A funny thing happened to the Miami Dolphins in the 2019-20 season: They exceeded expectations. In their first year under head coach Brian Flores, Miami went 5-11 in the regular season. Many prognosticators would’ve been satisfied with a 0-16 finish, yet the Phins defied all expectations. That resilience fostered hope for a young franchise, leaving many wondering if Miami will continue to exceed expectations entering next season.
Miami took a proactive approach to securing the top selection in the 2020 draft. The team traded 2018 first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, after the star safety complained about his usage and role in the new defensive system. That move came weeks after Miami shipped star left tackle Laremy Tunsil — and wide receiver Kenny Stills — to Houston for a bounty of picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft. With no bonafide stars on the roster, it seemed that the Dolphins would fulfil their preseason projections.
Through resolve and tenacity, the Phins established a new culture… despite the criticism from the team’s facility. After losing the first seven games of 2019, they scored their first win against the New York Jets. They followed up that momentum with a road win against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10. Pundits and analysts applauded Flores & Co. for fighting through what was projected to be a lost season. Yet, Miami was subject to further chiding for being competitive in a year where they were unlikely to be a playoff contender. Losing down the home stretch would improve the likelihood of securing a coveted spot within the top five of the NFL draft. The rationale speaks to the idea in the NFL that having a bad season to get a high pick in the draft is better than being stuck in the middle of the pack. In the end, Miami averted draft mediocrity by locking themselves into the fifth spot in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The inspiration and goodwill earned in the regular season could go to waste if the team didn’t nail the draft… especially after depleting their roster of malcontents and aging veterans. Because of their aggressiveness on the trading block, the Dolphins had a huge stake in draft weekend. The Dolphins entered the 2020 NFL Draft with plenty of capital, thanks to not landing the first overall selection. The South Florida franchise had a chance to add plenty of potential and fill many needs throughout the roster with their 10 selections. It looks like they delivered, because the Phins’ core is set for seasons to come.
The biggest need for any team that finds themselves near the top of a draft is finding a franchise quarterback. Throughout the regular season, the motivation for Miami’s ‘tanking’ the 2019 season rested on a scenario where they would select Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Considered a sure-fire prospect, with a favorable comparison to New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees, Tua was supposed to be Miami’s savior coming out of college. But then he suffered a fractured and dislocated hip in a game against Mississippi State. The severity of the injury left many wondering whether the QB prospect would regain the ability to walk, let alone play football at an elite level.
After a successful surgery and significant progress in rehab, Miami felt comfortable with making Tua the face of the franchise. Tua signed a fully guaranteed $30.28 million deal for four years with Miami, with the team holding an option for a fifth year. Needless to say, the Dolphins believe they’ve found their franchise pivot. Miami provided insurance for their young slinger in the form of fellow first-round selection, offensive tackle Austin Jackson. They then took a chance on Noah Igbinoghene to conclude the third pick in the first round. Six rounds and seven selections later, Miami finished the draft with a revamped roster. Make no mistake, the success of the 2020 NFL draft for the team boils down to Tua’s career arc.
With Tom Brady now calling Tampa home, the Dolphins have a realistic chance of winning their first AFC East title since 2008 — also the last time a team other than the New England Patriots won the division. The foundation has been laid for Miami to become a playoff contender.
The Dolphins didn’t give up when no one would’ve blamed them for doing so. Instead, they fought their way to respect to become one of the more intriguing teams in the league. This season, it may be time to take the Dolphins seriously.