The Miami Dolphins Are Terrible at This

Amid the media- and fan-driven frenzy about ‘tanking’ I wonder if anyone has stopped to ponder the following question:

What if the Miami Dolphins are as bad at earning the 1st pick as they were trying to earn the 32nd pick?

They’re not off to a great start.

Right away, the Dolphins botched it by dismissing a wild-eyed, dysfunctional head coach who refused to modify his system to fit the personnel, had begun to blatantly point fingers, and explicitly sheltered under the sort of derelict excuses that would see a player excised from winning franchises.

And for an added twist of the knife, Miami made the mistake of allowing that sort of valuable agent of chaos escape to a division rival, where he is already doing work for the New York Jets.

The Dolphins only made things worse by screwing up their search for a replacement.

They could have taken the advice of several players who took to Twitter to argue on behalf of Darren Rizzi, a special teams coach who learned how to lose under a solid set of proven’s like Greg Schiano, Joe Philbin, and Adam Gase. Coach Rizzi had once been forced to step down as head coach of Rhode Island after achieving a 3-9 record in his first and only year coaching the Rams. He would have been a promising choice.

Miami even pulled some strings to score an interview with a ‘ringer’ like Dennis Allen, who sported an 8-28 record in his previous NFL head coaching stint! The Dolphins walked out of that meeting without getting Allen under contract.

Instead, they hired a coach who spent 15 years working at every level of the most impressive dynasty in NFL history. And they did it fresh off his calling, perhaps, the most impressive defensive performance in Super Bowl history. Awful.

Miami were forced to watch with dismay as Brian Flores did what previous New England spin-offs had failed: he brought a significant portion of New England’s staff with him, assembling a cabal of assistants that sport more hardware than Home Depot.

Dolphins fans, no strangers to the exercise of hope-trafficking, have largely taken solace in two ideas.

The first is the perception that even a successful set of coaches requires a period of creative destruction; taking a step backward in order to leap forward. Unfortunately, there is a consistent history of new head coach hires improving their team’s win total in their first year. Yuck.

Over the last 30 years of NFL history, there have been 194 head coach hires, with 142 of them taking over losing teams. On average, the new head coaches achieved +1.5 more wins than their predecessors. For the teams that started out with losing records, the head coach change was worth an average improvement +2.4 wins.

In fact, of the 45 teams with a new coach taking over a 6- or 7-win roster, only 10 achieved records of 4-12 or worse the next year. Their records averaged somewhere between 7-9 and 8-8.

But there’s always the second source of hope for Miami fans: the near-universal perception of a talent-less roster. So bad is this Dolphins roster that, according to Odds Shark, oddsmakers have given Miami sole possession of the lowest win total prediction in the NFL landscape (5.0 wins).

Of course, the bad news is that, according to data compiled from Sports Odds History, over the last 30 seasons of NFL history, the teams with the lowest sportsbook win total in any given year have only ended up with the 1st pick in the NFL Draft three times.

Cross-reference the two and you have 20 teams over the last 30 years who hired a new coach to take over a roster projected by Las Vegas to be the worst (or tied for the worst) in the NFL. Their average record the following year? About 6-10.

Granted, the perception of Miami’s roster as talent-less is a bit curious. You don’t typically see teams that won six or more games projected to have the worst record in the NFL the following year. It’s only happened twice before.

The 1996 Carolina Panthers responded to odds makers’ doubts by going 12-4 and playing in the NFC Championship Game. The 2018 Buffalo Bills went 6-10 and will pick 9th in the upcoming draft, despite having started a particularly raw rookie quarterback all year.

This is not particularly comforting, for fans of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The Dolphins continue to bungle the roster effort. They haven’t emptied the roster, traded their best players, or insured themselves against the progression of promising young players. They don’t have a depth chart stacked with older, high-risk assets.

Most people seem to think roster talent goes up and down every year because of the players coming in or going out during the off season. That’s not really true. The balance between the progression of young players, the attrition of old players, and the regression of inconsistent players plays a much larger role in year-to-year changes to the roster’s talent level.

It’s not all about the incremental loss of veterans like Cameron Wake or Ja’Wuan James. In 2016, the Dolphins lost Olivier Vernon, Lamar Miller, and Charles Clay via free agency. Fans and media declared the roster talent-less, only to see improvement from 6-10 to 10-6.

For the first time in years, the roster is infested at nearly every position with young and promising players that threaten to take the next step. Laremy Tunsil, Jesse Davis, Mike Gesicki, Jakeem Grant, Albert Wilson, Kenyan Drake, Kalen Ballage, Davon Godchaux, Vincent Taylor, Jonathan Woodard, Raekwon McMillan, Jerome Baker, Xavien Howard, and Minkah Fitzpatrick have all made positive impressions. Yes, even Mike Gesicki.

Frankly, there are not enough players like Charles Harris in that group, sporting a problematic mix of high expectations and bad tape.

Also for the first time in years, the team doesn’t have a significant amount of expectations tied up in a handful of veterans who pose significant age or injury risk. Unstable assets like Reshad Jones (age, injury), Ryan Fitzpatrick (age), and Albert Wilson (injury) are less common on this roster, and their 2018 comps are easier. Jones already played unevenly last year during the 7-win season, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult for Fitzpatrick to out-perform what Tannehill and Osweiler provided a year ago, and Albert Wilson played less than half a season in 2018.

The team doesn’t have much time left this off season to get back on course. They still have an entire NFL Draft full of talented players to navigate. The way this front office and coaching staff have been operating, they shouldn’t be trusted to make it through the weekend without getting at least a little bit better.

What a bunch of bad losers.


Chris Kouffman (@CKParrot) is a host of Three Yards of Carry, on which he doesn’t lose an argument, unless he’s trying to. Dolphins fans, also check out the latest COLUMN from Josh Houtz on whether Miami should target Russell Wilson.

4 replies
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