Our 2019 NFL Preview continues to take us through the AFC East, as we make a stop in South Beach to assess the rebuilding Miami Dolphins, who puled the plug on the Adam Gase Administration after three seasons. In contention for the Playoffs entering December, Miami crumbled down the stretch, losing their final three games by a combined Fifty-Nine Points, causing their Owner, Stephen Ross to hit the rest button, leading to what figures to be quite a lengthy rebuild for a franchise that has become all-too familiar with them. However, the Offseason has provided some fundamental pieces to their project, with the club raiding the New England Patriots’ Coaching Staff in making Brian Flores their new Head Coach, and pulling the trigger on a trade to bring former Arizona Cardinals’ Quarterback, Josh Rosen, to the Sunshine State. So with those integral pieces in place, let’s see what this season is likely to have in store for one of the league’s most storied franchises…
New England South
One of the most fashionable things for rebuilding teams to do is pry away Assistant Coaches from their successful rivals with the hopes that said hire will be able to bring some of that magic to his new home. This has been no more apparent than with the Patriots, who in the near two decades of their success have seen a host of Assistant Coaches depart to lead their own clubs to varying degrees of success. Well, after abstaining from that practice, the Dolphins finally went shopping at Belichick Market, and came away with Brian Flores. The Brooklyn native had spent the entirety of his coaching career in New England, serving in various capacities since 2004, including each of the last three directing their Linebackers, though anyone around the league will tell you that the 38-Year Old had a heavy hand in the Defensive Gameplan from week to week, with some proclaiming him as their unofficial Defensive Coordinator in 2019. Of course, the challenge awaiting Flores is how to incorporate the teachings and structure that he was immersed in for over a decade in New England, while building something of his own without the overwhelming presences of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Needless to say, there is much work to be done on both sides of the ball in Miami, with the roster having undergone significant deconstruction since his arrival. In an unfortunate twist of fate, one of Flores’ Chief Assistants, Jim Caldwell, has reportedly chosen to take a leave of absence this season due to an undisclosed medical issue. The former Colts and Lions Head Coach was hired to coach Quarterbacks while also serving as Assistant Head Coach, which given his considerable experience and the team’s makeup set him up to be a prominent figure within the building, making his absence all the more disheartening. Caldwell would have likely had a positive influence on the Offense, particularly at Quarterback which brings us to…
No rebuild is complete without a change at the game’s most important position, Quarterback, and the Dolphins let it be known early that they were in fact going to be casting a wide net in an attempt to land their leading man. Miami parted ways with Ryan Tannehill (64.2%, 179.9 Y/G, 5.50 NY/A, 17 TD, 9 INT, 33.1 QBR) rather quickly after an uninspiring campaign, then quickly pounced on veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick (66.7%, 295.8 Y/G, 8.81 NY/A, 17 TD, 12 INT, 64.4 QBR) in Free Agency, leaving many to believe that they would take a pass in the Draft, instead waiting for the 2020 Class, which figured to be far more plentiful. Hell, even Ross came out an publicly stated that the club would probably be better suited taking a flier on 2019, and focusing on selecting a Signal-Caller early in a year’s time, or in other words tanking. However, that all appeared to be smoke and mirrors as they sent a 2019 Second Round Pick and a 2020 Fifth Round Pick to the Arizona Cardinals for Josh Rosen (55.2%, 162.7 Y/G, 4.47 NY/A, 11 TD, 14 INT, 26.6 QBR), who had just been selected Tenth Overall in the 2018 Draft. The UCLA Product struggled mightily within a dreadful Offense that oftentimes left him exposed and unprotected, with few outlets to get the football to, and once his team landed the No One Overall Pic, he was deemed expendable by the new Coaching Staff. Of course, it remains to be seen how this will play out in Miami, where he will be competing with Fitzpatrick for the starting job. On paper, the Supporting Cast is an improvement over the one he left in the desert, but with the aforementioned Caldwell’s departure, fulfilling his potential is far from promised. After all, his bearded teammate is coming off one of his most productive seasons; Fitzpatrick averaged 295.4 Yards per Game in his Seven Starts with the Buccaneers last season, along with an NFL-best 8.81 Net Yards per Attempt.
Building a Foundation
Storms are common thing in Miami, and after a storm rolls through, it’s time to pick up the pieces and rebuild, which is precisely where this franchise finds itself. Gone are the egos and personalities that created chaos and strife in the locker room over the past few years. Gone are (some, not all of) the projects that never panned out. This is very much a clean slate for the Dolphins, who by all means needed it more than most teams in the league. However, that’s not to say that they’re bereft of talent, for their are still building blocks for Flores and his Staff to utilize on both sides of the football. We already touched upon the situation at Quarterback, but there are quality pieces in support of whomever takes the reins under Center. Kenyan Drake (120 CAR, 535 YDS, 4.5 Y/C, 4 TD, 53 REC, 477 YDS, 9.0 Y/R, 5 TD) has flashed promise throughout his three years with franchise, though rarely earned the trust of the previous regime as it’s workhorse, and will be given another opportunity to prove himself worthy of the role. Former First Rounder, Laremy Tunsil has become a fixture in the trenches at Tackle, while Kenny Stills (37 REC, 553 YDS, 14.9 Y/R, 6 TD) has proven capable of making big plays on occasion, though he’s better suited in a complementary role to a more consistent receiving threat. That may or may not be DeVante Parker (24 REC, 309 YDS, 12.9 Y/R, 1 TD), whom like Drake, has also found himself in the doghouse with the previous Coaching Staff, and will be granted a chance to start over. Defensively, the Secondary is full of talent with Safeties Reshad Jones (72 TKL, 4 TFL, 3 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (80 TKL, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD), while Xavien Howard (35 TKL, 1 TFL, 7 INT, 12 PD) earned his first Pro Bowl nod after leading the league with Seven Interceptions last season. And then there is this year’s First Round Pick (13th Overall), Christian Wilkins, who figures to roam all over the Defensive Front after leading Clemson to a National Championship in 2018.
2019 Forecast: 4-12
It would be easy to underestimate the volume of this rebuild in Miami, for this is far from a lock and key operation for Flores and his Staff. Historically, Assistants from New England have found it be quite a process in implementing their preferred schemes, particularly on the defensive side of the football, which figures to undergo the most change. While it remains to be seen whether or not Flores has the personnel to run his defense, it’s also completely wide-open what happens offensively, particularly at Quarterback. Fitzpatrick is a journeyman for a reason, and right now, Rosen is one of the true unknown commodities at the position, and let’s not discount Caldwell’s absence here either, folks. With a tough schedule, particularly out of the gate, the Dolphins may indeed be better off following the advice of their owner, and just taking a flier on this season, and continuing to build along the way.