Chris Grier began in pro football with Bill Parcells, and so when asked if the Miami Dolphins’ 9-9 record accurately reflects his thoughts on the season he went right to Parcells’ great line about, “You are who your record says you are.”
“It is what it is,” the Dolphins general manager said Monday on the first day of Miami’s offseason.
It was a fun year, an entertaining product. And Grier seemed to start his answer by saying a .500 record and playoff berth wasn’t enough in the way Miami Heat president Pat Riley said after coming a bucket short of the NBA Finals: “I’m not into warm fuzzies.”
But then Grier went on.
“We had a year — we haven’t had injuries like this since probably 2017,” he said. “Maybe that was the last time we were this ravaged by injuries. We finished where we were, but we got to the playoffs and had a chance to win a playoff game versus one of the best teams in football.”
That’s the way a lot of people see it, the Dolphins injuries submarining their hopes. There’s good reason to that, too, when you go chapter and verse down the injury list starting with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, left tackle Terron Armstead and a secondary that had more bodies missing than available at times.
This is an offseason to look at architectural and strategic issues for the Dolphins. The strategic ones came out again Sunday as the team that finished last in the league in rushing attempts had a rookie quarterback throw 45 times against 20 runs.
Coach Mike McDaniel is smart enough to find more balance in the offense this winter. The architectural issues, though, are part of this team’s calculated philosophy. Tagovailoa and Armstead came to the Dolphins as injury risks, the way their careers worked.
Armstead, for instance, missed an average of five games for nine seasons in New Orleans. But when first-rounder Austin Jackson didn’t work out at left tackle, Armstead was a free-agent buy by the Dolphins. He missed four games this year and didn’t practice since September. Is that bad luck? Or just what you’d expect to happen?
This is important as this 9-9 train moves forward, because a central tenet to hope is they’ll be healthier this coming season. They don’t have a first-round draft pick and won’t have crazy money to spend in free agency like last year. Their roster is mostly in place starting with Tagovailoa.
“He’s our starting quarterback,” Grier said. “I don’t know how we can say it any more clearly.”
Everyone hopes Tagovailoa is healthy next year, and his career goes wherever his talent takes him. But there’s a larger story of the Dolphins’ roster building at work through this massive, four-year process.
“I think you can’t be scared with [injury] stuff,” Grier said. “Talk about Terron. He’s a Pro Bowl left tackle and the impact he had with us in terms of leadership and what he did on the field for us.
“Raheem [Mostert] is another guy people talked about being hurt and had a career year and everything he had done in terms of leadership and stuff again. If you’re scared — like Bradley [Chubb] again. He’s another one that people said was a good player and good person.”
He brought up a player, running back Curtis Martin, who his respected father, Bobby Grier, drafted while in New England’s front office. Martin didn’t finish a season in college. He became a Hall of Fame talent.
“I wouldn’t want to be the GM that took Frank Gore off my board,” said McDaniel, sitting beside Grier, of the San Francisco great running back.
Great players. Great careers. Martin also was a fourth-round draft pick and Gore a late-third-round pick due to injuries. So the issue isn’t really of taking players with an injury risk as much as the level of investment in them.
Tagovailoa was the fifth pick in the draft. Armstead was a $72 million contract. You can see the talent in each. But you’ll have to hold your breath and cross your fingers that they’ll be playng next January in a manner they struggle to this January.
The Dolphins, again, had a fun and entertaining season. But they are who their record says they are, just as Grier’s mentor put it. Parcells had another line, one he’d use whenever someone would start to explain away a year’s shortfalls in a manner you hope isn’t at work here: “You can always pick out excuses, one for every year if you want.”