Dolphins head coach Brian Flores declared on Friday, “I have a good team.” What a difference one game makes, especially when that game was Miami’s 59-10 loss to the Ravens, featuring the most points and the most yards (643) the Dolphins have given up in their history. Brian Flores on Sunday: “We’ve got problems on offense, defense and special teams.”
The Dolphins are tanking, no matter how many times they insist they’re not, and this is what tanking looks like: a 53-man roster with a majority of players (27) still on their rookie contracts, including 15 players who had never appeared in an NFL game before. Ravens-Dolphins was the closest we’ll ever get to finding out the answer to that old chestnut about what might happen if a college powerhouse played an NFL team, and it was brutal. Miami allowed touchdowns on Baltimore’s first four possessions, and first six of seven. They allowed plays of 49, 47, 83, 33, and 60 yards, all before halftime.
But let no one ever say these Dolphins aren’t good at anything:
Tanking is like taking a Greyhound bus cross-country. Sure, it may eventually get you where you want to go, but it’s messy and unpleasant and uncomfortable, it stinks, the entire time you’ll be wishing you weren’t there, and not everybody along for the ride is going to make it to the end.
“It’s a loss that you don’t want to experience, that you don’t want to be a part of,” said center and team captain Daniel Kilgore, one of the few veterans on this team. He didn’t mean it like that—he meant it in the sense of playing better and smarter to make sure this doesn’t happen again—but plenty of other players are apparently having ideations of escape.
Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, multiple Dolphins players contacted their agents after Sunday’s season-opening blowout loss and directed them to attempt to engineer trades elsewhere. The players believe that the coaching staff, despite claiming that they intend to try to win, aren’t serious about competing and winning and by all appearances have bought into the notion that the Dolphins will take their lumps now in the hopes of laying the foundation via high draft picks for building a successful team later.
Though Tua Tagovailoa is an enviable draft prize, real, effortful tanking, like what the Dolphins are doing and appear to be doing successfully, comes with potential Monkey’s-Paw side effects. To be truly bad, a team has to give up on quality at most positions, meaning that not even a great draft or two is necessarily enough to patch all the holes in a roster and turn things around. And there’s always the risk that the stench of losing becomes stubbornly ingrained in a franchise and lasts a generation. There are more than a few examples of that around the league that I could point to, and that Dolphins fans should be terrified of emulating.
But to the fans, that’s the main thing about tanking, isn’t it? It sucks to watch. It means bad football and nothing to root for. It means finding other ways to spend your Sundays, perhaps with other teams. The Associated Press estimated that the stands in Miami were half-empty on Sunday despite the announced sellout—about 30,000 people had tickets for opening day and said nah, I’ve got better things to do.
They were right, but at least they had the choice. Let’s go to the Dolphins locker room to see how everyone in there is dealing with this:
Afterward, Flores told his players to let their utter despair “sink in.” Several of those players rolled their eyes when he said it, by the way, not buying the approach.
Things are only going to get worse before they get better. That’s how tanking works, by definition, but it’s also a threat.