Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores just made the job of general manager Chris Grier a whole lot tougher.
So be it.
How can you care at all about the Dolphins and not find delight in the stunning 27-24 upset they pulled off Sunday in Flores’ finale as a rookie head coach in his first visit to New England, where he worked for 15 years in the Belichick regime?
Especially when it mucks up Patriots playoff plans, denying them a first-round bye.
Also considering Miami hadn’t won at Foxborough since September 2008.
I know. I know. By winning five of their last nine to finish 5-11, the Dolphins strayed far from the tanking playbook — which Flores always claimed he wasn’t in on anyway. And there is no choice but to believe him now.
Win didn’t hurt draft standing
Sunday didn’t alter their standing in the draft order anyway.
Trying to win by losing has always been a cockamamie concept. Of greater importance, the win at New England was the latest in a growing stack of evidence that the Dolphins finally have a coach they can win with.
It was remarkable, really, coming to New England as 17-point underdogs and considering the 43-0 debacle in Miami in Week 2.
Sure, now Flores must show he can win more meaningful games when given the tools to work with. But he achieved far more with less than Adam Gase did in taking the 2016 Dolphins to the playoffs in his first season.
I’m gonna tell my son this is Vince Lombardi pic.twitter.com/uq764VacmV
— Alex Donno (@AlexDonno) December 29, 2019
But he has a locker room full of believers, and likely much of the fan base.
Now that this most confusing of Dolphins seasons is over, speculation can shift from what they may or may not be trying to achieve on the field to what they must accomplish in the NFL draft.
Now it’s all about what Grier will do with those three first-round and assorted extra draft picks (14 total in 2020).
Finding the quarterback of the future remains the general manager’s mandate despite the team’s competitive gains behind the inspired play of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Tua tough call as first-round pick
The Dolphins have the No. 5 pick next April and may have a chance to select Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (provided he enters the draft), who must come back from a significant hip injury.
Maybe Tua will fare better than Bo Jackson, whose mercurial career was halted by a hip injury. Considering the injuries to both ankles that have also sidelined Tagovailoa, his durability is an issue.
Grier will spend more time poring over Tua’s medical reports than his game film. It will take conviction to make that choice or another available quarterback.
Regardless of whichever quarterback Grier chooses, bringing back Fitzpatrick would buy time in the development process.
Fitz reached folk hero status with what he accomplished leading an offense devoid of any reliable running game. That was cemented Sunday by outplaying Tom Brady and orchestrating the winning touchdown drive capped by the payoff pass to Mike Gesicki.
That doesn’t change that Grier must come away from the draft with a quarterback, but it’s just the top of a laundry list of needs.
Since I know we have had a Heat/Dolphins Civil War here, the biggest compliment I can pay Brian Flores in a local sports context is that I believe he’s the type of coach that Pat Riley wouldn’t mind leading his team.
— Five Reasons Sports Network (@5ReasonsSports) December 29, 2019
Numerous needs on offense, defense
On offense, the challenge is to upgrade the line and add a featured running back, through draft picks and signings.
The receiving corps is respectable, with DeVante Parker having a breakout year and Gesicki making major strides in his second season. But pass protection and blocking for the running game needs to improve.
On defense, pass rushers are top priority, on the line and at linebacker. An ever-changing cast in the defensive backfield held its own against Tom Brady on Sunday, highlighted by former Patriot Eric Rowe’s pick-six. But Grier will be looking for another cornerback and likely a safety, especially if Reshad Jones isn’t brought back.
Grier is on the clock and on the spot for 2020.
As for 2019, which began with getting outscored 163-26 in the first four games, Sunday’s stunner made it almost sad to see time expire.
One thing for sure, the time for hoping for losses is thankfully over.
The Dolphins have just smoked the Super Bowl champions on the road with two free agent starting cornerbacks, a free agent starting nickel back and an XFL roster. Astonishing coaching job by Brian Flores and his coaches.
— Simon Clancy (@SiClancy) December 29, 2019
Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns