It was all over for the Miami Dolphins after the trade deadline. They were willing to sell all of their credibility and goodwill to trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, despite the whole “Tanking for Tua [Tagovailoa]” hashtag in 2019. The No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft did not have a proper rookie offseason to acclimate himself to the NFL due to a worldwide pandemic, and rehab for a dislocated hip that required surgery.
Tagovailoa’s play at quarterback was erratic in 2020 and he missed six games, but he and coach Brian Flores did lead the Dolphins to the cusp of the NFL playoffs with a 10-6 record. Then Dolphins begin 2021 with one win followed by a seven-game losing streak. The Watson rumors from the spring resurfaced at the trade deadline, and Flores was all of a sudden being questioned about his job security.
It’s now Dec. 6, and the Dolphins have not lost a game since that question was asked, and the trade deadline passed. During this five-game winning streak the Dolphins have held all of their opponents under 20 points and beaten three teams by double digits, including the AFC North leading Baltimore Ravens.
Tagovailoa appears to have recovered from his most recent injuries this season — fractured ribs and a fractured index finger on his throwing hand — that caused him to miss four games. In his last four games, he has been one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL. Tagovailoa has completed 78 percent of his passes for 905 yards, five touchdowns, one interception, and he’s averaging 7.67 yards per attempt.
As impressive as the Dolphins have been for more than a month now, do remember that this team entered the 2021 season with the expectation to win. Expectations that could result in a disappointing season. Just two seasons ago, there was no way for the Dolphins to disappoint, because the expectation was that they were one of the worst teams in NFL history.
The Dolphins finished the 2018 season with a 7-9 record and decided to start a rebuild from scratch. That offseason they traded their quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, and a sixth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans and got a fourth- and seventh-round pick in return. They let pass rushers Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn walk in free agency, and then would later trade left tackle Laremy Tunsil and standout defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
A direct quote from Dolphins general manager Chris Grier following those two trades: “We know as the team was built right now, it wasn’t going to win a Super Bowl, much less compete for a playoff spot.”
That was Flores’ first season as coach and when the Dolphins Bye came in Week 5, they had lost their first four games by a combined score of 163-26. They would go on to lose their first seven games, but somehow finished 5-11. The Dolphins not only avoided a performance that would’ve been remembered for all the wrong reasons, they weren’t even the worst team in the NFL that season, and still got their guy, Tagovailoa, with the fourth pick in the draft.
They contended for the playoffs in the COVID season of 2020 with the rookie starting most of the way once he recovered from hip surgery. Then 2021 starts a bit slow. Tagovailoa misses time, but the majority of their losses are close. They’re not getting beat 59-10 one week and following it up with a 43-0 loss the next like in 2019. Now two years into this rebuilding project and it’s supposedly time to hit the hard reset button again?
That’s how bad organizations stay bad forever. There are times when change for the sake of change is necessary, but if that’s a team’s organizational strategy, that’s how they stay under .500 for more than half a decade.
Now that the Watson rumors have gone away and Miami’s starting quarterback is healthy, the future looks bright again. Technically the Dolphins could continue this run and put on a win streak even more impressive, and unlikely, than the one from the 2012 Washington Football Team and end up in the playoffs.
That would be quite a story, but it’s fine for them to be happy with what’s real. In two years they went from a potential 0-16 year, to a team with a solid foundation and a 10-win season in their pocket.
Maybe I don’t watch enough football, but that doesn’t sound like a reason to dump the entire franchise into the Atlantic a second time.