Trust the Process.
The phase is most commonly associated with the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers after the team embarked on a five year journey from mediocrity to contention. The Sixers were a team that, since the turn of the millennium, were about as average as you could possibly be. The team boasted a .465 win percentage over the twelve years before committing to "The Process", only once winning a playoff series and never really serving as anything close to a legitimate contender.
The team committed significant resources to signing big free agents, such as big men Kwame Brown (2012) and Elton Brand (2008) with the hopes that slapping an expensive, accomplished veteran into the lineup would do the trick. It didn't work. And so a drastic new approach was implemented in 2013 -- "The Process". To keep it brief, "The Process" is a matter of compromising the team's quality of play by making economic decisions to stockpile picks and cash so that a complete and thorough reset can be undertaken.
Sound familiar, Dolphins fans? Since the turn of the millennium, the Miami Dolphins are a team that have been about as average as you can possibly be. The team boasts a .461 win percentage over the eighteen years before committing to their own massive reclamation project this winter, only winning double digit games four times since 2001 -- and not a single playoff win to their credit. The Dolphins, like the Sixers, committed significant resources to signing big free agents, such as DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Mike Wallace, LB Karlos Dansby and countless others...with the hopes that slapping expensive, accomplished veterans into the lineup would put this team over the top. It hasn't worked. And so Miami embraces their new drastic approach in 2019.
Tanking? Sure, you can call it tanking. But any head coach or general manager will tell you that the team on the field is going to try to win every game they play -- they're just so handcuffed by the talent acquisition timeline that they quite frankly stand no chance at all to do so.
Things will get significantly worse before they got better. It was true for the 76ers: the team regressed from from 34 wins to 19. And then 18. And finally 10 in 2015-2016.
Fast forward "The Process" to today? The Sixers enter 2019 coming off consecutive 50+ win seasons. For some perspective, the last time the Philadelphia 76ers won 50+ games in back to back seasons was 1984-1986, when the team was headlined by Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Moses Malone -- 4 NBA Hall of Famers. But at what cost? The author of "The Process", Sam Hinkie, wasn't able to see his vision through -- Sixers ownership got cold feet after the 2016 NBA season and Hinkie stepped down from his position after the team went 10-72.
Which makes the Dolphins' process such a dangerous proposition. The closest thing we've seen to "The Process" in the NFL came in Cleveland, where a similar timeline played out. The team regressed significantly as then GM Sashi Brown moved chess pieces all over the board to hoard valuable Draft capital and cash -- angling this team for a long-term play. But then, like in Philadelphia, Cleveland got cold feet. Brown was out after two years on the job and effectively committed career suicide -- blacklisted from NFL front offices for his unorthodox team building approach.
But guess what? Brown's philosophies served as the foundation for which the upstart 2019 Cleveland Browns are built. It was Brown's hoarded picks that helped Cleveland haul Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb within the first 35 picks of the 2018 NFL Draft. It was Brown's manipulation of the 2016 NFL Draft -- trading out of the 2nd overall pick to allow the Eagles to draft QB Carson Wentz -- that allowed Cleveland to draft Myles Garrett, TE David Njoku and S Jabrill Peppers (who would be a key piece of the team's 2019 trade for WR Odell Beckham Jr) all in the 1st-round of 2017.
The asset collection worked. And the age old question with Brown will forever be: "Would Sashi have gotten it right?"
We'll never know.
Here's what we do know: the Miami Dolphins have just finished their own Sam Hinkie deal. Hinkie kickstarted "The Process" by trading All-Star PG Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for a protected 2014 1st-round pick and 2013 lottery pick Nerlens Noel. What did the Sixers do with that 2014 pick? They, of course, traded it. Just as Sashi Brown traded the 2017 1st-round pick received from Philadelphia in the Wentz deal to Houston for yet another duplicate 1st-round pick in 2018 (that turned into Denzel Ward).
The Dolphins have traded their best asset in OT Laremy Tunsil, a 25-year old blind side left tackle with All-Pro potential -- landing a whopping two 1st-round picks and a 2nd-round pick from the Houston Texans in the process. Pair that with Miami's 2nd-round trade down in 2019 and multiple veteran player swaps this offseason and Dolphins GM Chris Grier has the Dolphins primed with 13 selections in the 2020 NFL Draft as of this point in time.
The team has jettisoned their leading passer (Ryan Tannehill), leading rusher (Frank Gore), leading receiver (Danny Amendola), best offensive linemen (Tunsil), two best pass rushers (Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn) and their leading tackler (Kiko Alonso) from 2018 this offseason without so much as a sure thing to replace any one of them. They're now the youngest team in football with an average age below 25. The team is scheduled to pick twice in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft and slated to pick twice in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, too -- already.
But the Dolphins cannot fully embrace the Hinkie/Brown "Process" without risking it all, primarily GM Chris Grier's career in football. They must attack the abridged version or run the risk of being run out of town -- even if their rebuild actually does work in the long-haul.
Which, to the surprise of some, can explain the Tunsil trade -- a deal that stunned Miami fans everywhere. Why give up a blue chip talent at one of the most important positions in football? Especially at 25 years of age? With perhaps the team's best wide receiver (Kenny Stills) used as a throw-in as well? The Draft capital certainly helps -- but Miami also needed to accelerate the decomposition process of the current team. This Dolphins team -- and GM Chris Grier, specifically -- can't afford to win 6 games in 2019 and compromise their asset collection in an effort to trade up for a quarterback next spring. Or even worse, miss on the top QBs of 2020 all together and push their timeline back for another season. The NFL has zero track record of severe regression over multiple seasons not being met with change.
The man whose head would sit upon the chopping block? Grier's. Owner Stephen Ross covets winning -- and he's willing to make this concession regarding the quality of the team's product in 2019 because Miami has constantly been embattled in mediocrity during Ross' ten year tenure as the owner. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again -- hence the green light for Miami's "Process". But Ross' burning desire to craft a winner wouldn't likely sit well with a trend line that features 7-9 in 2018, 6-10 in 2019 and 4-12 in 2020 (even if it ends with a pot of gold at the rainbow in QB Trevor Lawrence).
Miami already has a "free" lottery ticket at quarterback in Josh Rosen, the former #10 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Dolphins converted their 2nd-round pick into two 2nd-round picks (one in 2019 and one in 2020) with a trade back with New Orleans in April -- trading the Saints' pick to Arizona for Rosen. And while Miami seems to like Rosen, it doesn't seem like they're willing to hedge their jobs on his development into "the guy". They need someone they know is their guy.
And so Miami, in the name of job security, must skip the gradual descent into terrible. They must instead jump in feet first. Hence why Laremy Tunsil was traded. Hence why the Dolphins have committed to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter because of "body language" and "leadership" despite the fact that QB Josh Rosen outplayed him in every preseason contest (and a team scrimmage) this summer. It's almost as though the Dolphins looked their roster up and down two weeks ago and realized this team could be more competitive than what would be beneficial the build.
The master plan could feature Oregon QB Justin Herbert or Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa -- but the plan in Miami at this juncture appears to feature one of them. And should QB Josh Rosen take a big leap forward with his game after having some time to simmer and marinate? Two good quarterbacks is a problem the Dolphins haven't had since Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar shared the roster in 1996.
New Dolphins head coach Brian Flores wasn't lying when he said he wasn't going to tank. He was going to try to coach the Dolphins to win as many games as possible.
But the Dolphins long-term plans have different ideas. And so a deal that's "too good to pass up" comes down the road courtesy of the desperate, directionless Houston Texans -- who compromised their ability to add blue chip players until 2022 and gave it all to Miami -- and the Dolphins, led by GM Chris Grier, took the deal. The decision left fans and players alike scratching their heads, mainly because of the brave front that the Dolphins put up about trying to build and win simultaneously all spring. But this is a business for all involved -- and Grier's roadmap can't afford to take him into Year 3 looking for answers and clutching Draft capital and cap room. Some, like star cornerback Xavien Howard, understand. He was asked about Miami's master plan and the departure of Tunsil on Monday.
“I just say you control the things you can control. It’s the league. It’s a business. You’ve got to take it for a business, so just control the things you can control," said Howard.
“I don’t know the exact plan, but I’ve got to trust the process of what they’re doing – from (Coach Flores), upstairs, the front office, so just trust the process, I’d say.”
Trust the Process.