Studs & Duds - The Myths Of Tanking In the NFL

Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Huh? Are we sure this is right? The records are stating that the Miami Dolphins have won a football game in the year of 2019? That can't possibly be true, considering all we've heard for two months is that the Dolphins are intentionally losing football games, being terrible and mailing in each of their games in the name of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has been tabbed as the savior of the franchise.

Yeah, no.

The Dolphins came out in Week 9 of the NFL schedule and pounded the Jets, the actual game was much more lopsided than the final score of 26-18 would have you believe. And the collective football world has egg on their face -- within the last week we've heard former 49ers QB Steve Young lament that the Dolphins were putting their players in danger with their "tanking" in 2019, ESPN analyst Mike Greenberg rant that the Dolphins are "disgraceful" and several former NFL players, such as Dan Orlovsky, Marcus Spears and Joe Thomas call into question whether or not Dolphins management was calling in bad play calls from the box to help forward the cause of a tanked 2019 season.

None of that includes Rich Eisen stating September that Miami had "given up", Greenberg calling for someone to "do something" before the Dolphins' tanking became a problem, former NFL player Domonique Foxworth calling the Dolphins' 2019 strategy "unethical" and "morally reprehensible". Plus countless sneers, snickers and jokes from announcing crews covering NFL games across numerous broadcasts thus far this season. Heck, Tony Romo laughed out loud during his live call of the Chargers/Packers contest yesterday upon the news that the Dolphins had defeated the Jets in Week 9.

And yet the Dolphins are suddenly not even one of the three worst teams in football. Those honors go to the the winless Cincinnati Bengals, the New York Jets (who were dominated by the Dolphins on Sunday) and the Washington Redskins, who have embarrassed themselves with their handling of OT Trent Williams and rookie QB Dwayne Haskins alike thus far this season. And yet no one is griping about Cincinnati, New York or Washington ruining the integrity of the game -- and certainly no one is calling for the NFL's competition committee to step in and investigate.

Why is that, exactly? Mainly because no one in the mainstream media seems to understand the prospect of "rebuilding" or "tanking" -- either that or they don't seem to care and feel it is easier to talk about a bad team through a more negative perspective in the hopes that it goes viral or clicks better. This week's edition of Studs & Duds hopes to set the record straight on what it takes to rebuild your roster -- and why the Dolphins aren't doing anything heinous (and probably aren't done winning football games in 2019).

STUD - Buy Low, Sell High

The Dolphins bought low and sold high numerous times thus far in 2019 -- and the only ones that seemed to garner attention were the selling of OT Laremy Tunsil and DB Minkah Fitzpatrick. The only reason they got attention? The Dolphins are bad and got rid of their only good players! Well, hold on a minute. The prospect of selling high to maximize your assets (see below) is an important one. And that's exactly what the Dolphins did. They took two players that were invested as 1st-round picks in 2016 and 2018, got a combined 4 years of service out of them and then flipped them for three 1st-round picks and 2nd-round pick -- all because the Dolphins hit reset on their franchise life cycle and it was time to go back to square one.

Paying Laremy Tunsil and using his physical prime while your team isn't ready to compete helps provide stability but it doesn't help you build or grow the core of your team together. 

The Dolphins bought low by trading down in the 2019 NFL Draft's second round before trading that pick for QB Josh Rosen, a former top-10 overall draft choice. Did that risk work out? No, it doesn't appear so. But Miami swung the bat on a greatly diminished cost and tried to skip the line for a quarterback. Considering many in football endorse the idea of drafting a quarterback every year until you hit, a late 2nd-round pick for a former top-10 overall selection with reduced guaranteed money sure seems like a bargain.

Buy low, sell high.

DUD - Try To Lose All Your Games

This is just lazy.

Well, they're committed to being bad this year so they must not care about winning any football games. 0-16 or bust.

What's sad? This thought process has polluted a great deal of Dolphins fans across the country -- and instead of the fanbase celebrating the victory over the Jets, which is an accomplishment against a more physically talented unit, Dolphins fans everywhere wrung their hands over a win. Miami will never be in position to draft Tua now! Except they will be -- but again, more on that momentarily. To assume that any team will make the organizational commitment to lose all of their games is, ah...Lame? Laughable? Ludicrous? Take your pick. Professional athletes -- especially in the contact sport of football, aren't about to sign away a year of their playing careers to martyr themselves for the greater good of the organization in life after they're done playing.

STUD - Rig The Roster So Lack Of Talent Handcuffs Ceiling

So how do you strike a balance? But making economic decisions to handcuff your roster and ensure the team isn't good enough to win more than a handful of games, at best. And that's exactly what the Dolphins did. QB Ryan Tannehill? A modest starting quarterback in the NFL -- gone in the name of salary cap savings and starting over. DE Cameron Wake? Allowed to sign elsewhere because he's an aging talent and Miami wants to brace for the future? DE Robert Quinn? Underperformed in Miami and given an egregious contract. LB Kiko Alonso? Didn't mesh with the new coaching staff -- probably safer to part ways. OT Laremy Tunsil? The Texans literally surrendered a king's ransom (Miami got more for Tunsil than the Jaguars got for Jalen Ramsey -- a better player at a similar position of importance). RB Kenyan Drake? He's an expiring contract this offseason, either get something for him now or get nothing for him later.

DB Minkah Fitzpatrick is the lone exception. The Dolphins wanted him to be a part of the future here in Miami -- but Fitzpatrick took one look at Miami's 2019 forecast and decided he wasn't willing to put up with that situation and simultaneously play out of position...and so he forced Miami's hand. Ironically, the Fitzpatrick trade was the straw that broke the camel's back for many in pounding the table in offense to Miami's approach. But if you had a player who decided they didn't want to be on the team anymore, what is a good way to handle it? Either strong-arm them or look to cut your losses and maximize your value.

The Dolphins will get a comparable pick back for Fitzpatrick versus the one they spent on him after a year and two games of high promise (and missed tackles).

DUD - The Players & Coaches Are In On The Tank

"Uh yeah...Flores called in Cover-Zero on 3rd and 20 to ensure the tank lives on!"

When it is said sarcastically, it can provide some light humor in the dark days of a low-win season. But to seriously assert it? I'd encourage anyone who seriously feels that is a real life thing that has happened this year to walk into a Miami Dolphins' press conference and ask a question suggesting such to Brian Flores -- directly to his face. Flores has coached with passion this year. He's faked field goals in pursuit of touchdowns. Ran fake punts to extend drives. Gone for two-points and a win against Washington. Kicked surprise onside kicks on more than one occasion.

Flores has been in hot pursuit of a win for a month now. And Miami could have (should have) beaten Washington. Could have beaten Buffalo. Could have beaten Pittsburgh. And did beat New York.

The reason they didn't? The talent isn't there -- and that's by design. But to suggest Dolphins players or coaches intentionally bombing the season is laughable at best. Watch Miami play two quarters of football and it is clear as day these guys are playing their asses off.

STUD - Accumulate Assets To Maximize Flexibility

"Well now the Dolphins are screwed," you might say. They've played their way out of Tua Tagovailoa, the mob will insist. Here's the thing: no they haven't. Because there are two quarterbacks worth your attention -- Tagovailoa and LSU's Joe Burrow. Both is a prized possession and potential franchise quarterback. Miami's competition for the top pick included Cincinnati (who needs a quarterback of their own) and New York (Sam Darnold), Washington (Dwayne Haskins) and Atlanta (Matt Ryan). Sure, we just saw Arizona conduct an about face on a quarterback -- but that was a historical decision that the NFL has never once seen before.

If Cincinnati gets the top pick, let them take their passer. Miami's coaching staff is proving to be a strong group that can help develop numerous talents -- there's no do or die pick. And if Miami doesn't fall second in the order? That's why you trade Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Because the Dolphins have more ammunition than anyone else in the football world. They can trade up from a top-5 pick into the two-hole with little issue at all, and can replace the assets traded away to move up by trading down with their other surplus picks.

Resetting your organization's life cycle isn't about losing games -- it is about pooling as much in draft and cash assets as humanly possible. And the Dolphins have done it as well as anyone in recent history with their five 1st-round picks over the next two years and three additional 2nd-round picks, as well. Trade up, trade down, add extra assets for years to come and play the draft game courtesy of volume...that's how winning is done in a rebuild. Miami can do whatever they want in April 2020, sans pull the Bengals off the top spot. And even then, depending on who the Bengals want, Miami still might be able to strike a deal and still have more picks than the average team.

So don't write these Dolphins off because they've won a game. Instead, respect them. Because for two months, the collective football world has made them the butt of jokes regarding tanking, incompetence and lack of effort. A 26-18 victory in Week 9 for a team that is supposed to be the worst in NFL history based on their September start is hardly the mark of a team that's given up or phoning in bad play calls from the owner's suite. Rather it's the mark of a team that's ready to serve up a whole lot of crow on this first Victory Monday. And just watch -- it won't be their last of the year, either.

Written By:

Kyle Crabbs

Director of Content

Director of Content & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Former NDT Scouting Overlord.