When the Miami Dolphins hired Brian Flores as a head coach in 2019, he and general manager Chris Grier had a plan.
They agreed to build a team from the ground up.
And that’s exactly what they still intend to do in 2021.
2019 was about stripping the team of all substantial contracts, veterans, and talent that wasn’t in the long-term plans. It was about acquiring quality draft picks for the front office, Flores installing a culture, but in the end, inevitably tanking because of the team’s lack of talent. Therefore, ensuring that the team finds its future quarterback in the draft.
The Dolphins stuck with that plan in 2020 when they drafted their franchise quarterback at No. 5 — Tua Tagovailoa— arguably the most-talented passer in that draft, a humble leader, and what many scouting; analysts labeled as a “winner.”
The Dolphins also used their 2020 free agency and draft selections to build their team’s trenches on the offensive and defensive sides. They also added pieces to collectively assemble a near-complete defense that turned out to be one of the best in the league this past season.
However, Chris Grier and Brian Flores still know their team-building plan isn’t complete. The path has not run its course.
And to stop short and not let their philosophical process to run its way through would mean the plan has gone astray. And a new plan would be put in place and need more time to be executed.
That is what will happen if the Dolphins trade for Texans’ star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 23, 2021
And it wouldn’t make sense to give up on the original plan when the original plan seems to be working (5-11 to 10-6, with multiple roster holes being filled in that short time), and could be one free-agency and draft period away from being executed.
Miami would have to give up on the draft by trading away their handful of quality picks for 2021 and 2022, say goodbye to the young talent that it brings, and the cheap labor.
Having Watson gives the Dolphins arguably a Top-10 quarterback with Top-5 talent. But the Dolphins will still need weapons to put around Deshaun, which means they will need to turn to free agency to acquire one of the league’s sexiest and most costly positions.
Miami would have to invest in expensive contracts and rely on their remaining cap space to build a team around Watson.
And we all know that’s not how you build a team in the NFL. You don’t build a team through free agency. You add affordable pieces, maybe a special player or two, but you don’t build an entire unit.
The Dolphins’ history of investing heavily financially in wide receivers hasn’t exactly worked the last 10 years.
— In 2010, Brandon Marshall was traded for and signed to a big long-term contract. On and off the field antics, his personality quickly led Miami to trade him away after 2 seasons.
— In 2013, the Dolphins signed Mike Wallace to be a major deep-threat on a long-term contract. He couldn’t find a connection with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Wallace quit on the team and was found sitting on the bench during the final game of the 2014 season. He had fellow receiver Brandon Gibson speak on behalf of him during the post-game press conference. Wallace was quickly traded during the 2015 offseason.
— In recent years, Kenny Stills was traded for, extended, then traded away to the Texans. He had his moments but never shined like he did when he was in New Orleans. And his political stance in early 2019 seemed to be too much for Stephen Ross and a growing distraction for a newly hired Brian Flores.
— Albert Wilson was signed in free agency in 2018, injured that year, and the Dolphins haven’t gotten much out of him since. Wilson decided to opt-out of playing in 2020 due to the pandemic. He is speculated to be released in 2021.
Chris Grier was around for all of those moves as the Director of College Scouting and as the Miami Dolphins general manager. He’s seen at close hand that approach doesn’t work.
If they trade for Watson, the Dolphins’ use of free agency would require them to go to after high-priced offensive weapons. And these offensive weapons (most likely receivers) would be costly. Some of these notable free agents would have cause for concern with either their caliber of play from this past year, durability, or their character. (I could get into an argument about adding free-agent running backs too. But to keep this article relatively short, let’s focus on the WR-talk. Recent history has shown us that running backs don’t tend to live up to their big-money deals.)
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 18, 2021
—Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin had his injuries in the first half of the 2020 season, causing him to miss 4 games. One of those injuries being a broken finger that required 10 pins that were later removed. Godwin also dealt with several dropped passes throughout the playoffs despite having a reputation of being a sure-handed receiver. Very talented, but these factors need to be considered when dishing out big-money to receivers coming to a new place.
—Fellow Buccaneer Antonio Brown has his personal issues and history. It looks like he is back to form and can still play, but who knows if his demons will find him again? Brown was able to put that all aside for a chance to win a Superbowl with Tom Brady. Brady and Brown have a reputation for having an extremely high competitive work-ethic and wanting to reach greatness. Brown must’ve respected this and was able to humble himself in Brady’s presence. However, Brown now has a ring that will boost his ego, and if he receives a substantial contract, that could enable him even further. If the Dolphins decide to pay big for his services (which I don’t believe they will considering his age and off-field history), who on the team has that Brady-like cache to keep Brown humble and in-check?
—Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is terrifically talented. But in a season playing in a broken offense, he was dancing on opposing team logos and causing a distraction leading up to the team’s playoff game against their rival Cleveland Browns. A game in which they imploded, lost and lost badly. Juju had a good game, but in a season where the Steelers’ offense wasn’t clicking, he didn’t need to add any more controversial attention to the team. That was selfish, Brian Flores wants team-first guys, and Flores avoids distractions. But outside of this year, Juju has usually conducted himself appropriately. So who knows?
— Texans WR Will Fuller has dealt with injuries throughout his career. Durability is his biggest concern. It looked like he put all that behind him in 2020 but then got hit with a PED suspension that caused him to miss games. In effect, the Texans lost their number-1 target. Fuller did an admirable job filling in for DeAndre Hopkins, who was moved to the Arizona Cardinals in a trade before the season. The soon-to-be free agent can be a WR-1 but has never completed a season in his career. The Dolphins already have major durability issues with their current receivers—DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Jakeem Grant.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 19, 2021
— Lions Kenny Golladay has grown to be a fantastic WR-1 but only played 5 games in 2020 due to a hip flexor muscle injury. People were in an uproar about Tua’s hip coming out of college but haven’t heard much noise concerning Golladay. Again, durability must be considered.
— Bengals WR Jon Ross— all the speed with all the injuries. Has only played in 27 games in 4 seasons.
Lions Marvin Jones, Colts T.Y. Hilton, and Bears Allen Robinson seem to be the safest bets.
But Jones seems like a role player, not a number-1 guy. The Dolphins have those.
And when it comes to guys like the physical Robinson and the speedy Hilton, the Dolphins could find similar players in the 1st round of the 2021 draft: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase or Alabama’s Devonta Smith.
The draft also has a fairly deep receiver class with speed. If Miami feels it needs to add even more depth to the position, it could totally do so. And with 4 picks in the first two rounds, is anyone going to convince me that the Dolphins can’t solve some or all of their glaring offensive needs on Day 1 and Day 2?
Why should the Dolphins spend tens of millions for a stud receiver in free agency when they can pay a fraction of that using the draft?
The Dolphins have roughly $28 million to spend on new players in 2021. Signing a receiver to a big-money deal lowers their cap space and could lead to possible cuts of other positions to free up money for that receiver and their draft class. The Dolphins can prorate bonuses to some current players to create a substantial amount of added cap space in 2021 to add Deshaun Watson and a high-priced receiver. However, this would cause higher cap hits for each of those current players for their remaining years. Essentially and eventually, this route breaks up the team more than it keeps it together. It isn’t a recipe for long-term success.
— DolphinsTalk.com (@DolphinsTalk) February 18, 2021
One of the things Chris Grier has stressed multiple times is keeping several good players over signing one great player. Grier, Flores, and owner Stephen Ross have also spoken of the importance of sustained winning over having one good season to have a losing season follow.
So manipulating the team’s cap, signing big-time weapons through free agency, and trading away draft capital to inherit Watson doesn’t seem to be in the Dolphins’ public line of thinking.
The Dolphins also publicly stated very confidently that Tua would be their starter in 2021. That was before the news of the disgruntled Watson. Front offices tend to change their mind for an established top-10 quarterback. However, the price has to be right and play relatively in the Dolphins philosophy in building a team with a sustainable recipe for winning in the coming years. In making a move for Watson and making major consequential personnel adjustments as an effect, it seems like a lot of added and extra work. It also makes the team heavily invest in players that they are not familiar with at close-hand.
It makes more sense for the Dolphins to build a young team around Tua Tagovailoa via the draft while sprinkling in free agency pieces. It’s affordable, the draft offers the receivers and running backs that Miami needs and the Dolphins have the ammunition to go after the missing pieces.
Why stray from what’s working and an easier path that is laid out for them to succeed?
And if they get an idea along the way of 2021 that Tua is not the guy, then at least the roster will only have 1 glaring hole left to fill— a quarterback.