Miami Dolphins LB Koa Misi deserves appreciation in his exit

Koa Misi back in 2012. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—This looks like the end for Koa Misi, and that will certainly be a difficult reality for him to accept.

The Dolphins placed Misi on Injured Reserve for the season and won’t have him for training camp when they get going Thursday morning. They won’t have him all year, actually, and it looks increasingly likely that his run with the team—and possibly his career—is finished at 30 because of an ongoing neck problem.

The fact that Miami can already reasonably rule him out for the season in July speaks to the severity of Misi’s injury and the danger of him attempting to come back from it. While it’s a crushing way to have his career taken away, it seems obvious that he’d be risking his long-term health by trying to play again.

If he wants to give it another shot, he’ll be doing it as a 31-year-old who underwent spinal fusion and hasn’t played or practiced in two years. That’s improbable and ill-advised. Miami coach Adam Gase said Tuesday he believes Misi will play again, but of course that’s what he’d say.

As far as his time with the Dolphins, which began as a second-round pick in 2010, it should be said of Misi that he always did everything he could to make this work.

That was evident from the start, when Tony Sparano and Mike Nolan asked him to play linebacker as a rookie after spending his collegiate career at defensive tackle and end. Misi was fine with it and played all 16 games, including 11 starts.

That move was driven by need. It was a bad defensive team that needed as many competent bodies as it could get on the field, even if they were out of position. Misi proved good enough to stay at linebacker the rest of his career, of course, and moved to middle for the 2014 season before returning to the strong-side spot.

At the end, when it would have been easy for the Dolphins to wash their hands of him after he missed 13 games last season, both sides did what they could to keep him in South Florida. Misi restructured his contract to play on a cheap one-year deal, and Miami was willing to wait as long as possible for him to make enough progress physically.

Misi withstood the instability played for five head coaches and five defensive coordinators, counting interim guys, and all of them seemed to like he offered on the field and in the locker room. Jarvis Landry was so enamored by his ferocity and toughness that he named his pit bull after him.

“He wants to be here and he wants to have a chance to compete,” Gase said a few months ago, when he was essentially asked why the Dolphins were still wasting their time with Misi. “If he’s healthy and able to contribute for us, it’s a big plus for us because he is a good player… The fact that the guy wants to be here and we’re gonna give him an opportunity to compete for a spot, I don’t see any harm in that. He’s a guy I like being around.”

The team enjoyed Misi’s face-first tackling style, which made him a big-time hitter but also played a part in his injury. The Dolphins were working with him to change his technique, but it’s hard to predict whether he could have maintained the same level of play while exercising such caution.

Prior to last year, it looked like Misi had plenty left. While he had occasional injury issues, he played 81 of a possible 96 games over his first six seasons and put up a career-high 78 tackles in 2015.

When Gase took over last offseason, his staff designed a package of plays specifically built for Misi at strong-side linebacker—something Gase regretted when the Dolphins lost him three games into the season.

This year, the Dolphins viewed him as something of a bonus. Even if he was cleared to play, he would’ve faced a significant fight to earn playing time with Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons on board, as well as second-round pick Raekwon McMillan and potential up-and-comers in Neville Hewitt and Mike Hull.

Despite that, Misi wanted to be a Dolphin. He always did, and if his health would have allowed it, he was ready to start from the bottom again this summer. It’s no wonder every coach that’s come through Miami’s doors was happy to see his face.

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