Despite all the uproar it created, it’s almost impossible to say right now that their controversial decision to trade running back Jay Ajayi didn’t make the Dolphins a better football team.
At the very least it has made them a better offensive football team.
When the Dolphins traded Ajayi to the Eagles after dropping a humiliating 40-0 decision to the Ravens just before Halloween, their offense was scoring an average of just 12.1 points per game.
In the five games they have played since then the Dolphins have yet to score anything less than 17 points in a game and their offense alone through that stretch has scored an average of 19.8 points per game.
That’s more than a touchdown’s worth of improvement and a big part of the boost has come from the area where the Dolphins subtracted what was easily one of the most talented players on the team.
We suggested shortly after the trade was made that this addition-by-subtraction phenomenon might take place and a look at how the running game has produced in the weeks since the trade occurred suggests it has.
Prior to letting go of Ajayi, who had started complaining a bit too much and a bit too loudly for a player who wasn’t buying into coach Adam Gase’s system, the Dolphins were averaging 77.8 yards per game on the ground.
They have run for an average of 96.2 yards per game in the five games since and that despite Gase’s decision to de-emphasize the running game and lean more on his backs as pass catchers.
The boost in due in great part, of course, to the fact the Dolphins have gotten some breakaway runs out of Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams, but those runs have been sparked by better play up front.
Gase said a few weeks back, after blasting his entire offense for what her perceived as a lack of commitment, that his offensive linemen had finally started doing their homework. Indeed, it seems they have.
ESPN analyst KC Joyner, who studies running attacks in great detail, told the Miami Herald this week that the Dolphins run blocking has improved markedly since the Ajayi trade.
Per Joyner, who has come up with a system to determine just how effective a team’s run blocking really is, the Dolphins line had 31.5-percent “Good Blocking Rate’’ through its first seven games.
Since then (though not including the grade it received last week againt the Broncos because that had not been calculated yet) their GBR as Joyner refers to it stands at 36.3-percent.
Now, that is still well below the league average of 41.4-percent, but it’s clearly a step in the right direction and there’s reason to believe the trend could continue to move in that positive direction.
Though they’ve lost right tackle Ja’Wuan James for the rest of the year, the Dolphins have Ted Larsen back at left guard. Meanwhile, they’ve been getting solid play from right guard Jesse Davis and right tackle Sam Young as well.
That has all helped to spark an offense that has simply performed at a much higher rate than it was earlier in the year, and whether it’s due to the dismissal of Ajayi or not really doesn’t matter.
The bottom line is that the Dolphins are finally starting to move the ball and score the way they were supposed to and while it’s too little too late to save this season, you simply can’t knock progress.
Dolphins cornerstone player for 2018?
It’s a pivotal year for the Dolphins, their head coach Adam Gase, their front office of Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier, and most importantly, QB Ryan Tannehill.
Miami is certainly taking a risk bringing back Tannehill off of missing all of 2017 with re-injury to his ACL. A risk, because they didn’t elect to make a play for a “quarterback of the future” in this year’s draft. This despite flirting heavily with the likes of Baker Mayfiled, and a player like Lamar Jackson being readily available for them, when they drafted at #11.
And, the Fins dealt away Pro Bowl wide receiver Jarvis Landry for not much in return, because they didn’t want to pay him huge dollars. And then, with getting rid of fellow Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to save on the salary cap, the clear star or leader remaining is Tannehill.
And Tannenbaum, Grier and Gase are banking that he will be back to his 2016 pre-injury play of 2016 that put the Dolphins in position to make the playoffs.
Gase has made it no secret that they have made their decision and have built around Tannehill. As we wrote about early last month, the third year coach has repeatedly backed his QB, who’s about to play for his sixth season. Gase saying to SI.com’s Albert Breer last month:
“Just being around him (Tannehill), this being my third year, the guy competes as hard as anyone I’ve been around, especially at that position. And it’s a good feeling as a coach when we’ve got him back out there.”
And they hope to have at the level where he was, when he injured the knee in the week 14 home game with Arizona two years ago. Through 13 games, he had his highest completion percentage (67.5%), yards per attempt (7.7) and quarterback rating (93.5).
There are new veteran faces on offense like RB Frank Gore, and WR Danny Amendola, who both have years of winning and post season experience to bring to the huddle.
Still, in most NFL locker rooms, the QB is the “face of the franchise,” the leader and the one most scrutinized.
And Ryan Tannehill will be that for this fall.
He’s the foundation, for at least the start of this year, that Miami will try to build their fortunes.
Dolphins moving eventually to new facility near Hard Rock Stadium?
It’s not as earth shattering as a huge free agent signing or hosting a playoff game, but the fact that the Dolphins are close to moving locations from their current training complex in Davie to a more convenient one next to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens is a big deal.
— Miami Herald Sports (@HeraldSports) July 14, 2018
From the Herald’s item, there is definitely some competitive interest in luring the Dolphins away:
Miami Gardens might defray the cost of security in and around Hard Rock Stadium to help seal the deal, and Miami-Dade County could amend the existing stadium renovation agreement that pays the Dolphins a bonus for hosting major events.
“Twenty-five years ago, the Dolphins moved their football headquarters from North Dade to Davie, and I’ve wanted them back ever since,” Miami Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan said. “When I heard Mr. Ross was considering a new $50 million practice facility in Broward, I knew we had to have a conversation about bringing this massive private investment to Miami-Dade. To me, it’s a perfect fit for our community and will bring a lot of economic activity to Miami-Dade.”
Added Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert: “From Top Golf to the Super Bowl, Miami Gardens has become a destination for world-class entertainment, and venues that attract visitors on a consistent basis are a critical component of economic development. Between the Miami Open and Miami Dolphins training camp, we can generate $100 million-plus in privately funded construction, hundreds of good-paying jobs, a significant boost to our tax base and new opportunities for residents to live, work and play. It would be great to bring the Miami Dolphins training facility back home to the 305.”
So, clearly there’s some “wooing” going on, and if Fins owner Stephen Ross is going to privately fund the new facility to the tune of at least $50 and maybe as high as, $75 million, then there is ample reason to try to lure them. Ross has already put over $500 million of his own money into a three year renovation of Hard Rock Stadium.
The Dolphins training adjacent to the stadium where they play or in the same complex area, is not uncommon. In the cases of Florida’s other two NFL teams: the Jaguars train adjacent to TIAA Bank Field, and the Bucs complex is across the street from Raymond James Stadium.
And, there are other examples of the Bengals, the Texans, and the Patriots who train either next to or in the same complex as where they play on Sundays.
The reality is that the new facility will not be ready for at least another two seasons, no matter where it’s located. Still, the convenience and new design will also be an asset for the Dolphins to attract players, too.
Now it’s up to the franchise to decide where and how soon, they want to build.
DeMarco Murray retired or still in play for teams like Dolphins and Jaguars?
On Friday afternoon, former Pro Bowl RB DeMarco Murray made an announcement on ESPN that he is “retiring” from the NFL. We put it in quotes, because we are skeptical that the 30 year old Murray is actually “retiring.”
Rather, he may have been using his opportunity as a guest analyst on the “NFL Live” show the last two days to essentially, create some buzz and perhaps an opportunity to sign on with a team later this month or as preseason gets underway.
First, here was Murray, who played for the Titans the last two seasons, making his decision, for now:
This Just In: Former Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray is retiring from football at the age of 30. pic.twitter.com/4S9tDP8C7r
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) July 13, 2018
Now, one of the teams that Murray had serious talks with was the Dolphins. However, that was back in March and eventually, Miami chose not to sign him. Instead, they inked veteran and Miami native, Frank Gore.
Back to Murray, he also took a visit with the Lions, and after the NFL suspended Saints RB Mark Ingram for four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, New Orleans contacted him.
However, the seven year veteran Murray refused to work out with a group of prospective running backs and the Saints.New Orleans elected to sign former Browns running back Terrance West.
An obvious “red flag” that has hindered Murray is his lack of 2017 production. Murray’s 659 yards in 15 games were the fewest of his career and his 3.6 average matched his career worst (his dreadful 2015 one year in Philly).
The other is that Murray may have “priced himself out” of an opportunity. He has been paid on average over $7 million the last three seasons with the Eagles and then, 2016-17 with the Titans. The Eagles originally gave him a five year $40 million dollar deal with a $5 million signing bonus in 2015.
The Titans traded for Murray the next off season and re-worked that deal giving him $12.5 million as a signing bonus to help their cap situation.
Now, despite what he announced, Murray could still have value to a team. In the Dolphins case, not only did the they sign Gore, but they drafted running back Kalen Ballage in April. So, unless Gore is injured, Murray is not as needed.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars have second year power back Leonard Fournette, who will be the primary ball carrier, but they let veteran Chris Ivory go and he signed with the Bills. Jacksonville also has backup T.J. Yeldon, who filled in well for a couple of games with Fournette either injured or on a one game suspension.
Still, Murray could be a veteran that helps the Jaguars, if they want and he would agree to a lesser deal than what he’s been making.
And there are obviously more teams that may have an injury during camp or preseason that could call Murray, too.
Then, we’ll find out if his “retiring” in early July is for real.
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