington to save cap room. But he would've been an upgrade on the current guard situation, and he's playing just fine elsewhere. Jones was good last year, but this season he has struggled much like the rest of the defense, and the team knew Fuller was a gamble as far as availability.
The big questions about Tua's future, Brian Flores' ability to build a staff, and general manager Chris Grier's ability to draft all still remain. I was a fan of the talent Miami has acquired in the first round of the last two years, but the success of Tagovailoa, Jaylen Waddle, and Jaelan Phillips may not even be enough for Grier to keep his job.
Miami boldly traded down in the 2021 NFL Draft and then traded right back up. This ensured they'd lose out on both Kyle Pitts and Ja'Marr Chase but would land Waddle. They paid a heavy price by giving up their own 2022 first-round pick to swap with Philadelphia. That pick is now projected to be a top-three selection, and Chase is on pace to be a Pro Bowler.
Justin Herbert's emergence as an All-Pro-caliber passer in Los Angeles is surprising. I watched every snap of his at Oregon, and every snap of Tua at Alabama, and never thought Herbert was the better playmaker or more instinctual player. Certainly, Herbert has benefited from two quality offensive coaching staffs and surrounding playmakers, but he's been a massively different player than he was in college.
I have a lot of hope for Tua as well, but his success has clearly been more affected by the disastrous hiring at offensive coordinator and mishandling of the offensive line by the team. His latest rib injury may just be a sign of the damage he'll incur as he runs for his life each week.
The 'Fins Failures
Miami needs Tagovailoa to become a top-five AFC quarterback, and if they doubt his ability to reach that level then they must explore other options. For now, Miami is relying on a strange setup that was doomed to fail from the start, with co-offensive coordinators George Godsey and Eric Studesville splitting duties, and Charlie Frye factoring into the play calling.
Instead of hiring a proven coordinator who had experience getting the most out of a quarterback, Flores settled on this combination.
The result has been ugly. Waddle is basically getting hand-offs and hasn't been a downfield threat, and Mike Gesicki has barely been visible all year. The running game with Myles Gaskin has been efficient but lacks volume because drives aren't being extended. The lack of cohesive, thoughtful play-calling immediately stands out for the Dolphins.
Maybe it all doesn't fall on this bizarre trifecta of offensive coaches. Grier has had some impressive hits, notably landing Laremy Tunsil, Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Gesicki, and Jerome Baker, but the two best players of that bunch aren't in Miami anymore. Grier's 2017 and 2019 classes brought zero impactful starters, and his 2020 class is solely dependent on Tua's career and the prayer that the offensive line improves.
The current offensive line is terrible and much of the discussion around Tua mirrors what the Dolphins went through with Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was a good quarterback who made the most out of a tough situation. Tagovailoa is more talented than Tannehill but still needs help in the form of competent blocking and coaching. Yet his career was immediately put on the same path as the man he was drafted to replace despite the mistakes that were made being so clear.
Can the Dolphins Stay Afloat?
When Tua returns this week against the Jaguars, the Dolphins must show a more aggressive and competent offense. Flores earned trust last year from the fans and ownership for overperforming, but that goodwill only goes so far when the hype hasn't at all been met.
The defense has been another massive flop. Regression was expected considering Miami led the NFL in turnovers but not to the point where the unit was hemorrhaging yards and scores through the air and on the ground. There's enough solid talent and playmaking to have a strong base each week even if there are weaknesses along the unit.
Instead of showing the creativity of last year to overcome those weaknesses, Miami has tried to line up and win more often than not. That won't work because the Dolphins' personnel has limitations that strong teams can easily exploit. Flores hasn't adjusted yet, and it's cost Miami embarrassing losses to the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in particular.
The hope is that Tua's return will spark some magic in Miami. The organization as a whole cannot feel this way, though, because one player will not single-handedly make the offensive line competent, the play-calling aggressive, or the defense effective.
This has been a failure from the top-down, and it's time for the leadership of Miami to look in the mirror and fight for their jobs before it's too late and another regime change is in the works.
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