MIAMI — First-year coach Brian Flores has been saying it since March and said it again Sunday: The Miami Dolphins are not tanking in 2019.
- Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores had to answer questions about the team's intentions following a spate of trades this weekend
- The Dolphins traded away veteran players Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Kiko Alonso this weekend
- The Dolphins have not made the playoffs since 2016
The claim sounded less convincing after Miami parted with three veterans in deals that netted mostly draft picks.
Even before the Dolphins swung the two weekend trades, they were widely expected to be among the NFL’s worst teams. The departures of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, receiver Kenny Stills and linebacker Kiko Alonso, who made a combined 137 starts in 2016-18 for the Dolphins, increase the likelihood they’ll bring up the rear this year.
The deals also make it more probable the Dolphins will go first in the 2020 draft, which fits neatly with the need for a franchise quarterback as part of the rebuilding project ordered in January by owner Stephen Ross.
So are they tanking?
“No, we’re not,” Flores said. “We’re going to try to win every game. It’s disheartening to hear people even say that. For a guy who respects the game, as much as the game has done for me, when people say that — they shouldn’t say it.”
To explain the roster purge, the Dolphins made Flores available rather than general manager Chris Grier. Ross has said little publicly in recent months about his team, but Flores said the owner is on board with the direction.
“He has been very supportive,” Flores said. “This entire organization is on the same page.”
That includes the players, the coach said, even if they’re dismayed that three longtime teammates have been traded.
“I understand there are relationships that are built,” Flores said. “But the guys in the locker room, I think they’re going to band together and play together.”
Miami completed the trade Sunday that sent Tunsil, Stills, a 2020 fourth-round pick and a 2021 sixth-round pick to the Texans for 2020 and 2021 first-round picks, a 2021 second-round pick, tackle Julién Davenport and cornerback Johnson Bademosi.
“This was something we couldn’t turn down,” Flores said.
He said the departure of Stills was about football and not politics. Stills recently criticized Ross’ support of President Donald Trump, and he has been kneeling during the national anthem for the past four seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality.
Alonso was traded to the Saints for linebacker Vince Biegel, who has yet to start an NFL game.
The deals leave the Dolphins with a passel of draft picks in the next two years, and a salary cap situation that will be the envy of the NFL. But that won’t help in 2019.
They are likely to enter the season with the NFL’s youngest team thanks to more than two dozen players under the age of 25. That includes five undrafted rookie free agents heading into the opener next Sunday against Baltimore.
In the wake of the recent roster shake-up, Flores and his staff must quickly decide on a replacement for Tunsil, one of the league’s best left tackles. The front-runner is Davenport, who started 15 games for the Texans last year and allowed 12 sacks, the second most by a tackle.
“He’s a good young player,” Flores said. “His best football is ahead of him.”