The NFL season is entering only its second week, but I’ve got to tell ya, it hasn’t disappointed, as there were so many cool moments that – for a football nerd like me – were great to see.
Yet, after watching and analyzing all 16 games from Week 1, there’s still one scene that sticks out like a sore thumb: the waves of empty, aqua green seats during the second half of the Dolphins’ 59-10 destruction at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium.
Halftime is over and yet still some seats available. pic.twitter.com/bLB1oTW7Dh— DEC Management (@davidcanter) September 8, 2019
I’m not blaming Dolphins fans for bouncing early. Hell no. Their team was getting steamrolled 42-10 at halftime and they live in beautiful South Florida, where beaches, nightclubs and premium seafood were only a 30-minute drive away. (Even safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a first-round draft pick in 2018, appears to want out as ESPN reported that he was granted permission to seek a trade.)
It was there, in that moment, that I fully realized how miserable this season is going to be for Dolphins fans. I knew this team was going to stink, but did I think they would be historically bad, especially in Week 1, when hope reigns supreme in all NFL cities? No.
After the way the Dolphins got trounced, suffering their worst loss in franchise history, it’s clear that things in South Florida are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Offensively, Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback, and good luck getting a read on second-year pro Josh Rosen’s upside behind an offensive line in flux after general manager Chris Grier (smartly) traded away Laremy Tunsil for a bevy of premium picks.
What’s more, the Dolphins might be even worse defensively, where they surrendered an embarrassing 265 yards on 46 carries Sunday, numbers that would even make the 2008 Detroit Lions — who have the worst rush defense of the past 12 years by surrendering a bloated 172 yards per game — blush.
That historic Lions team was the first in NFL history to go 0-16, and with the Dolphins being the early leader in the clubhouse as the franchise with the best odds of repeating that feat in 2019, it’s hard not to wonder if this team’s general suckitude is all by design, similar to the Sashi Brown-led Browns of six years ago and the “Trust the Process” Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA.
The Dolphins deny tanking, of course, but by dealing Tunsil, one of the league’s best young left tackles, a few weekends ago and shipping out several other solid veterans over the past month, it looks like the recently promoted Grier and new head coach Brian Flores are well on their way to earning the top pick in the 2020 draft.
In a vacuum, that’s OK. Because now more than ever, you can justify the end — landing a star quarterback through the draft — is worth the means. The NFL is a passing league, which means the importance of having a premium QB1, someone who can raise the level of his teammates, has grown, too, and this year’s draft figures to feature at least two franchise quarterbacks in Alabama lefty Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Tagovailoa looks like a Steve Young clone while Herbert’s combination of size, arm strength and athleticism routinely make NFL scouts gawk like the first time Jack Napier saw Batman. Both players would be worth a tank job, and Miami should have their pick of either in April.
Some will make the argument that tanking raises the hazard level for players but I disagree. These are professionals being paid to play for a living, and football is far less violent than it was even 10 years ago since the game is officiated differently. While some Miami veterans might start protecting themselves during a lost season by making Deion Sanders-like on-field business decisions, other less-established players will keep playing hard, sensing an opportunity to get quality tape and a payday down the road.
Yet, there’s one problem for Grier and Flores, and it’s a big one: It’s possible that they may have done too good of a job stripping this roster down. It’s one thing to be bad, but it’s another to be embarrassing. Sunday’s result was unacceptable, and if the Dolphins don’t at least show improvement this year, it opens the door for team owner Stephen Ross to make changes.
There’s a history of tanking teams doing just that. Both the general manager (Sashi Brown) and head coach (Hue Jackson) of the Browns were broomed out before they could reach the end of the rainbow, while the same can be said of the GM of the 76ers (Sam Hinkie).
Meanwhile, the 76ers’ coach during the “The Process” (Brett Brown) is still hanging on following a successful rebuild, but there’s increasing pressure on him to deliver after their conference semifinals loss in May.
Add in the fact there’s not a professional sports league in America where coaches and executives generally have a shorter rope than the NFL, and yeah, for Grier and Flores’ sake, I hope:
a) They start playing a little better.
b) Ross is ready for the impending pain that will soon come as the losses pile up, the late-night TV hosts start making jokes and season-ticket renewals stagnate.
The good news for Dolphins fans is that either way, there is hope at the end of the rainbow, provided Miami lands a franchise quarterback in April.
In the meantime, all involved will simply have to ready themselves for the realization that the incriminating sea of empty aqua green seats we saw Sunday will only grow between now and then.
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