Miami Dolphins Headed Into Offseason With Two Choices Of How To View Themselves

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — When it was over, Miami Dolphins players walked up that tunnel at Highmark Stadium where so many of the franchise’s seasons have gone to die. Chris Grier stood just outside the team’s locker room waiting for each player to go in.

And before each player entered the hushed locker room, the Miami general manager shook hands with or patted each on the arm or shoulder, acknowledging the effort he’d just witnessed.

The Dolphins had just lost a 34-31 playoff game to the Buffalo Bills.

The team’s season is over.

So the Dolphins can now choose two different prisms through which they view themselves.

Zach Sieler of the Miami Dolphins celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter of the game in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Dolphins Have Enough Talent To Compete

They can look at the season that just ended and think next year will be brighter because, hey, 2022 wasn’t too bad. The club finished 9-9 and made the postseason and gave the homestanding Bills all they could handle despite the fact Las Vegas had them as 13 1/2-point underdogs.

The Dolphins can look at this game that rookie seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson started and logically argue if Tua Tagovailoa had played, things might have been different.

Or …

The Dolphins can look at what actually happened Sunday in the full context of reality and history. They can understand they haven’t won a playoff game since January of 2000 and understand Tagovailoa has durability issues.

And they can realize they remain on the same mediocrity treadmill they’ve been on for 23 years.

I know coach Mike McDaniel and Grier will look at things primarily through the first prism. That’s what their words and actions after this game suggested — Grier proudly lifting up the players for a good effort in coming close, and McDaniel for committing to some more of the same for the future.

The question remains, however, how owner Stephen Ross will see this team in the coming days and weeks. The question remains how clearly Ross remembers his own words from December 2018. And how he applies those words to his franchise now.

Let’s address the first part first:

Head coach Mike McDaniel of the Miami Dolphins reacts during the second half of the game against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Mike McDaniel Says Dolphins Committed To Tua

Immediately after the game, McDaniel confirmed a report that said the Dolphins were committed to Tagovailoa for 2023. And that’s like reporting Tagovailoa has two legs, because, duh.

Tagovailoa is signed for next year on a relatively inexpensive rookie deal and just had a good season in which he showed progress from his two previous years.

It would be ludicrous for the Dolphins not to be committed to bringing Tagovailoa back next season.

“You guys know how I feel about Tua and that hasn’t changed at all,” McDaniel said, confirming the ESPN report. “I see, I think we all see, him as the leader of this team and when it’s appropriate for him to lead the team, I will jump on that opportunity.

“He’s a great player with only improvement in front of him as well. We’re talking about a 24-year-old quarterback that I think when I signed up for this job, I spent six months trying to convince people that he was good.”

So this team that came within 5 total points of the Bills in three games this year is set to run it back with their young starting quarterback next year. But, remember, that’s prism No. 1.

The other view of the quarterback situation is Tagovailoa comes back but the club doesn’t commit any big money to him in the form of a contract extension.

Because doing so commits to a player with durability issues.

And because giving Tagovailoa an extension means the club may not be able to afford an accomplished veteran quarterback that can win in Tagovailoa’s absence.

Prism No. 1 provides an easy headline that all is well and Tua is coming back.

Prism No. 2 recognizes Tua’s had two concussions this season. And a third next season might mean an extended stay on injured reserve — which demands a good alternate option.

Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins celebrates his successful two point conversion with teammate Jaylen Waddle during the second quarter against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Highmark Stadium. (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Which Direction Are Dolphins Heading?

That second prism is all about a contextualized view of the franchise. That’s really what is required because this franchise is in trouble with no Plan B at quarterback. It would basically find itself where it was after before 2018 when Ross made a course change.

I remind you the Dolphins already are right where they’ve been for 23 years. They’re often good enough to compete, as they did Sunday. But they’re not actually good enough to succeed in the postseason.

Ross vehemently disliked that situation in 2018. It was the reason Ross gave the order to dismantle the roster.

“Basically, the decision was really made as I looked at it and seeing that … we’re no further along than when I really bought the team,” Ross said before his reset began in December of ’18. “We’ve been operating under a philosophy that we had a good young roster and it needed maybe free agents and draft choices and we’d be very competitive.

“To keep operating under that philosophy would be like the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing and really expecting a different result.”

Five years later and the results are not different.

Even the acknowledgment of a moral victory outside the locker room isn’t going to change that.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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