So, Laremy Tunsil won a division title before the Miami Dolphins did. He played a home playoff game before the Dolphins did. And he won a postseason game before his former club.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The man the Dolphins used as the signature trade piece in a grand rebuild that started in 2019 and was supposed to make Miami a consistent Super Bowl contender, is looking at Dolphins through a rearview mirror now.
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Dolphins Still Mediocre Despite Rebuild
Because for all the seductive draft picks the Dolphins got for Tunsil and turned into other shiny talent pieces, Tunsil remains in this postseason. And the Dolphins are basically in the same spot they were back in 2019 when the rebuild began.
They’re still looking for their first playoff victory since December 2000, and their first division championship since 2008, which is before Stephen Ross assumed full ownership.
So the rebuild has not delivered as promised.
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That should be painfully apparent to Dolphins ownership, the front office, fans and everyone with eyes following Saturday night’s 26-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL wild-card round.
The Dolphins, so entertaining and explosive against sub-.500 teams this year, ran into another team with a winning record and lost. Again.
Dolphins ‘Fell Short’ of Their Goals
The Dolphins finish their season with a 1-6 record in games against teams with winning records. They were 10-1 against teams with losing records.
That means the rebuild has so far led to the construction of the NFL’s mightiest cream puff.
The league’s most beautiful mirage.
Football’s tallest basement.
“We came here to win, and it didn’t happen. So we fell short of our goals,” coach Mike McDaniel said after the loss to the Chiefs. “We had very strong expectations of ourselves. One of the reasons a lot of people don’t put themselves out there and hold those expectations is because, when you fall short from them, it’s emotional and gut-wrenching.
“We lost a game. We were 100% all in fearlessly, feeling as though we’d win. But hats off to the Kansas City Chiefs. They beat us, outplayed us, out-coached us, all those things… but tonight’s about tonight and it hurts.”
Dolphins Winless in Playoffs Since 2000
So the franchise that’s been breaking people’s heart for 23 winless postseasons hurts now. Well, boo-hoo, fellas. Join the club.
CHIEFS PREVAIL OVER DOLPHINS IN FRIGID PLAYOFF GAME
What people not drawing a check from owner Ross care about is whether next January will be different. That’s all that matters.
The conga dances amid 70-point outbursts against sub-.500 teams were nice in September. But my guess is Miami’s fan base prefers an ugly, bloody, bone-crunching, win over a contender in mid-January 2025.
The frightening thing, however, is there isn’t an obvious path to get there in 12 months. Not based on a rebuild that began back when today’s kindergartners were born.
The Dolphins, you see, are an enigma of a team.
Tagovailoa a Plodding QB on Team Built for Speed
They boast some amazing talent, but a lot of that talent comes with significant injury histories. It’s the reason some of them were available. So a lot of stars that may help the Dolphins get to the playoffs do not play late in the season or the playoffs.
The Dolphins are also a team built on marvelous speed. Players such as Tyreek Hill, Jalen Waddle, De’Von Achane and Raheem Mostert could pass for a relay team. But the club that can fly was too often grounded against good teams because it lost at the line of scrimmage.
And, by the way, the triggerman that activates all that offensive speed, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is carrying more weight now than when he entered the NFL. That helps him survive hits that cause injuries, but the tradeoff is he seems slow and generally unable to create plays with his feet.
Tagovailoa shows great prowess making quick decisions and delivering the ball with very good accuracy. But his weakness is exposed when quick decisions and reads are not available and he has to improvise with any regularity.
Dolphins Have a Tagovailoa Decision to Make
That, quite probably, is the gap between him being a good quarterback and a great quarterback.
And this is where it gets uncomfortable, because waiting to find out if Tagovailoa will ever bridge the gap was easy while he’s on his rookie contract. But that has run its course now.
Tagovailoa is signed on the fifth-year option for 2024. It will pay him $23.1 million guaranteed.
So, coming off three consecutive season-ending games in which the Dolphins lost and Tagovailoa underperformed against Baltimore, Buffalo and Kansas City, the seemingly easy road to take is do nothing. The Dolphins can simply have Tagovailoa play on what is effectively a one-year deal.
If Tagovailoa performs next year, he gets paid after the season.
Tagovailoa Contract Issue Comes with Questions
Except that’s the story the Dolphins already used on Tagovailoa and his representation this season. So the quarterback and his agents, arguing the quarterback was healthy all season, probably expect an that extension. And not delivering could create a situation no one is eager to manage.
Fans may not care, but how does McDaniel on the one hand continue to tell Tagovailoa he’s committed to him, and give him “you’re my guy” love while on the other hand being part of a management team that won’t commit to Tagovailoa with a long-term contract?
Maybe Tagovailoa simply agrees he has more to prove and accepts the approach. But that would make Tagovailoa and his agents unlike 99.99% of other NFL players and reps.
Tagovailoa said his coming contract issue was not something he was worried about “right now.” But that time when it’s front burner is coming.
So maybe the Dolphins feel compelled to pay Tagovailoa without, you know, overpaying him. Maybe they try a reprise of what they did with Ryan Tannehill, paying him more modestly as they waited to see if he continued to improve.
Dolphins Face Salary Cap Challenge
No, that didn’t work because Tannehill never became an elite quarterback in seven seasons with the team. And following the Tannehill model might unsurprisingly put the Dolphins in a similar scenario at the same position.
Joining Miami’s other litany of problems is the salary cap. The Dolphins will face one of the league’s most dire cap situations, starting approximately $55 million over the cap.
So a team that may have to pay its quarterback and to keep home grown talent such as Christian Wilkins, has to figure out how to get under the cap before it can even begin competing in free agency.
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“What I do know is we’ll be in a situation where we’re trying to get better,” McDaniel said. “And I think we were a better team and, if you specifically talk about offense, than last year.
“And that’s the point. There’s a lot of things we’ll look at that we’ll have concrete, actual, solid information on what we can do moving forward to get better.”
So the five-year rebuild process continues.