By Dave Hyde
Sun Sentinel (TSN)
Well, the honeymoon had a nice run, didn’t it? Some summer fun. Some preseason hope. And who will forget the modest cheers the Miami Dolphins got coming out for that first game last Sunday?
Because since then, they’ve looked lost.
So completely, confusedly lost.
Not just lost on the field, as the staggering 59-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens showed. But just as lost off it as now safety Minkah Fitzpatrick wants out.
Consider: As draft night unfolded 16 months ago, Dolphins owner Steve Ross proposed trading down from the No. 11 draft pick. General manager Chris Grier reacted quickly, and loudly, why they shouldn’t trade the pick.
Fitzpatrick, a player they coveted, was available, Grier said.
And now Fitzpatrick wants to be traded. Now the Dolphins are allowing his agent to explore that idea, as first reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Now a building block on the Dolphins’ long walk from nowhere to somewhere sounds so upset over his role and coach Brian Flores’ ways that he’s had enough.
Lose a game? Sure, that’s what this season is about.
Lose a good, young player? That’s where the line is drawn on a painful season becoming a lost one.
The fact this spilled into public viewing takes it to another level of alarm. It’s one thing to ask for a trade behind closed doors. But it certainly wasn’t the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick or his agent that leaked this. They have too much invested. So it probably was another team he was being shopped in a trade. Why not? What better way to hit the Dolphins in mid-week?
“Things change quickly, we know that to be the case in this league,” Flores said. “We’ll just see how this thing shakes out. Right now, my focus is on Sunday.”
Flores, at least publicly, sounded open to that idea on Friday. The former New England Patriots defensive assistant noted how star defensive back Patrick Chung was unhappy in a similar role and left for Philadelphia before returning to the Patriots.
“We’re looking for Minkah to be playing on Sunday, looking forward for this team playing on Sunday.”
The difference would be Chung played four years in New England before leaving via free agency to Philadelphia. The Patriots, too, had found safety Devin McCoutry to replace him upon leaving. The Dolphins only have a handful of players worth building around. Fitzpatrick is one.
Even more, the Dolphins can’t really trade him. Who gives up on the 11th pick in his second year? There’s also little chance they’d get real value for him in the form of draft picks — and even less of a chance when you look at their draft history that they’d replace him with those picks.
It was odd Fitzpatrick only played 66 percent of the time in the opener. He was good to very good at multiple positions as a rookie last year. This new staff expanded his duties more to effectively put a 205-pound safety at linebacker in some form this year.
Was too much demanded by Flores? Maybe. That’s a question for the first-year coach. Does Fitzpatrick have a poor attitude? Maybe. That’s a question for the second-year player.
But the larger part is there shouldn’t be this fracture inside the team. Not between Flores and Fitzpatrick. Not in Week 2. You could understand if star cornerback Xavien Howard wants out. He’s wasting his prime. You could understand if Reshad Jones wants out. But he’s aged and injured and making $13 million this year.
Fitzpatrick is the kind of guy this franchise needs moving forward. This could have unwanted side effects, too. Alabama coach Nick Saban called Fitzpatrick one of his favorite players. One of Fitzpatrick’s good friends on that Alabama team was quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who the Dolphins certainly like.
Is it premature to wonder if Tagovailoa would block the Dolphins from drafting him? If he’d look at the situation of no line to protect him, questions across the roster and now Fitzpatrick doubting the very people he’d have to trust?
There is a short list of players who have gone that route. John Elway with Baltimore. Eli Manning with San Diego. Not many. But they’re quarterbacks at the top of the draft, just as Tagovailoa could be.
Here’s the most sobering thought of all: Ross was right. The Dolphins should have traded down, as Green Bay did for New Orleans’ No. 27 pick that draft and first pick in 2019. They would have had options, including drafting Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 32nd pick.
The worst part is the Dolphins might have drafted the third-best available defensive back with their pick in Fitzpatrick. San Diego took safety Derwin James at 17. Green Bay traded back up in the draft to take cornerback Jaire Alexander at No. 18. Both of them were stars as rookies.
Flores gets wide latitude with this roster and the big-picture blueprint for the rebuilding franchise. But he’s using up all that latitude. Good, young players shouldn’t be asking out in the second week of the season — which speaks of a team whose bad roster is compounded by ugly turmoil.
“I’m focusing on Sunday, that’s where I’m at,” Flores said.
Oh, right. Here come the Patriots.
A look ahead at Bruce Arians’ first year in Tampa Bay and a critical season for Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers.