DAVIE—The Dolphins have heard this criticism before, and it’s one of the most biting, frustrating things that can be thrown at them: They’ve wasted good years by some of their best players.
Miami posted 10 seasons of nine wins or fewer during Dan Marino’s 17-year run with the club. The team was 96-96 when it had Jason Taylor. Cameron Wake went his first eight seasons without getting a taste of the playoffs.
This season, which ends with Sunday’s home game against Buffalo, plenty more has been wasted. The Dolphins are 6-9 heading into it, making this the ninth straight year they’ve finished in the lukewarm 6- to 10-win range (last year’s 10-6 record got them into the postseason, to be fair).
That’s a killer for someone like Ndamukong Suh, who continued playing top-level football at age 30. He has 45 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits, two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. He’s got a $19.1 million salary cap hit, but has lived up to his price tag.
Pro Football Focus’ grades have him as the fourth-best defensive tackle in the league. Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Matt Burke always rave about how routine double- and triple-teams aren’t enough to contain him.
Yet, while Suh’s been playing his best ball, it’s been negated by shortfalls in other areas. The first few weeks of the season, it didn’t matter how well he or the defense as a whole played because the offense looked allergic to touchdowns. Lately, the issues have been on defense with lapses in the two levels behind Suh.
It all adds up to another great year for him individually with little to show for it in terms of what matters most to him at this point in his career. It also means one more season of his prime is lost.
“I mean, it’s part of life, unfortunately,” Suh said. “It’s something you have to deal with. I don’t know if I’m in my prime or out of my prime or reaching any particular level. I think I have lots of room to grow, although in I guess football years – I’m going to be 31– I’m old, but I don’t consider it or feel that way.”
It’s doubtful Wake would even answer a question on that topic, but it must sting him as well. He’s kept his dominant career going into his mid-30s and is one sack away from his fifth double-digit season.
He’s given the Dolphins two Pro Bowl-worthy seasons after suffering that brutal ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered in 2015. He looks like a guy who could do this until he’s 40, but there’s no certainty.
There’s also no guarantee when it comes to Mike Pouncey, who’s had multiple hip operations since coming to the Dolphins. That ongoing problem derailed him last year, when he made it through just five games, but he stormed back this season and will play all 16 for the first time since 2012. A healthy Pouncey season is nothing to take for granted.
He’s been good, too, proving himself to be Miami’s best offensive lineman again.
“Especially down the stretch, he’s been probably our most consistent guy and he’s probably played his best ball in the back half of the season,” Gase said. “We’ve done some things to make sure that he feels good on Sunday… Especially in these last two games when we needed him to play well and we needed guys to play well, he was one of the few guys that really stepped up and did what he was supposed to do.”
Two of the Dolphins’ receivers have put up big years that feel a little hollow, too, with too many penalties, turnovers and other mistakes elsewhere to fully make use of what they’ve done.
Jarvis Landry will put the final touches on an excellent season Sunday, with the possibility of finishing with 100-plus catches, 1,000-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns. Kenny Stills has been worth every penny of his new contract and goes into the last game with 55 receptions, 813 yards and six touchdowns.
Miami paid—or will pay, in Landry’s case—like it believes that will be their regular production, but who can say whether health or something else will keep them from matching it annually?
The Dolphins got all they could’ve expected out of those two this year, just as they did with Suh, Wake and Pouncey, but it’ll be remembered as nothing more than nice seasons on their résumés. And there’s no promise they’ll get it again next year.
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