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Miami Dolphins: State of the Franchise

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Yet another round of high-intensity and action-packed football took place this past weekend and the Miami Dolphins franchise is sitting in a familiar place – at home.

The ferocious Phin faithful now wait with anticipation for the organization to name the successor of recently fired Brian Flores. The Dolphins were among six other teams who made the decision to fire their current head coach this past week. Flores posted a 9-8 record this year which was highlighted by a seven-game winning streak to bring the team back to a .500 winning percentage on the season after starting at an abysmal 1-7.

An Underwhelming Product

Those same fans now have concerns left and right about the obvious holes in this organization and on the team’s roster. The glaring roster issues start with an offensive line that is incapable of protecting its quarterback or blocking for its running backs.

Moreover, there is a lack of elite skill players on offense. Our current crop seems to be either frequently injured or irrelevant to the system. However, questions now have been raised as to what offensive systems even worked under Flores. The team has used 4 offensive coordinators since 2019. To have that many coordinators during that time frame can directly be related to the abundant gap in player development.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 11: Head coach Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins reacts against the Baltimore Ravens during the second quarter in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Flores is a defensive-minded coach and his efforts have shown through well, for the most part, during many games across his three-year run. Despite that, a 24-25 record and no playoff appearances were all he had to show for it. But his defense was really great only over one campaign – in 2020, where it finished at 6 overall in team defense. Furthermore, the offense in that same span was never better than 15th, which they were in that same 2020 season.

Quarterback Controversy?

This year’s bitter end with a loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville was a sore reminder of their fate in the previous year where their “win-and-in” game against the Buffalo Bills had a similar finish. The Dolphins were outscored 90-42 in those games and were unable to punch their ticket to playoff football. To rub salt in the wound, Miami was forced to watch its AFC East rivals duke it out for a spot in the divisional round during the Super Wild Card round last Saturday.

When the smoke is clear from the season there are issues that team management needs to address. General Manager Chris Grier had his job salvaged by team owner Stephen Ross who released a statement about his faith in the team on MiamiDolphins.Com. 

“I believe we have a talented young roster in place and have the opportunity to be much better in 2022.”

His quote was part of a larger press release about the firing of Brian Flores. After the rumors circulated for a few days in the midst of the “post-Flores” fallout, many were claiming that Brian Flores had been heard calling for the team to sign controversial Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. While these rumors of Watson willing to forgo the “no-trade clause” in his contract for a chance to play in Miami have sparked interest amongst many proud fans of the “aqua and orange”, they have mostly fizzled out.

In addition, any questions as to whether Watson would be better than Tua Tagovailoa has a lot of moving factors to consider, the largest one being the Clemson alum’s future in the league. Tua has had success in many situations with the Dolphins, orchestrating four game-winning drives in two years that have helped Miami fight for contention. The Hawaii native threw for 26 touchdowns, as opposed to 15 interceptions, across the past two campaigns while battling injury and being sacked 40 times. He has clearly shown his dedication towards hard work for the benefit of the team. 

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 11: Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins throws a pass against the Baltimore Ravens during the third quarter in the game at Hard Rock Stadium on November 11, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

It is clear that the men upstairs in the Dolphins organization have faith in Tua Tagovailoa, a second-year quarterback from Alabama. Tagovailoa tossed over 2,600 yards and 16 touchdowns with a 67% completion rate, making him a moderate passer in the league. His development this season was greatly boosted by rookie Jaylen Waddle, a teammate of his with the Crimson Tide. Waddle broke the rookie receiving yardage record with 104 catches for 1,015 yards and 6 touchdowns sprinkled on top.

His playmaking ability shows flashes of elite potential and points toward the belief the franchise has in the drafting ability of their front office. Yet, Miami has had some up-and-down luck in recent drafts. Austin Jackson and Noah Igbihnogene have seen significant playing time, but not much production or value to the team. In other words, two early picks that have yet to pan out. Paired in contrast with the selections of Waddle and Holland, it makes fans wonder who called the shots on which picks. Was it Flores who chose the burnouts? Or was he the one that put more pieces in place for success?

The jury remains out on those questions and we may never know. However, what we do know is the franchise is rocking with Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback for what appears to be the future of the team. 

Signs of Promise and the Search for Identity

Offensively many things have been underwhelming in Miami, with the team going through a stable of very average running backs who have honestly all shown more promise as backups and receiving threats.

Also, the linemen up front are young and very inexperienced, with three starters having played three or fewer years in the league. A premium must be placed on free-agent veteran linemen during the offseason, as is evident that the drafted linemen have recently not lived up to their expectations. This leads many analysts to believe that Tagovailoa’s talent is difficult to evaluate behind a line that could not stop a cold. As mentioned the running backs this year were a dime-a-dozen and had difficulty finding holes to run through. Tagovailoa had options to throw to, but as offenses began to key on Waddle and fourth-year tight end Mike Gesicki, the pool of playmaker depth ran dry.

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 28: Xavien Howard #25 of the Miami Dolphins runs the ball after an interception during the first half against the Carolina Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

As regards the defensive unit, the tandem cornerback duo of Xavien Howard and Byron Jones was effective last year and remained solid throughout 2021 as well. Their work was greatly highlighted and backed up by rookie safety Jevon Holland who recorded 44 solo tackles and 2 interceptions during a great first campaign in the NFL. Linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel and Jerome Baker both posted career seasons and made many clutch plays for Miami with their tackling and coverage versatility.

What is also worth mentioning is that Larry Csonka, Don Shula, or Dan Marino are not walking through that door to save this franchise from its own self-inflicted mediocrity anymore. The Dolphins’ last playoff win was in 2000, which capped off a three-year streak of Wild Card victories, since then they have only made the playoffs three times, losing each time. Their most recent appearance was in 2016.

Clearly, this team is in dire need of an identity. A proud franchise that still cherishes that 1972 “Perfect Season” near and dear to their heart, this bastion of hope is the definitive mountaintop for football in Miami. Since the exit of Shula, who retained his post as head-man in Miami for 25 years, the Dolphins have shuffled through eleven different head coaches since 1995. This makes their combined average time at the helm only two and a half full seasons. This is hardly enough to rebuild a franchise desperate for a taste of nostalgic glory and a visit back to football’s finest stage. 

What the Future Holds

The Dolphins are not currently considered a “cellar-dweller” after their strong performances the past two seasons. This past year alone they beat the Patriots handily during both of their divisional matchups, which had not happened since the turn of the millennium. With some key pieces in place and the belief of the front office in the players who carry a large role in the team’s production, it all comes down to whoever is tasked with blowing the “big whistle.” 

Miami is desperately lacking the culture that we see so many successful franchises cultivate season after season. Finding a coach who can balance his attention and devotion to both sides of the ball and serve as a leader of men should be the Phins’ number-one priority. It seems to me when your head man is actively shopping for flashy new quarterbacks while the man who the organization chose for that position is going quietly about his business and helping his team win, a call for a change in leadership is not such a bad idea. The front office has accumulated some great draft-pick trades over the past few seasons, securing eight picks in a seven-round 2022 draft.

There are some flickers of hope at the end of the tunnel, and maybe with the right hire, the chance for Miami to be involved in the NFL action in January, and even in February, could finally present itself.

Thanks for reading my article on the state of the Miami Dolphins. For more great content follow my Twitter: @_coltonlittle_ and follow @OTH_Football and @OT_Heroics!

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