Miami Dolphins: Where Did it go Wrong?
The Miami Dolphins have not won a playoff game since December 30, 2000. This once proud franchise can’t seem to get it right over the past two decades. Sure, there have been some positive moments over that span. But, the NFL is a business and the bottom line is critical in business. The bottom line in the NFL is to put together a championship caliber team. Miami has not done that under several different regimes since that last playoff victory.
Miami Dolphins Since Last Playoff Win
That last playoff win followed the 2000 NFL season, it came in overtime against the Indianapolis Colts. Miami then traveled to Oakland to take on the Raiders where they would be shutout 27 to 0. The Dolphins have been shutout of playoff victories ever since.
Where Did it Go Wrong
2001 NFL Draft
Coming off the 2000 season, HC Dave Wannstedt thought that Dolphins were close. He figured that they needed to add to the defense to give Miami their best chance at getting over the hump. This was no surprise since Wannstedt had made his mark in the coaching ranks as a defensive coordinator at both the college and pro levels.
There were some rumblings that some people in the front office were interesting in bringing a new quarterback (QB) into the fold in the 2001 NFL draft. One of those QB names mentioned that the Dolphins had interest in was Drew Brees.
Wannstedt got his way and the Dolphins selected defensive back Jamar Fletcher with the 26th pick of the 2001 draft. Brees would be taken at pick 32 by the San Diego Chargers. It would not be the last time that Miami passed on Brees.
Ricky Williams Trade Revisited
Before you get out your pitchforks, yes I know Ricky Williams was a beast when he was on the field. But, the “when he was on the field” is a key part of that last sentence. Williams missed two complete seasons in his tenure with the Dolphins. One was marked as “retirement” and the other one was for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy in place at the time. The retirement year was in part because of Williams reportedly falling a drug test as well.
The Dolphins ended up trading 2 first round picks (2002 and 2003) for Williams. The 2003 pick was set as a conditional 3rd pick but could rise based upon how Williams performed in 2002. They also swapped later round draft positions. Well, Williams had an amazing season in 2002 as he put up 1853 yards of rushing as well as 16 touchdowns via the ground. The 2003 pick shot up to the first round.
While Williams put on amazing show at times, is giving up 2 first round picks for a player that missed two years of his prime a good value? He had 3 seasons of over a 1,000 yards rushing while he was with the Miami Dolphins. Williams greatness as a player can’t be denied. But, the value of the trade can be questioned. You can blame the NFL’s rules at the time, you can blame Wannstedt for running Williams into the ground, but the bottom line is the Dolphins did not get a playoff win with Williams. Yes, I’m holding him to the same status of QB here, because when you give up two first round picks for a player that means you think he is a franchise difference maker to get to the next level.
Wannstedt Out~ Nick Saban Hired
Wannstedt could not get it done with Williams being away from the team in 2004. The Dolphins started the season 1 and 8. Miami moved on from Wannstedt at that point, Jim Bates took over as interim head coach. At the end of the season, the Miami Dolphins under ownership of Wayne Huizenga, made a splashy coaching hire in landing Nick Saban out of the college ranks.
2005 NFL Draft
Saban was the one that was going to get the Dolphins back to their playoff winning ways, so we thought. Many thought that Saban would have his finger on college talent. The Dolphins had the second overall pick in the 2005 draft. Quarterback was a need of the Dolphins. There were two quarterbacks that were projected to be early 1st round selections. The two QBs were Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers took Smith with the first overall selection of the draft. Rodgers was still on the board.
Maybe it was because Saban was more familiar with SEC players since he had just been with LSU, but for whatever reason he passed on Rodgers. Miami selected RB Ronnie Brown out of Auburn with their pick. Yes, Brown had some moments with the Dolphins (Wild cat), but you had a franchise QB fall into your lap and you balked at the chance.
Bye Bye Brees….Again
After passing on Brees in the 2001 draft, the signal caller became available as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason leading up to the 2006 season. Surely, Miami would realize their previous mistake and pounce on Brees now! No, instead the Dolphins decided to trade a second round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Daunte Culpeper.
Years later Saban would claim he wanted Brees, so this is the reason he became unhappy as an NFL coach. But, we will never know who really decided to pass on Brees within the organization. All we know is that Brees was having shoulder issues and Culpeper had a knee issue. Brees reportedly failed a team physical. Keep in mind that he went on to start every game for the Saints in 2006 as well as perform at a high level.
Saban said he was not going to become the Alabama coach, but he did. Saban was out of the door after 2 seasons with the Dolphins. We thought that was a short tenure of being a Dolphins coach, but he was followed up by 1 year tenure. Ouch!
One and Done~ No, This is Not About a Playoff Appearance
The Cam Cameron season (2007) was the low point of my Miami Dolphins fandom as Cameron put up a 1 and 15 record at the helm. The one victory was an overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens. I celebrated that victory like Miami had won a playoff game since it came late in the season to avoid a winless season. Cameron’s one season needs no further discussion.
A side note about that Dolphins victory over the Ravens: I still get a laugh to this day when I think of how the late great Jim Mandich proclaimed his love for “Rich” Camarillo instead of Greg Camarillo as the play unfolded. If you remember that, I will put you in my Dolfan Hall of Fame.
Back to Business
After the abysmal 2007, Huizenga fired Cameron. He brought in Bill Parcells to head up the football operations. Parcells hired Tony Sparano (RIP) as head coach of the Dolphins. Parcells also named Jeff Ireland as general manager. Due to the awful record in 2007, Miami had the number one overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. They used it select OT Jake Long, word of the selection actually leaked prior to the draft that Miami had already agreed to a contract with the Dolphins. So, this pick did not come as a surprise.
Parcells has always liked big strong players, so going with help in the trenches was not out of his norm. Long got off to a great start in career, but he did not sign a second start contract with the Dolphins. Injuries took away from his performance even though he did not miss too many games in his time in Miami.
The Dolphins had the chance to take QB Matt Ryan at the top of the draft, but it is understandable why Miami went with Long. Outside of needing a QB, the general feeling was that Miami needed to get more physical. Long filled that checkmark. Ryan ended up having a solid career and had a Super Bowl appearance.
Sparano helped Miami have a great bounce back season in 2008 as they won the AFC East with an 11-5 record. They have not won the AFC East since. Chad Pennington had a good season at QB for the Dolphins, but Miami was one and done in the playoffs. Parcells would leave the keys to Ireland after departing 2.5 years into his Dolphins tenure. Parcells would later say that he did not get along with owner Steven Ross. Ross took 50% control of the team in 2008 then full control in 2009.
While Sparano was still the head coach of the Dolphins, Ross and Ireland had a private meeting with Jim Harbaugh to become the HC of the Dolphins. News broke and the private meeting became a public mess. Harbaugh chose to go to the 49ers to become their coach. Harbaugh would have been a great hire, but the attempt was done in poor fashion.
Miami had to enter the 2011 with a head coach that knew the owner had tried to replace him. Sparano and Ireland now had a strained working relationship. Well, as expected things went downhill as Sparano was let go during the season. Todd Bowles took over as the interim head coach.
2012 and Beyond
Ross and Ireland hired Joe Philbin after waiting for Jeff Fisher to decide between the Rams and the Dolphins. Fisher chose the Rams. For the record, losing Fisher was no big loss. In the 2012 draft, the Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill with the 8th overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft. It was Miami’s first time picking a QB in the first round of the draft since 1983 (Dan Marino).
Philbin would get fired after the fourth game of the 2015 season. Dan Campbell would take over as interim coach. So far Philbin is the longest tenured coach that was hired by Ross.
Tannehill much like Tua Tagovailoa is today was a hot topic among fans. Some loved him, others wanted him gone. He ended up getting a large second contract with the Dolphins, but would moved via a trade in 2019 to the Tennessee Titans in a move to free up salary cap space more than anything else as they explored the idea of looking for the next QB. Miami received a 7th (2019) and 4th round (2020) picks for the trade. Miami used the 2019 pick on RB Myles Gaskin and the 4th was used on OL Solomon Kindley.
Adam Gase Hired
The Miami Dolphins hired Adam Gase to become the head coach in the offseason of 2016. Gase had developed a reputation as a “QB whisperer.” He was hired to get the most out of Tannehill. Gase and the Dolphins made a playoff appearance at the end of first year despite several injuries including losing Tannehill for the playoff push. Miami was one and done in the playoffs again, but at this point there was some hope that Miami had found their coach.
Gase was gone after his third season with Miami. There were no more playoff appearances with Gase at the helm. Ross decided it was time to rebuild the whole team. Mike Tannenbaum was also let go at the end of the 2018 season. Tannenbaum had been in charge of football operations since 2015.
Chris Grier in Charge
Chris Grier had been with the Miami Dolphins since 2000, but he rose to the level of general manager in 2016. But, there is some speculation on how much authority that Grier had in terms of the teams decisions in player personnel. In 2019, Ross made it clear that Grier was in charge. So, I will go with 2019 as far as Grier’s decisions being judged.
Grier went and hired Brian Flores to be the head coach as is first major move as GM. Flores got the most out of untalented roster in 2019, in a season that many people were saying the Dolphins were a disgrace at how they tore down the roster to make it one of the worst in NFL history. Yet, Flores managed to get 5 wins out of that roster. So, they were not even the worse team in 2019.
Those wins came at the cost of dropping Miami to the fifth overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. This knocked the Dolphins out of the mix for Joe Burrow (Barring a blockbuster trade). But, 75% of Miami Dolphins were calling the 2019 season the “Tank for Tua” season.
Fans of the Dolphins got their wish when Miami selected Tagovailoa with that 5th overall pick. Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, and Jalen Hurts were all drafted after Tagovailoa in that draft. Herbert was drafted directly after Tagovailoa by the Chargers. Love was picked with the 26th pick of the first round by the Packers. While the Eagles, selected Hurts in the 2nd round. Time will be the judge, but question remains on if the Dolphins picked the right QB.
Tagovailoa will be playing on his 5th option unless he signs a new deal this offseason. Burrow, Herbert and Hurts already have signed large contracts. Love sat behind Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay until this season, yet he has a playoff win under his belt.
The Flores era like the Gase era ended after three years. This ending met with some turmoil that made national news in the sports world. There were accusations of tanking and tampering. The tampering investigation led to the loss of draft capital which was a 1st round pick in 2023 and a third round pick in the upcoming 2024 NFL Draft. The tanking accusations were unfounded. Flores thought that there was some racism involved in him not being hired by another team, so this made the news round for a while.
Grier remained and was tasked at hiring his second head coach. That coach was Mike McDaniel prior to the 2022 season. McDaniel has led the the Dolphins to two consecutive playoff berths, but no playoffs wins. He has been an important part in developing Tagovailoa as the QB has improved his performance over the last two years.
Tagovailoa did lead the NFL in some passing categories this year, but during the playoff push the entire offense performance fell off from where it was to start the season. We do not know what the decisions makers of the Dolphins really think of Tagovailoa. Publicly they say the plan is to have Tagovailoa be the long-term starter at QB. Actions speak louder than words, so it will be interesting to see if the Dolphins extend the QB’s contract this offseason. Or do they make him have another prove it season?
The Fans of the Miami Dolphins
Fans of pro teams are often overlooked, but they are the key to the NFL in being a highly successful business. If no one cared about watching pro sports there would be no mega TV deals or packed stadiums. No one would buy team merchandise. But, we do care.
The Dolphins long stretch of no playoffs wins leads to fans being upset. As long as they do not make personal attacks, they have every reason to voice their concerns over the direction of their favorite team. Them pointing out those concerns does not make them any less of a fan.
The Bottom Line
Grier, like all the others since 2000, has not got the job done. Making money is vital to the owners of course, but at the end of the day they all want to win. You do not spend billions of dollars with the desire to field an average product. Teams can be built through the draft, free agency, and trades so there are many avenues that you can use to end up as a playoff winning caliber team.
Grier needs to find a way to get the keys players back and add talent as well. If Miami does not win a playoff game after the 2024 season his seat should be flaming hot. As much as I like McDaniel, I think he will be gone as well if Grier is shown the door. A new GM would want to hire his own guy which is the correct way. No more half measure of firing coach and keeping GM who hired him. Or keeping coach and making new GM stick with him even if the new GM wants to go in another direction.
Miami needs a playoff victory is the moral to this BLOG!