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The Miami Dolphins proved once and for all Sunday that they will not be making any effort to make the playoffs in 2012. Trading Vontae Davis to the Indianapolis Colts for a future draft pick is only the latest move that suggests the team has set its sights low ahead of the upcoming season.
After the 2011 season, the Dolphins were ready to make a splash and try to reload for the 2012 season. But early efforts to hire a marquee coach and acquire a top tier free agent quarterback failed miserably.
Jeff Fisher spurned Miami's courtship to coach the woeful St. Louis Rams, while Peyton Manning heard the Dolphins' pitch to come to Miami out of deference to his friend Dan Marino. Once the Dolphins struck out on Fisher and Manning, the team began moving to use 2012 as a season of cleansing so that general manager Jeff Ireland can reassemble a winning team for 2013 and beyond.
Ireland's first big move this offseason was to send Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall to the Chicago Bears for a pair of third round draft picks. Miami's biggest offensive weapon (really the only part of the offense that met expectations in 2011) was gone for peanuts (Miami turned one of those picks into TE Michael Egnew, the other will be used in the 2013 draft).
Having failed to bring Peyton Manning to Miami, Ireland signed a quarterback who did not play in the NFL last season, David Garrard, to compete for the starting quarterback against Matt Moore (last year's backup who ended up starting 12 games) and rookie Ryan Tannehill.
After Garrard fell out of the running due to knee surgery, Tannehill ended up winning the starting job. Only five rookie quarterbacks have ever won a playoff game, and even though the team liked him enough to spend the eighth pick of the NFL Draft on him, the odds are severely stacked against Tannehill succeeding right away in the pros.
He only started 19 games in college, being converted from wide receiver after his freshman season. Tannehill's preseason performances suggest he has a long way to go before being a competent NFL quarterback. Only a team with low expectations can have the confidence to trust its offense in the hands of such a green signal caller.
Then there is the Davis trade, which led one Dolphin to complain anonymously to the Sun Sentinel, "We're supposed to be getting better, and with every decision we keep getting worse." The Dolphins first-round pick in 2009 had fallen out of favor with management, but the move means the team will have to scour the waiver wire just to get enough defensive backs on its roster for Week 1.
Again, teams with realistic shots at the playoffs do not trade away potential starting cornerbacks for draft picks.
To be fair, the Dolphins were a 10-loss team last season with Marshall and Davis on the team (and backup quarterback Matt Moore starting). Teams that struggled as much as the Dolphins did in 2011 must make big shake-ups from time to time to become better.
But even in the best-case scenario, the Miami Dolphins will likely get worse before they begin to really improve. The 2012 season could be a very long one for Dolphins fans.
If there is one silver lining to the Davis and Marshall trades, it is that they give the Dolphins two extra picks in the top three rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. But even that has a huge caveat: the person who will use those picks (Ireland), is also the same person responsible for acquiring those two in the first place. And considering Ireland's track record in the draft, it is far from a given that he will be able to turn any extra picks into gold next year.