ARLINGTON, Texas--If this were college, the Miami Dolphins would be your homecoming game.
Homecoming is a scheduled W -- playing a patsy guarantees a day of celebration for your students and alumni returning to campus.
But this is not college. This is the NFL -- yet the Dolphins are indeed a patsy.
For someone who has spent almost five decades reporting on the NFL, that saddens me. The Dolphins are a storied NFL franchise -- the only team in history to go undefeated and the first AFC team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. This is a team that handed the 1985 Chicago Bears their only loss and just nine months ago handed the New England Patriots one of only five losses on their way to yet another NFL championship.
This is a franchise that gave football the No-Name Defense, Larry Csonka and Dan Marino. A franchise that gave football the game’s all-time winningest coach in Don Shula… A franchise that was so obsessed with winning that it hired first Jimmy Johnson and then Nick Saban to in attempt to claim more Lombardi Trophies…
But much has happened in these last nine months. The obsession with winning is gone. Since the end of the 2018 season, the Dolphins have shed their roster of their top passer, their top rusher, their two top wide receivers, their two top pass rushers, their top tackler and their best offensive lineman.
Needless to say, I wouldn’t want to be a Dolphins’ season-ticket holder.
The NFL gave Miami a scheduling break with its first two games at home where the heat and humidity are always an early-season advantage for the Dolphins. Some advantage. Miami fell behind Baltimore 41-10 at halftime of the season opener on the way to a 59-10 defeat.
In the second week, the Dolphins failed to score in 43-0 loss to the Patriots. After that game, Miami accelerated its fire sale by trading away safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the 11th overall pick of the 2018 draft, thus creating a gaping hole in a secondary already devoid of playmakers.
It was more of the same in Week 3 as the Dolphins hit the road for the first time. Miami again failed to score a touchdown – that’s 10 consecutive quarters now without a TD – in losing Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys 31-6.
The Cowboys, like the Ravens and Patriots, are a Super Bowl contender. The Dolphins are not – not with a roster that includes 33 players with three years or less experience. Fourteen of them are starters, including the entire defensive front seven – a front seven that was gashed for 235 rushing yards by the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott and rookie Tony Pollard both rushed for 100 yards against the Dolphins.
The 2019 season is clearly the downside in Miami’s gutting of its roster. The upside is 2020 and going forward. The Dolphins now have three first-round picks next April and two seconds. They also have two more first-round picks in 2021 and two more seconds. The obsession is now rebuilding.
The Dolphins are the clear favorite for the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. That should deliver the key piece in this rebuilding project – the franchise quarterback. But that’s not going to make life any easier this fall for Miami’s first-year coach Brian Flores or the team’s season-ticket base.
Rebuilding is painful. So is losing.