Miami Dolphins most recent rebuild nearing culmination


Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores (center) and General Manager Chris Grier (right) have been at the forefront of a rebuilding process that began with Flores’ hiring after the 2018 season.

Following a wildcard loss in the 2016-17 NFL playoffs, the Miami Dolphins looked like a team left for dead with no hopes for the future. Four average seasons, a coaching change, and 39 trades later, the Dolphins find themselves in a much better situation set for years to come.

Now, after a two-year rebuilding process culminating with the recent 2021 NFL Draft wherein they received high grades by most major draft analysts, the Dolphins look to be on the verge of being a legitimate contender for the AFC East title and beyond. “The Dolphins came away with four players that could’ve been first-round picks,” former NFL executive Charlie Casserly said on the NFL Network, referring to the Dolphins first four picks in the first two rounds wherein they selected Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, University of Miami edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, Oregon safety Jevon Holland, and Notre Dame offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg.

The Torch will be offering its own full 2021 NFL Draft analysis as well as an in-depth analysis of Miami’s draft in the days to come. 

The Dolphins long-haul rebuild first began with the promotion of Chris Grier from director of college scouting to general manager January 2016. After a successful 2016-17 season turning the team around from 6-10 in 2015 to 10-6 in 2016, the Dolphins met the Steelers in the Wildcard round of the NFL playoffs, and after a 30-12 loss Grier decided it was time to start over. In the following months Grier and the Dolphins moved on from Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi in one year and Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry in the next. These along with many other moves set the Dolphins up for two consecutive below-average years accumulating just 13 out of 32 possible wins in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons combined.

“I really liked the Dolphins duo of Ajayi and Landry, I even had a Landry jersey,” stated Olympic Height’s sophomore Andrew Goodman, “but looking back now I think the team did the right thing trading the two.” 

Another big change in the front office came in the 2019 off-season with the firing of head-coach Adam Gase. With Gase’s departure, another major step was taken. After about two months of looking at candidates, the Dolphins ultimately decided to go with former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores. Ushering in a new era in Miami, Flores brought with him a culture and identity changed badly needed in Miami.

Flores’ first season with the Dolphins was a difficult one, picking up a team following two losing seasons, with projections for another one to come. After trading 2012 first round pick quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins went into the 2019-20 season with two mid-tier quarterbacks, veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick acquired in free-agency, and sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen which the Dolphins traded for on draft night.

Prior to the 2019-20 season, Grier made two other moves that are still shifting the team’s future to this day. While looking to add protection for their quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans called Miami about a deal regarding young talented left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the 2016 Dolphins first round pick. Tunsil was traded to the Texans for two first round picks and a second round pick. Following this trade the Dolphins began stocking draft capital. When the team informed Tunsil of his trade, he stated, “I would trade me for that,” Grier told ESPN. Just a couple weeks later Grier made another move, sending second year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh for another first round pick.

The Dolphins went into the season with one of the worst projected records and not a lot of expectations for the season, but with one target in mind. After week two in the 2019-20 season, the Dolphins sat at an 0-2 record, being outscored 102-10 in the two games combined. With two horrific losses in the books, the Dolphins set their eye at a top three pick in the following draft, and with that fans went to Twitter to express their thoughts; “#TankForTua,” the trending hashtag began to blow up. Alabama’s quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who had a tremendous college career, became the Dolphins target for the season with many fans wanting the team to lose games on purpose to secure the first pick in the draft and the Alabama quarterback. 

The Dolphins finished the 2019-20 season with a 5-11 record, earning the third overall pick. Meanwhile on the college stage, Tagovailoa suffered a late-season hip injury which not only ended his college career but also caused his draft stock to drop. At the third pick Tagovailoa was still on the board, and Grier wasn’t going to let a talent like that slip away. The Dolphins took Tagovailoa with their pick, selecting their quarterback for the future.

In preparation for the 2020-21 season, the Dolphins began to build the team around Tagovailoa. This included many draft picks and free-agent signings to surround the quarterback. One of those draft picks became Austin Jackson, tackle out of USC, whom the Dolphins also drafted in the first round with pick #18 acquired from the Steelers in the Fitzpatrick trade. The Dolphins also surrounded Tagovailoa with two other offensive lineman in the second round. 

Heading into Flores’ second season with Miami, the 2020-21 season, expectations around the league for the Dolphins were still low with many expecting the Dolphins to fight for the #1 pick once again. The sports website SportingNews predicted the Dolphins to finish the season 4-12 despite the off-season moves. Deep down Dolphins fans still had hope this would be the year the team would turn it around.

Dolphins fan and OH sophomore Adrian Thomas tweeted prior to the season that “the Dolphins are making the playoffs.” 

The Dolphins didn’t quite get there, but they still shocked the world, finishing the season 10-6, one game shy of making the playoffs. The successful season was highlighted by Tagovailoa’s rookie year in which he proved he has the potential to be a franchise quarterback, and by All-Pro cornerback Xavien Howard who tallied the most amount of interceptions in the league with ten, ending the season as a candidate for defensive player of the year. The cherry on top for Miami was the Houston pick from the Tunsil trade back in 2019. After trading arguably the best receiver in the league and Watson’s primary target, DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans finished with a record of 4-12, earning Miami, who owned their pick, the third selection in this year’s draft.

Grier wouldn’t stop there, after a couple of trades with the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Dolphins moved down from #3 to #12 and then back up to #6 acquiring another first rounder for 2022, a third and a fifth rounder in the process. In summary, the Dolphins turned Laremy Tunsil into four firsts, a second, a third and a fifth round pick. 

As stated at the outset, by many accounts, Miami had one of the best drafts of all the teams in the NFL.  With that, Dolphins fans have to be proud of the job done by Grier and Flores, turning a team that lost 43-0 to the Patriots just two seasons ago into a potential AFC powerhouse, with plenty of ammo to still make some shock around the league. All this with a future even more exciting to come.