Miami Dolphins aren’t tanking; They’re finally being honest with themselves

The Dolphins are finally being honest with themselves. Will that be enough to turn things around? (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins look like they’re tanking. They aren’t. They’re just being a little bit more realistic than usual.

It’s understandable to wonder whether this is a full reboot after they shipped out Jarvis Landry for a fourth- and a seventh-round pick last week and have made clear that they’re going to cut Ndamukong Suh soon. They’re dumping tons of cash and tons of talent.

Thinking long-term is admirable, by the way, when vice president Mike Tannenbaum and coach Adam Gase know they aren’t guaranteed anything if the upcoming season goes sideways. The natural tendency in this situation would be to salvage this roster the best they can and hope nine or 10 wins is enough to appease Stephen Ross for another year.

But the drastic moves of this offseason, which is barely underway considering free agents can’t sign until Wednesday and the NFL Draft is still more than a month out, illustrate that the team realizes it isn’t just a couple pieces away. It knows last year’s 6-10 roster won’t be instantly fixed merely by the return of Ryan Tannehill.

By comparison, last year’s offseason was perfunctory. The Dolphins were riding high after their first playoff appearance in nearly a decade, brimming with confidence about Gase and some modest improvement by Tannehill and believed all they had to do to make a run at New England was keep most of that team together.

That proved false. Regardless of Tannehill’s injury, this team still had big issues on the offensive line, at tight end and at linebacker. It also had a defensive line that didn’t come close to playing up to its exorbitant price tag.

The truth is that a fully healthy version of last year’s team wasn’t going to be a contender this year. The absolute ceiling would’ve been 10-6, which is nice, but ultimately doesn’t mean a lot. Plenty of teams like that miss the playoffs, and most of the ones that make it aren’t real factors anyway.

That truth is ugly, but at least it’s the truth. The first step in the Dolphins’ long road toward competing with the NFL’s best is being honest with themselves about how far away they are.

Maybe a full-on tank is the best way to proceed. That would mean treading ultra-conservatively in free agency and looking to trade or cut any players the Dolphins don’t think will still be helpful in 2-3 years.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Even on the defensive line, where the Dolphins are cutting their best player, they aren’t starting from scratch. They traded for former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn and the $11.4 million salary cap hit he’s due this year. Adding that to the already stunning cost of their defensive line for the upcoming season suggested there had to be a corresponding move.

They Dolphins now press on with second-year defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, a player they think is definitely an NFL starter and is under contract cheaply through 2020. They’ll pair him with Jordan Phillips, who has been hit and miss but has tremendous financial stakes this season in a contract year, and pay the two of them a total of about $2 million.

That enables them to pay big money for Quinn, Cameron Wake ($8.6 million cap hit) and Andre Branch ($10 million), plus 2017 first-rounder Charles Harris. Quinn, by the way, is only 27 and still has a lot to play for financially.

While the Dolphins aren’t trying to tank, it’s possible they’ll end up with the same results anyway.

Replacing Landry’s production might prove too difficult, especially if DeVante Parker remains more of a projection than a reality.

They might’ve already hit the peak of what Tannehill has to offer, and a potential first-round quarterback in next month’s draft is highly unlikely to be able to step in right away.

The questions they have at tight end, linebacker and on the offensive line might not be answerable in free agency. Maybe they’ll be sitting in the same spot at those positions a year from now.

They must tangle with those truths next, but the more honest the Dolphins are with themselves, the better their chance of steering this team out of perpetual mediocrity.

[Possible replacements for Jarvis Landry in free agency, NFL Draft]

[What Jarvis Landry said after being traded to Cleveland]

[Miami Dolphins master the art of wasting their best draft picks]

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