Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins

So Much Depends on Tua Tagovailoa's Development

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Rebuilds are supposed to take time, right?

That was Brian Flores' remit when he took the Dolphins job in 2019—to rebuild the team from the mismanagement of Adam Gase and a decade of institutional turmoil before that. That was the idea behind the Fish Tank. Flores and company were to jettison anyone of value who was not going to be part of the team's picture two or three years down the line. They would be hoarding draft picks and trying out new quarterbacks and instilling culture and philosophy. That's not something that happens overnight. In this chapter last year, we gushed about the culture Flores was installing and the philosophy Chris Grier was bringing to the front office—and we said that it wouldn't be reasonable for the Dolphins to go from having a top-five pick to reaching for the playoffs.

And yet, that's exactly where Miami found themselves at the end of last season: unfortunate to miss the playoffs at 10-6. It was the best record for the Dolphins since 2016, the first better-than-average defense since 2012, and their best overall DVOA since 2008. Beating Buffalo's backups in Week 17 would have seen Miami make the playoffs, but you can even paint that loss with a silver lining; maybe it was better to improve draft position to help build a long-term competitive team as the rebuild continues. We knew Flores had the Dolphins pointed in the right direction, but 10-6 in the second season? Even the most optimistic Miami fan would have had trouble imagining that while Tank for Tua was still all the rage.

We do need to splash a little bit of cold water on the 2020 Dolphins before turning the page entirely. They were a bit lucky to be in playoff contention at the end of the season, as their record slightly outpaced their underlying performance. Miami had 8.2 estimated wins, which takes into account things such as consistency and strength of schedule and performance with the score close. That's not a huge gap between expected and actual wins; it was only the sixth-largest...