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The Miami Dolphins: A Successful Tank Experiment

The Miami Dolphins: a Successful Tank Experiment

The Dolphins have not been good for a long time. In the past 11 years, they had one winning season, during which they promptly lost in the Wild Card round. However, they finished 8-8 twice and 7-9 four times, meaning that they haven’t even earned a high draft pick during seven years of their rough patch. Recently, the Dolphins have finally embraced the idea of tanking, shipping off large contracts for draft picks. They also finished 5-11 in 2019, and drafted star college quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick. While they probably still won’t reach the playoffs this year, they are well set-up for the future and should have many seasons of success ahead.

2019-2020 Transactions

Clearing Cap Space + Stockpiling Draft Picks
The Miami Dolphins: a Successful Tank Experiment
Minkah had an incredible season for Pittsburgh as a First-Team All-Pro. Image courtesy of Keith Srakocic, Associated Press.

The Dolphins went into 2019 with no intention of being a strong team. In the offseason, before 2019 began, Miami made no effort to retain some of their big-name veterans. From 2018 to 2019, Miami lost Robert Quinn, Andre Branch, Cameron Wake, Ja’Wuan James, Ryan Tannehill and Danny Amendola. These contracts took up $55,087,078 in 2018.

Miami continued to be big players in the market throughout the rest of the year. On August 31, before the regular season even began, the Fins traded Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans for two first-round picks (2020 and 2021) and one second-round pick (2021) in the upcoming drafts. The very next day, the Dolphins basically gave Kiko Alonso to the Saints for nothing. Fifteen days after that, the Dolphins shipped Minkah Fitzpatrick off to the Pittsburgh Steelers. They added up a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2020 seventh-round pick in return for a 2020 first-round pick and a 2020 fifth-round pick. Though they made other moves to acquire some late-round picks and lower their cap hit, just these players combined have a $26,250,000 cap hit in 2020.

Acquisitions

As the 2020 season approaches, the Dolphins have begun to build their team back up. With so many draft picks and cap space, the sky is the limit. As mentioned, they drafted Tua Tagovailoa at the number five pick to fill their quarterback need. Tagovailoa likely won’t start this year, but he was a steal for Miami, falling to number five despite being on par with Burrow. He had an incredible 11.2 and 11.3 yards per attempt in his final two college seasons. Miami is rolling the dice a bit with Tagovailoa’s injury history, but if he plays anywhere near the level he performed at in college, he will have a decorated NFL career. They selected Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt at 18 and 39 to patch up their 2019 league-worst offense line. Miami also exercised their riches with a mass amount of signings. The Dolphins signed Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers to improve their line even more. They also added Jordan Howard alongside recently-acquired Matt Breida to solidify their backfield.

Looking towards the defensive side of the ball, the headline of Miami’s off-season was signing Byron Jones to a massive five-year, $82.5 million contract. Alongside Xavien Howard and draft pick Noah Igbinoghene, the Fins now have one of the best cornerback groups in the league. The Dolphins also signed Kyle Van Noy, to boost their formerly mediocre linebacker corps. Lastly, Miami signed Shaq Lawson to a three-year, $30 million deal to give their defensive line some more bite. After a very bad 2019, Miami’s defensive line is still one of the team’s weaker areas.

Eyes on 2021 and Beyond

The Miami Dolphins: a Successful Tank Experiment
Tua was even better than Joe Burrow, but his health is a concern. Image courtesy of Vasha Hunt, Associated Press.

The Dolphins have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Their only rostered player in their 30s is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will soon be replaced by Tagovailoa. With decent young receivers and a new-and-improved offensive line, Tagovailoa will have great tools around him when he takes over the starting role. Defensively, Miami has a top-tier secondary and above-average linebackers. They will be able to contribute more resources to their defensive line in the upcoming draft. The Dolphins still don’t quite have what it takes to make the postseason, but with the AFC East in disarray with Brady’s exit, it will soon be theirs to take. Look for Miami to be in the playoffs in 2021 and for years to come.

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