There is a lot to be frustrated about for Dolphins fans in 2021. As a Dolphins fan, I, too, am frustrated. After going 10-6 last season and Brian Flores being a Coach of the Year candidate, the expectations the Dolphins and their fans had coming into this season were sky-high.
Yet, as it stands right now, the Dolphins are 3-7, third in the AFC East, and are one of the worst teams in the NFL. There are a plethora of explanations for the Dolphins’ woes this season, but it starts at the top with the front office and the horrific culture they’ve created for the organization.
Personnel Shuffling and Detrimental Decisions
The Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea after the 2019 season, Brian Flores’ first season as head coach. In 2020, the Dolphins offense improved under new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, but he resigned after just one season. This year, in Flores’ third season, rather than hiring perhaps better candidates from other organizations, the Dolphins promoted former tight ends and running backs coaches George Godsey and Eric Studesville, respectively, to take over as co-offensive coordinators.
I would list some other teams who have employed this bold strategy of two people doing one person’s job, but no other team in the NFL is as dysfunctional as the Miami Dolphins to pull such a stunt. As a result, the 2021 Dolphins offense has taken a significant step back. Shocking, isn’t it?
The surplus of offensive coordinators is not the only issue the Dolphins have, personnel-wise. They’ve had some brutal misses in recent drafts, specifically on the offensive line. Guard Michael Deiter, a day two pick in 2019, started 15 long games for the Dolphins that year in which he gave up six sacks and 44 pressures. He took a backseat to free agent acquisition Ereck Flowers in 2020 and has been struck by the injury bug in 2021. 2019 sixth-round pick offensive tackle Isaiah Prince never even played a game for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins selected three offensive linemen in the 2020 draft: Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt, and Solomon Kindley. Out of those three, Hunt has been the best, but compared to the rest of the league, he’s been just “okay” at best. Kindley is now a backup, and while Austin Jackson is a starter, he’s been a disaster, earning himself a PFF grade of 52.3 in 2020, and 47.3 so far in 2021.
Miami selected offensive linemen Liam Eichenberg and Larnel Coleman in the 2021 draft, but given that Eichenberg has yet to complete his rookie campaign, and Larnel Coleman has yet to even play in a game, I’ll leave them out of this analysis.
Despite having two Pro Bowl cornerbacks on the team in Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, the Dolphins selected Noah Igbinoghene 30th overall in 2020. Igbinoghene was a raw prospect coming into the draft, and the Dolphins certainly don’t look like geniuses for taking him in round one as he started just two games last season and has only played in three out of ten games this season. Yikes!
And Finally, the crown jewel, the sun to the Dolphins’ solar system: quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the fifth overall pick in 2020, whose development the Dolphins have completely and egregiously botched. I’m not a fan of Tagovailoa as a football player, but he deserves far better than what the Dolphins have given him from the moment he walked into the Baptist Health Training Facility in Davie.
Before I dive deeper into the tragedy that is the Tagovailoa situation, though, the Dolphins have another personnel issue. They’ve gotten themselves into this bad habit of signing or trading for players who end up being let go less than a year later.
Of the Dolphins’ 11 free agent signings in 2020, seven have since been cut or traded away. One of those players was defensive end/outside linebacker Shaq Lawson, who was traded for former Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney, who never played a single regular season snap in a Dolphins uniform.
The Dolphins also signed LB Kyle Van Noy and C Ted Karras, both of whom, after just one season in South Florida, went crawling back to where they originally came from, the New England Patriots. Finally, the aforementioned Ereck Flowers was also traded back to his original team, the Washington Football Team, just one season after the Dolphins gave him a three-year, $30 million contract. According to dolphinstalk.com, all the labor turnover going on in Miami has made agents “wary” of dealing with them. Not ideal for a team that is very obviously in a “rebuilding” phase.
The Unforgivable Mishandling of Tua Tagovailoa
The Dolphins’ brass can tell the public “ Tua Tagovailoa’s our quarterback” until they’re blue in the face, and it still won’t be true. Actions will forever speak louder than words, and the Dolphins’ actions have been anti-Tagovailoa since the day they drafted him. Specifically, the four actions that stand out regarding the organization’s lack of faith in their young signal-caller are 1) benching him late in games throughout his rookie season; 2) teammates speaking out as anonymous sources expressing doubt in his ability to perform at a high level; 3) not being named a team captain this season; 4) the Dolphins Inquiring about a potential Deshaun Watson trade.
Benching Tagovailoa in Late-Game Situations Throughout His Rookie Season
The Dolphins had a solid plan in place. They had Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster as a bridge quarterback to keep the team afloat until Tagovailoa fully recovered from his hip injury he sustained in college at Alabama. To the surprise of many though, Tagovailoa started his first game against Aaron Donald and the Rams in week eight of 2020.
In just his fourth game as starting quarterback, week 11 on the road against the Broncos, Tagovailoa was benched late in the game for Fitzpatrick due to poor performance. The next week, Fitzpatrick would start and beat the New York Jets. The following week, Tagovailoa was back as the starter, and remained the starter for three straight weeks.
Finally, in week 16, in a close, high-stakes game in which the Dolphins were battling with the Raiders for a spot in the AFC playoff picture, Tagovailoa was benched again for Fitzpatrick, who went on to heroically win the game. This is not how rookie quarterbacks are usually handled.
To answer the question of why Tagovailoa got his first start in week eight, Pro Football Network reported, “They [the Dolphins] hold the Houston Texans’ 2021 first-round pick and need to know if they should be looking at quarterbacks in the offseason or if is Tagovailoa indeed their franchise quarterback.”
If the Dolphins have as much faith in Tagovailoa as they say they do, then how could the thought of replacing him have even crossed their minds so early in his career? And, sure, in-game experience can be helpful to a young quarterback’s development, but pulling him out in times with high pressure might have the opposite effect and be completely counterproductive. The fact that in his rookie year there were already question marks as to whether or not the Dolphins were committed to Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback is a colossal red flag.
Teammates Anonymously Bashing Tagovailoa to Media
According to Yahoo! Sports, some of the players in the Dolphins locker room were not sold on Tagovailoa as the future of the franchise. Yahoo’s Liz Roscher reported, “Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero spoke to three Dolphins players who spoke anonymously about Tagovailoa and the organization’s decision to name him the starter for 2021, and they expressed doubt about Tagovailoa’s overall talent and his ability to develop into what the team needs him to be: a top-tier quarterback.”
The players discussed with Salguero how they were not impressed with his arm strength and ability to improvise and extend plays with his legs which are all valid concerns. However, the sheer fact that players are coming out to say this (despite being told by the coaching staff not to) speaks volumes to how the locker room views Tagovailoa: not as a bad guy or a bad teammate, but just not THE guy to bring the Dolphins success in the future.
Those players legitimately viewed Fitzpatrick as a better football player, and one who gave the team the best chance to win, which is why these players were frustrated when it was Tagovailoa starting their week 17 “must-win” game against the Buffalo Bills last season and not Fitzpatrick. It’s not like Tagovailoa has proved them wrong this season, unfortunately. In the five games he’s started, the Dolphins are 1-4. The existential doubt in the Dolphins locker room is another major red flag.
Tagovailoa Was Not Named a 2021 Team Captain
It’s very rare that an undisputed starting quarterback would not be named a team captain, and yet the honor, which is voted on by the players, did not go to Tagovailoa this season. In comparison, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert, the two other quarterbacks to go in the top 10 picks of the 2020 draft, were both named offensive team captains of their respective teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Chargers.
Jalen Hurts, another quarterback product of the 2020 draft class who has been doubted by his team, was named a captain for the Philadelphia Eagles. This year’s number one overall pick Trevor Lawrence was named a captain of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even the number two overall pick Zach Wilson, who wasn’t a team captain in college at BYU, was named a team captain for the New York Jets!
Not being named captain is a big slap in the face to Tagovailoa. It shows that his teammates don’t believe in him, and perhaps that the organization itself doesn’t believe in him, despite what they tell the media.
Trying to Trade for Deshaun Watson
Houston Texans star quarterback Watson officially requested a trade in January of this year and has had his eyes on Miami ever since. Miami, despite being “very committed” to Tagovailoa, has had similar feelings for Watson. For months, it had been reported by various sources across numerous news outlets and beat reporters on social media that there was mutual interest between Watson and the Dolphins, and that a trade was going to happen sooner or later.
When multiple reports are coming out saying the same thing over and over again for months, as NFL TikToker Theo Ash said in one of his videos, “there’s probably some fire to that smoke.”
Speaking of multiple reports, the Miami Herald described Watson as follows: “A guy with 22 civil suits against him over sexual misconduct at massage therapy sessions. A guy with 10 criminal complaints against him. A guy with a possible heavy NFL suspension over his head. A guy who would cost three first-round draft picks to get, plus additional player and draft capital, at a $40 million salary cap hit in 2022.”
Not only are the Dolphins actively looking to replace Tagovailoa, but they are willing to virtually sell their soul to acquire Watson, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly a quarter of 100 women. And again, when multiple reports are coming out saying the same thing over and over again for months, there is probably some fire to that smoke.
Of course, the trade deadline has come and gone and no deal was made, but not because Dolphins owner Stephen Ross underwent a moral enlightenment. He met with Watson the day before the trade deadline as a last-ditch effort to complete a deal but inevitably chose to pass due to uncertainty with Watson’s legal situation and an inability for Watson and his lawyers to reach a settlement.
The saga is not over yet, though, as no one in the Dolphins front office has come out and explicitly said, “We will not be trading for Deshaun Watson.” This leads the public to believe that the Dolphins are hoping that Watson solves his problems by next March so they can trade for him in the offseason.
I can only imagine the emotional tension in that Dolphins locker room and what Tagovailoa must be feeling internally as he has been let down by the front office time and again. The Dolphins are handling this as if the team was out at practice and got soaking wet, but the front office continuously told the media it wasn’t raining. It’s honestly appalling, and yet Tagovailoa has been astoundingly professional throughout the whole process. The actions of the Miami Dolphins organization have shown not that they gave up on Tagovailoa, but that he never had a legitimate chance to succeed in the first place, and that might be the greatest red flag of them all.
The New Plan
So, now that the problem has been identified, what is the best solution? I think the Dolphins need to clean house. I don’t think Brian Flores is a bad coach, but unless he’s willing to give up some power in personnel decisions, it might be time for the Dolphins to move on.
Stephen Ross and Chris Grier need to go as well. Significant change starts at the top, and while Stephen Ross might have good intentions of winning, the Dolphins have had just two winning seasons since he took over in 2009.
The choice of selecting Tagovailoa over Herbert itself could probably be enough to warrant firing Grier, but that doesn’t matter. The point is, the Dolphins need a new face running the show. Grier had his chance, but the Dolphins are still bad, unfortunately. Finally, I think it would be beneficial, and honestly morally upright at this point, to trade Tagovailoa to some other team that would treat him better than the Dolphins have. End this detestable marriage as amicably as possible and move on.
Watson would not make the Dolphins a Super Bowl contender by any means, especially considering the capital they’d have to give up to get him, but it sure would give Dolphins fans something to be excited about (assuming he’s innocent, of course), and could perhaps finally change the culture of football in South Florida.
As Albert Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, and it’s exactly what the Miami Dolphins have been doing for the last 20 years.