Former first-round pick Stephone Anthony: ‘I have to become starter’ for Dolphins

Stephone Anthony is trying to get his career back on track. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick just three years ago and he’s only 25, but there’s a sense that he’s already running out of time.

The NFL is turbulent, and things change quickly. Anthony was one of the most promising rookies in the league for the Saints, then found himself shipped to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick last year and is fighting for a job this offseason. He’s battling a rookie, among others, for one of Miami’s starting linebacker spots and he knows it’s a critical point in his career.

“Before I can do anything else,” Anthony said, “I have to become a starter.”

That’s a key step toward righting his career, and he’s in a good position to do it.

While Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan can be marked down as certain starters, the rest of the Dolphins’ linebacker corps is wide open. Third-round pick Jerome Baker is likely to be in the mix, as well as undrafted scrappers Cayson Collins and Mike McCray and returning players Mike Hull and Chase Allen.

Anthony said he’s been taking snaps with the first- and second-team defense during Organized Team Activities.

He’s slightly leaner than last year, checking in at 6-foot-3 and somewhere between 235 and 240 pounds (as opposed to 245), but the most important thing is he’s far more familiar the Dolphins’ scheme than when he arrived.

Miami needed a linebacker when Lawrence Timmons deserted the team early last season and found an eager trading partner in the Saints, who had lost interest in Anthony when he wasn’t producing in their new defensive scheme. After opening with 112 tackles, two defensive scores and an all-rookie selection, he started three games in 2016 and was inactive last year while New Orleans looked to deal him.

Anthony played eight games off the bench for the Dolphins and totaled 15 tackles, plus some special teams work. He showed promise at times, but not nearly enough for the organization to exercise a 2019 option on him last month that would have paid him around $9 million.

General manager Chris Grier and vice president Mike Tannenbaum didn’t explain that decision to Anthony, but they didn’t need to.

“It was kind of what I expected,” he said. “I needed more snaps and there’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s not my job to worry about. My job is going to be to put my best foot forward.”

He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring, which heightens the importance of the upcoming season. A good year will put him in position for a long-term deal with Miami or somewhere else. Otherwise, he’ll probably be looking at single-year, prove-it contracts until he shows he’s worth more than that.

One factor working in his favor this season is stability. Having done his best to catch up on the Dolphins’ defense last year, he’s now had a full nine months with the team. He’s been around for all of OTAs and minicamp, plus he’ll work through training camp and the preseason. He had none of those benefits last year.

“The biggest difference is the amount of time I have and the time I’ve spent trying to learn the system and getting myself comfortable with it,” Anthony said.

Defensive coordinator Matt Burke sees that as the only barrier to Anthony being a significant contributor. He said last week, “It’s always difficult to come in the middle of the season, come from a different scheme and pick things up… But he works really hard. He works really, really hard.”

Everything’s more routine for Anthony now, including his living situation. He took up residence in a local hotel for almost a month after being traded to the Dolphins last season, but now he’s settled. That makes life easier.

It helps to have perspective, too. Going from first-round pick to castoff and now trying to climb his way back to the top hasn’t been fun, but he’s learned throughout that journey.

“I think it’s just growth, honestly,” Anthony said. “I think it’s just being in the league, going into my fourth year, understanding the game, how this game is played from the college game and just honing in and packing that information in.”

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Dolphins ‘thought it was a joke’ when presented with chance to trade for Robert Quinn

The Dolphins got defensive end Robert Quinn (94) for a fourth-round pick. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — The sequence in which the Dolphins landed former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn literally unbelievable to the people at the center of it.

This was not a possibility the team had thought much about and it came as quite a surprise in February when the Rams offered him for the mere price of a fourth-round pick. Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who has enjoyed a fortuitous offseason, thought Adam Gase must have been messing with him when he called and said, “Take a look at Robert Quinn and let me know.”

Robert Quinn? Really?

Take a look at his film? Really?

“Yes, I’m good,” Burke replied. “Absolutely, 100 percent. I’m on board.”

Still, Gase insisted they do their due diligence anyway, so Burke went to freshly hired defensive line coach Kris Kocurek and told him they needed to watch Quinn’s film from last season to make sure there weren’t any red flags. It’d have to be a quick review because Mike Tannenbaum, Gase and Chris Grier didn’t want this opportunity to get away from them.

Much like his boss, Kocurek was slightly suspicious that this was some kind of prank. Not having worked there long, perhaps this was some kind of hazing. Maybe the next request would be for him to look over J.J. Watt’s film just for a laugh. The first words out of his mouth were, “Come on, now.”

“(Burke) came into my office and … he thought it was a joke to begin with,” Kocurek said. “I kind of said the same thing when Coach Burke said he wanted to watch Robert on film.

“And then I figured out we were possibly going to get him. Obviously, I got excited about it. He’s been a guy that going all the way back to North Carolina that I’ve had my eye on. I liked him coming out of the draft.”

Kocurek and Burke went through five or six Rams games, and everything they saw validated their initial thoughts on Quinn.

It’s been three years since he was a Pro Bowler, but his overwhelming talent was still evident. Los Angeles was using him as more of an outside linebacker, and when Kocurek and Burke envisioned him moving back to a traditional defensive end role opposite Cameron Wake, they believed the perfect fix to their defensive line issues had landed in their laps.

Burke called Gase back and said, “Hey, my answer is still the same: 100 percent, yes.”

The deal got done during the NFL Combine — it couldn’t officially be processed until the start of the new league year mid-March — and everything fit perfectly on Miami’s end. The team had an extra fourth-round pick (No. 130) from trading Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia, so parting with this one (No. 111) wasn’t devastating.

It also set them up to revamp a defensive line that needed a fundamental change. After shelling out for the fourth-most expensive d-line in the NFL and finishing 26th in sacks, as well as 28th in opponent passer rating, the new plan is to go all-in on guys who make quarterbacks nervous. Quinn was the type of guy they hoped to get but didn’t think would be realistic.

With Quinn and Wake as the top two defensive ends, and two of the five costliest players on the roster, the Dolphins accepted an NFL-record $22.1 million dead money salary cap hit in order to release star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and eventually free up $17 million in space for this season.

Now they have Quinn and Wake, plus $10 million man Andre Branch and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris at defensive end and they’re putting far less of an investment into the tackle position.

The Dolphins weren’t the only ones stunned to see the Quinn trade materialize.

Quinn, who sounds like he had been hoping to get out of Los Angeles, had the bad luck of being without his phone when this all went down. He was searching all over for it when his brother pulled up the news on his own device.

Miami? Really?

“Well, let me go finish finding my phone and I’ll figure the rest of life out from there,” Quinn told his brother. “I was pretty much shocked, honestly.”

Once he got to Davie and got a taste of what his new team was like, he felt rejuvenated almost immediately. That’s a good thing for the Dolphins considering he’s still in what should be the prime of his career at age 28.

“You don’t realize you’re suffocating until you can’t breathe no more,” Quinn said. “I’m glad I can have a new breath of fresh air down here in Miami. It’s allowing me to clear my mind and have a fresh start.

“It’s a new beginning and new possibilities. I’m excited for this new start. Honestly, I think it was best for me and my family, and sometimes things work out funny, but they always work out for the best.”

Whether this really works out for the best depends on whether Quinn still has the talent to be one of the most fearsome edge rushers in football and whether Burke and Kocurek can facilitate this comeback.

After starting with two promising seasons, Quinn caught fire in 2013 with 19 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 57 tackles and a touchdown. He and Watt were the all-pro defensive ends that year.

Quinn followed with 10.5 sacks the next season, but declined after that. Thanks to injuries and other issues, he managed 17.5 sacks in 32 games over the next three years.

Kocurek believes he’s still the Quinn of 2013 and ’14, and the first step toward getting him back there is to reestablish him at his natural position.

“It’s just scheme,” he said. “He was asked to do something differently than he had done in the past, going from strictly a 4-3 type guy to being more of a stand-up, outside-linebacker-type. It’s not an easy transition sometimes.”

Then he added, “It’s not like he played bad.”

That’s true. It wasn’t perfect, but Quinn made the best his situation last season and stayed mostly healthy. He played all but one game, was on the field for 59 percent of the Rams’ defensive snaps and had 8.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Even that level of production, which Quinn likely felt could’ve been better, would be welcomed. Other than Wake, no Dolphins player has had that many sacks in a season since Olivier Vernon in 2013.

The regular season is still well off in the distance, but the first few months of Quinn’s arrival have made the Dolphins even more optimistic than when his name first surfaced in their building. He could be the key to transforming their pass rush, and the early phase of this relationship has heightened that expectation.

“He’s been a good worker,” Burke said. “He doesn’t say much. He’s kind of a quiet guy. He just comes to work every day with a smile on his face and gets after it.

“I think he feels comfortable being in, hopefully, a scheme that fits his skillset. I’m really excited to see what he can do for us. I think that position is going to be an area of strength for us.”

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Dolphins’ Minkah Fitzpatrick calm while watching teams bypass him in NFL Draft

Minkah Fitzpatrick’s draft night wasn’t ruined by falling to No. 11. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — As general manager Chris Grier and the Dolphins set their board in advance of last month’s NFL Draft, they pegged Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick as a top-five talent. When quarterbacks filled up much of the top 10 picks, it looked like someone good would slip to the Dolphins, but Grier couldn’t imagine that many teams passing on Fitzpatrick.

“I didn’t expect Minkah to be there, to be honest with you,” he said. “For me, he was probably one of the top five or six players in this draft. As we got calls after the pick, other teams kept calling us telling us, ‘He was in our top five players in the draft.’ For us, the value at that point was surprising.”

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The commotion in Miami’s war room was much different than what Fitzpatrick experienced at AT&T Stadium that night. He was unfazed as he watched teams skip him.

Fitzpatrick sat calmly at his table in the green room, decked out in a fresh white suit and surrounded by family, and enjoyed the scene until the Dolphins chose him at No. 11.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he said at rookie minicamp this week. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I could go as early as No. 4 and I knew I could go as late as No. 32, so whatever happened, happened. I was just excited just to be there and I’m happy that the Dolphins picked me up.

“Anybody could have picked me and anybody could have passed up on me. So I was just talking to my family, talking to Coach (Nick) Saban, talking to everybody. Just enjoying the moment.”

No matter who took him or how long he waited, Fitzpatrick was intent on having a memorable night, and he certainly did that. While some of the top players opted to skip the event and watch on TV at home, he seems glad he went.

“We had gotten all dressed up and took some pictures at the hotel with my family and some friends, (then) they drove us over to the stadium,” he said. “We went to the red carpet, did a bunch of interviews on the red carpet and took some pictures with my parents and some of my friends.

“The whole night was incredible. It’s something that you really just dream about. I was just excited just to be there. The whole entire time, I was just taking it all in and just enjoying everything.”

After back-to-back seasons as an all-America selection for the Crimson Tide, Fitzpatrick joins a Miami secondary full of established and highly paid players.

At safety, the Dolphins appeared to be content going into the upcoming season with Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald as their starters. Fitzpatrick will likely have to beat out McDonald, whether that means outright claiming a starting job or playing so well that it allows Miami to trade McDonald.

The Dolphins have said they can play all three safeties together at times and could use different two-man combinations depending on which players fit best in certain situations.

There’s also a thought that McDonald could move to linebacker, which coach Adam Gase shot down Friday, though he closed that answer by saying, “You keep working guys at the positions that you think fit them best and then when things start sorting themselves out and you have to make an adjustment, you make it then.”

Those decisions are off in the distance for now. The Dolphins haven’t begun Organized Team Activities yet and training camp doesn’t start for more than two months.

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Grading Miami Dolphins drafts under Adam Gase, Chris Grier, Mike Tannenbaum

Minkah Fitzpatrick will look like a great pick if he’s a starter this year, and if the Dolphins can figure out a good role for T.J. McDonald. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins have had three runs through the NFL Draft with Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier in charge, and it’s already reasonably clear they’ve got some hits and misses.

Of the 20 players those three have selected, led by Grier as the team’s draft czar, eight have a good shot at being in the starting lineup this season. That includes this year’s No. 11 pick, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who will have to beat out T.J. McDonald for a spot.

Whether that’s good or bad depends on how those players play. Seeing the draft picks materialize into starters isn’t inherently a positive unless those guys help the Dolphins win.

They’ve selected 10 in the first three rounds, highlighted by top picks Fitzpatrick, defensive end Charles Harris and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. Harris and Tunsil are off to promising starts, though both are under pressure to show big improvement this season.

Tunsil began at left guard because the team had Branden Albert, then shifted into his natural position last season. He was up and down, and inconsistency at left tackle can unravel the whole offense. With 29 career starts and a full season of playing left tackle in the NFL behind him, this is the year for Tunsil to prove he was worth the No. 13 pick.

Harris seemed like a pick for the future when Miami, coming off a 10-6 playoff season, chose him No. 22 overall a year ago.

He was obviously going to sit behind Cameron Wake and Andre Branch as a rookie, and his prospects for playing in the upcoming season aren’t much better given that Wake is still a force and the team traded for Robert Quinn. It also won’t be easy to beat out Branch, whose 2017 dropoff was attributable largely to injury trouble.

Harris played every game last year and graded out well internally, but managed just two sacks despite being on the field for almost 500 snaps.

Xavien Howard (second round, 2016) and Cordrea Tankersley (third, 2017) are viable starters at cornerback and could be an excellent tandem for Miami if play at the top end of what they’ve shown so far.

Raekwon McMillan, the second-round pick last year, earned the starting middle linebacker job last summer before tearing his ACL in the first preseason game. He’ll resume that spot this season, and the Dolphins are already counting on him to anchor their defense.

Then there’s Kenyan Drake, who already looks like a jackpot find by Grier at pick No. 73 overall in the third round in 2016. Drake, an Alabama product who is one of 17 Miami picks from Power 5 schools, could prove to be the team’s biggest value of draftee in this three-year span.

He’s got the opportunity this year to become the focal point of the offense, and there’s good cause to be optimistic. He led the NFL in rushing over the final five games of last season with 444 (88.8 per game and 4.9 per carry), plus two touchdowns and 150 yards receiving.

The Dolphins are hoping current fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage will develop into a similar threat and form a dynamic long-term backfield with Drake.

This year’s Day 2 picks, tight end Mike Gesicki out of the second round and linebacker Jerome Baker from the third, are also expected to vie for starting role. Gesicki already is the clear favorite to take over at tight end, where the roster is light on proven production.

The only big letdown for Miami out of players chosen in the first three rounds is receiver Leonte Carroo, who goes into his third season with 10 catches, 98 yards and one touchdown in 28 games. That’s not exactly “a much faster Anquan Boldin,” as he described himself on draft day in 2016.

If Carroo was a draft error by the Dolphins, it’s compounded by the fact that they packaged three picks in a deal with Minnesota to be able to take him. He has two years left on his rookie contract, and the Dolphins can afford to be patient since his salary cap hit is under $1 million both seasons.

Of their Day 3 picks, the biggest hit by far out of the 2016 and ’17 classes was LSU defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. He might be the best at his position on this team now that Ndamukong Suh is gone.

Jakeem Grant (sixth round, 2016) has also been a good find, particularly in the return game, and the team might have its new kicker in recent seventh-rounder Jason Sanders.

The only one of the 20 draft picks that’s no longer on the team is 2016 seventh-rounder Brandon Doughty, who was unable to break onto the depth chart at quarterback and was granted his release last month.

Free agency has monumental implications, and certainly Gase is responsible to work with the roster holdovers from the previous regime, but smart drafting is the route to competing regularly. If the Dolphins can keep finding two or three quality starters in every draft, they’ll keep getting better.

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Miami Dolphins’ allocation of salary cap space shows plan for 2018

Kenny Stills needs to be worth his contract this season . (Andres Leiva/The Post)

The most exasperating misfortune the architect of a football roster can experience is not getting his money’s worth. The Dolphins are painfully familiar with that frustration.

They’ve poured a ton of resources — money and draft picks — into both sides of the line of scrimmage the last few years, and the results have been underwhelming. The power trio of Mike Tannenbaum, Chris Grier and Adam Gase has tried, but there’s been little payoff for the effort.

Last year, for example, Miami was one of four teams (all of them bad) that were top-10 spenders on the defensive line and bottom-10 in sacks. The Dolphins spent 21 percent of their salary cap space on the defensive line, according to Spotrac, and that was the fifth-largest chunk in the league. When that doesn’t work out, it’s usually crippling.

As the Dolphins look to balance out their spending, a process that will take more than a year because of dead-cap ramifications from cutting players like Ndamukong Suh, there are signs that their philosophy is shifting.

The main positions on which they’re spending big this season are defensive end and wide receiver, with mid-range commitments at defensive tackle, safety and on the offensive line. The groups that ought to be under the most scrutiny are the receivers and defensive ends.

Those figures don’t take into account signing the eight new draft picks, who will come in on relatively cheap contracts. They’re also adjusted to count Robert Quinn as a defensive end, rather than a linebacker like Spotrac has him.

Miami’s receivers are set to eat up $28.2 million in salary cap space, which is the second-highest in the league this year and the most the organization has spent at the position since 2014. It’s about 16 percent of the total payroll.

Kenny Stills, rightfully, is the most expensive man in the room at a cap hit of $9.8 million. He’s the best receiver on the roster and he’s in the middle of what looks like one of Tannenbaum’s smartest moves as vice president.

The Dolphins got him from New Orleans for Dannell Ellerbe and a third-round pick in the 2015 offseason and he’s turned in two highly productive years as a deep threat in addition to being a valuable leader. They re-signed him to a deal that was cheap last year and pays an average of $9.4 million over the upcoming three seasons.

They’re counting on him to lead a group that features DeVante Parker, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. This is the last cheap year for Parker, who has a cap hit of $3.5 million and an upcoming team option for $9.4 million in 2019. Miami exercised Parker’s option, but can revoke it next spring unless he’s injured.

On the offensive line, Miami is near the middle at 19th in the NFL after shedding Mike Pouncey and giving right tackle Ja’Wuan James a massive raise by exercising an option on him. The total number stays level, though, because left tackle Laremy Tunsil is still on his rookie deal and guards Ted Larsen and Jesse Davis have small cap numbers this season.

The team is near the bottom of the league in spending at quarterback, running back and tight end. Miami restructured with Ryan Tannehill to save space this season, and the other two positions are chock full of players who are young and cheap, but promising.

The Dolphins currently have the second-most expensive defensive line in Spotrac’s calculations, but that figure will drop when Suh comes off the books in June. Instead of a $26.1 million cap hit for 2018, they incur a $22.2 million cap hit that can be spread over the next two years.

Once that happens, Miami should be around 10th at defensive tackle and third in total defensive line spending.

The reason the d-line expense remains high is because the Dolphins have loaded up on pass rushers and are on target to have the biggest salary cap number at the position. Quinn ($11.4 million cap hit) and Andre Branch ($10 million) are the two most costly players on the entire team this year. Ultimately, the line is likely to take up around 30 percent of the total cap space.

Quinn came over from the Rams in exchange for a fourth-round pick, and the Dolphins love the idea of pairing him with Cameron Wake as edge rushers. They also have Branch trying to work back from an injury-wrecked season and 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris, plus veteran William Hayes playing end and tackle.

Wake and Quinn are both former all-pros and enjoyed a run as elite defensive ends.

Quinn, who turns 28 this month, racked up 40 sacks over the 2012-14 seasons, but managed just 17.5 the last three years. He said he was “suffocating” with Los Angeles and feels rejuvenated now that he’s with the Dolphins. If that plays out on the field, Miami will be glad it has him under contract for 2019 at $12.9 million.

Wake, 36, will count $9.6 million against the salary cap this year and is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season. Despite his age and a ruptured Achilles injury in 2015, he’s had 22 sacks over the last two years.

The Dolphins hope their arsenal of pass rushers will make life easier for a linebacker corps that ranks 27th in cap dollars and a cornerback crew that ranks 30th.

Just as expensive doesn’t always equal good, cheap doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The best teams in the league have players exceeding their rookie deals, and the Dolphins need that to happen with Tunsil, Parker, running back Kenyan Drake, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and this year’s draftees.

If that happens and their heftiest expenses prove to be money well spent, the Dolphins have a chance to be one of the league’s biggest surprises this season.

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2018 NFL Draft: Inside the Miami Dolphins’ process for making picks

Adam Gase gets “in it heavy” on draft preparation at this point in the year. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE—While vice president Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier sat in the Dolphins’ auditorium giving the vaguest possible answers about their plans for next week’s NFL Draft, Adam Gase was locked into an office upstairs scrutinizing film of prospective picks.

Grier is the head man for the team’s draft organization, a logical role for him after 20-plus years in college scouting, and Tannenbaum gives his input as well. Gase enters the process around mid-February, though he attended the Senior Bowl to watch quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen in January this year, and helps nail down the selection when Miami whittles down its options as its slot approaches.

“Everyone always wants to know who’s making the final call, (but) the three of us work great together,” Grier said. “You’ll always have two or three guys you like and you make the decision on whoever fits best.

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen being at No. 11, but we’ve talked through trade possibilities, who might be there, who may not be there. For us, the big thing is the communication and talking about what we think is best for the Dolphins. Adam plays a big role. Mike and I have to get players that he wants and he feels fit best for what he wants to do offensively and defensively.”

Grier technically gets the ultimate say on who the team picks, but all three men maintain there is rarely, if ever, disagreement about who to take. Gase gives input but defers to Grier’s expertise.

The draft starts next Thursday with the first round, where the Dolphins currently have the 11th pick. Tannenbaum is open to trading up or down if a prudent trade opportunity emerges.

Miami picks No. 42 in the second round and No. 73 in the third Friday, then it has two fourth-rounders, a sixth and two sevenths Saturday.

This is Tannenbaum, Grier and Gase’s third draft together, and Gase described it as an “easy” process a year ago. He said when the Dolphins are three picks away they typically have five players under consideration and have them pre-ranked in order of priority.

Last year, as their No. 22 pick neared, they targeted Missouri defensive end Charles Harris first and Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis second. Davis went 21st to the Lions, allowing Harris to fall into Miami’s lap.

“When the pick’s coming up, we’ll start getting together and looking at the board and seeing who’s there,” Grier said. “Most of the decisions have been made. By Monday or Tuesday we’ll have an idea, but there’s always a wrench that gets thrown in from someone on draft day.”

Gase likes to work systematically on his part of the draft preparation and usually asks for five players the scouting department recommends at a particular position so he can review them and give his opinion.

With the amount of effort he puts into scheme and strategy for the upcoming season, as well as a plan for next month’s Organized Team Activities, there’s a concerted intent not to overload him with draft homework.

“We could sit here and run all these different scenarios with Adam,” Tannenbaum said. “But until you’re just a couple picks away, we’re not sure how it’ll unfold.”

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Dolphins owner Stephen Ross supports moving on from Ndamukong Suh, Jarvis Landry

Ross and Suh at the introductory press conference. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

ORLANDO—When the Dolphins’ power trio of Mike Tannenbaum, Adam Gase and Chris Grier proposed their offseason plan to unload the best player on each side of the ball, their boss didn’t exactly leap out of his chair to embrace it.

Stephen Ross has little patience for more mediocrity and dropped an f-bomb in the locker room at the end of last season because he was so exasperated by going 6-10. He’s not eager for more of that.

But when his football people explained why they intended to cut Ndamukong Suh, even with a massive dead money salary cap hit looming, and trade Jarvis Landry, Ross eventually bought in to their blueprint.

“I questioned why,” Ross said this morning at the NFL league meeting. “You want to know why. There has to be justification for it, and you want to hear what their plan is. We’re constantly reviewing it. Certainly you don’t just do things and (not) ask, ‘Why was that done?’ Gotta ask that question.

“I saw the logic, but certainly I had questions. I think everybody has questions when you lose two players of that quality. You have to have reservations and questions.”

The Dolphins also shed center Mike Pouncey and did not re-sign Damien Williams and Michael Thomas. All three players had been with the organization for years.

There was a CBS report last season saying the Dolphins intended to move on from Suh, and Suh responded by saying he came to the team to play for Ross and win games, as well as indicating that they spoke about the report. Suh added that he planned on ending his career in Miami.

Ross was thought to be particularly close with Suh, but that attachment did not factor into this decision.

“Yeah, you like guys and certainly they gave an awful lot and you hate to see people go,” Ross said. “That’s true in life. We’re here to win football games. It’s not about making friends.”

Ross assumed there would be change after another frustrating season. There’s no way to hide from a 6-10 season, particularly one that could’ve been easily turned into 3-13 if a few plays had gone differently.

At the end of the year, he cited Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending knee injury in training camp as the biggest reason for the drop from 10 wins the previous year, but it was obvious that wasn’t going to fix all the Dolphins’ problems.

“I like where it’s going,” Ross said. “Most importantly I think the coach and the general manager and the whole team believes it’s been a successful offseason so far. Like all of us, I’m a fan. I have to wait and see. But I believe in them and what they’re doing and the game plan they have.”

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2018 NFL free agents: Damien Williams’ curious departure from Miami Dolphins

Damien Williams made some plays for the Dolphins, and they might miss him. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The departure of running back Damien Williams seems like little more than a footnote on the Dolphins’ busy offseason. Considering they’ve dumped Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey over the past month, that’s no insult to Williams.

He leaves after becoming quite a success story for general manager Chris Grier and the organization after making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and putting himself in position to take over as the starting running back last season. Kansas City signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract Thursday.

Things really took off for Williams when he met a coach who knew how to use him. One of Adam Gase’s first undertakings after taking over the Dolphins in January 2016 was to sift through the roster for hidden gems. At Ryan Tannehill’s suggestion, he explored whether Williams had been underutilized by the previous coaching staffs.

He played a career-high 17 percent of the offensive snaps that year and had 115 yards rushing, 249 yards receiving and a career-high six total touchdowns. That was third on the team behind Kenny Stills (nine touchdowns) and Jay Ajayi (six).

Gase spoke of Williams as one of “his” guys and was drawn to his confidence and enthusiasm.

“That’s a guy who loves this sport,” Gase said in November 2016. “He loves competing. He loves practice. When you find a guy who practices the way he does, it’s hard to find that.

“Practice gets monotonous, especially at this point in the season, but he’s always the same guy. He’s always competing, always talking, gives a hard time to the linebackers. He’s a fun guy to be around every day.”

Williams’ relationship with the organization grew complicated in the ensuing offseason, when he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of playing on the team tender of $1.8 million coming off what he felt was a promising season.

He visited the rival Patriots as a restricted free agent that offseason, but did not come away with an offer sheet. When the deadline passed for other teams to get involved, he deliberately put off signing his tender in protest of the Dolphins not giving him a better deal.

He eventually moved on, though, signed the contract and reported for all of Organized Team Activities, minicamp and training camp. Williams said last season any frustration about the way things went in Spring 2017 were behind him.

“We’re all good,” he said in December. “I’m all good.”

He took it another step by saying he had every intention of remaining with the Dolphins, though at the time he declined to delve too deeply into that because it was during the season and all his attention was on trying to come back from a separated shoulder.

That wasn’t surprising from Williams, who was a frequent recipient of the team’s War Daddy t-shirts. Those are awarded for team-first, gritty performances in games.

When Miami traded Jay Ajayi at the end of October, Gase installed a two-man backfield of Williams and Kenyan Drake that looked like the ideal combination of running backs he wanted. Both are fast and both are better receivers than Ajayi.

Williams, who still worked on special teams as well, was the starter and had 202 total yards and a touchdown in three full games before suffering the shoulder injury against New England on Thanksgiving weekend.

He wanted to return as quickly as possible, but was unable to do so. The Dolphins held him out of the final game of the year, which was meaningless because they’d already been eliminated from the playoff race.

Drake was tremendous once he took over the bulk of the snaps at running back and closed the year with 594 total yards and two touchdowns over the final five games. During that run, Williams was one of his biggest supporters in the locker room and on the sideline.

Williams also appeared to have a good relationship with Gase until the end. A month ago, he pointed back to Williams’ consistent support of Drake, and vice versa.

“Both those guys did a really good job,” Gase said. “They fed off each other. They were happy for each other when they had success.”

Williams had surgery on his shoulder after the season and could miss Organized Team Activities and minicamp for the Chiefs this offseason. While that almost certainly lowered his market in free agency, he is expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp.

Whatever the reason, the Dolphins opted to sort through cheaper running backs near the end of their careers this offseason rather than re-sign Williams. They brought in DeMarco Murray for a visit and ultimately signed Frank Gore yesterday. Gore turns 35 this spring, which is 10 years older than Williams.

While this might not have been the only factor, Gore is a bit cheaper for the cash-strapped Dolphins than Williams.

Even with him taking a pay cut from $1.8 to 1.5 million from last year in signing with Kansas City, that’s a bigger salary cap hit than paying Gore the veteran minimum. Gore will get $1 million in salary, but his cap hit will be even smaller. Last year’s cap hit for the veteran minimum on players with 10 or more years of experience, for example, was $615,000 with the possibility of an $80,000 bonus.

Perhaps that savings was worth it to Miami’s management now, but during the season, Gase might lament that one of his favorite weapons slipped away when it wouldn’t have taken much to keep him.

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Jarvis Landry trade: Miami Dolphins make all-time franchise mistake

Adam Gase and the Dolphins have misjudged Jarvis Landry’s importance. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

This one’s going to hurt.


The Dolphins have a special knack for breaking South Florida’s heart, but they’ve outdone themselves this time. Jarvis Landry is gone, headed to the Browns in a trade that will become official Wednesday and bring in a fourth-round draft pick this year plus a seventh-rounder in 2019, and this team is going to regret that for a long time.

Don’t be duped by the Dolphins’ spin as they try to justify dumping a 25-year-old who would’ve gone on to be the most productive receiver in their history. They’ll point to Landry’s uneven temperament, locker room concerns and his improvisation on the field. While there might be some validity to that, far more egregious transgressions have been overlooked.

Funny how none of those objections surfaced until it was contract time. Gase used to joke about Landry, Jay Ajayi and him being the three hotheads on the team. In his first year coaching Miami, he said flatly Landry was the best offensive player he had. There was no one he trusted more.

This is really about the Dolphins grossly misjudging what this kind of talent is worth, and that’ll prove to be a fireable offense for whoever had final say on it. They’ll realize it quickly when they see how difficult it is to replace a man who totaled 400 receptions, 4,038 yards and 22 touchdowns in four years. The franchise never had a 100-catch receiver until he showed up and did it three times.

Landry wants market value—how audacious of him—and the Dolphins don’t agree with his asking price. Everything else is a footnote.

The asterisk they put on his gaudy numbers is that he did it out of the slot, as though it’s impossible to be a game-changing receiver any other way than how Julio Jones does it. Go ask Ryan Tannehill if he agrees with that.

Tannehill and the other quarterbacks didn’t seem perturbed by the improvising, either, as they threw 27.5 percent of their passes his direction. Landry was always there for them when the pocket fell apart and, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the pocket is always falling apart around here.

In fact, Landry’s ability to change on the fly might be one of his best attributes. The Dolphins weren’t amazing at quarterback during his seasons, but he made it work. They had no tight end last year, so he morphed into one of the best red zone players in the league. The Browns are pretty excited about the improvisor they’re acquiring.

Of all the young talent Miami’s let walk out the door, this is the easiest it’s ever been to predict which side will get the last laugh. This will be an all-time regret.

Landry’s likely going to get a $60-ish million extension from the Browns and keep making Pro Bowls. Meanwhile, his old team’s going to rummage through free agency bargains and keep counting on the DeVante Parker breakout year that’s always right around the corner.

The most painful part of this for anyone who cares about the Dolphins has to be that it was so preventable. Landry wanted the millions he was due, but he was adamant that he wanted them from Miami.

He was patient about that, too. He watched vice president Mike Tannenbaum come through with a wheelbarrow full of cash in the 2017 offseason and hand it out to everyone but him.

Reshad Jones got $60 million. Kenny Stills re-signed for $32 million. T.J. McDonald, who had been with the team five months, hadn’t played a game yet and was on suspension at the time, received a $24 million extension. And the Dolphins giddily threw $10 million at a retired Jay Cutler.

They committed an additional $69 million to Andre Branch, Cameron Wake and Kiko Alonso. That means nearly $200 million in new deals circulated the locker room while Landry played the final year of his rookie deal for about $1 million without a peep.

No deal last offseason? He showed up for every second of Organized Team Activities and minicamp, maintain all along he wanted to be a Dolphin. No deal then? He reported right on time for training camp with the same message. On the eve of the season opener he said he was peace playing out his contract.

Landry wanted to win, and missing time was counterproductive. He did it the way they wanted, and now it’s fair to ask whether they misled him all along.

Why in the world were the Dolphins thinking they’d get him at a discount after dragging him through that whole process? And, by the way, they already got their discount when those first four years cost them an average of $942,000.

This must be particularly exasperating for general manager Chris Grier, who’s seen plenty of good players leave in his 12-year run with the Dolphins. He had a hand in them stealing Landry in the second round of the 2014 draft.

The sting of Landry’s departure goes beyond simply watching him keep racking up big  numbers in someone else’s uniform. Think back to how putrid this offense was the last two years. Now subtract its most dangerous weapon. Get ready for a 2018 season that’s almost as thrilling as knitting a quilt.

The only way this works out in the short-term is if Gase is a secret genius who knows Stills is going to have a career year, has the cure for all that ails Parker, somehow finds an effective tight end, adds a modestly productive replacement for Landry in the slot, turns Kenyan Drake into Matt Forte and gets the best out of Tannehill at 30 years old after two knee injuries even though his favorite target is playing in Cleveland.

That’s all that needs to go right.

More realistically, this team has seriously hurt the prospect of turning things around this season and upped the chances that those who made this call on Landry will be following him out the door sooner than later.

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Dolphins coach Adam Gase: 2017 draft class exemplifies what team needs

Davon Godchaux was a bright spot in last year’s rookie class. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The Dolphins went defense-heavy in last year’s NFL Draft coming off a season in which they struggled to stop anybody. Next month’s draft figures to be the opposite scenario.

Nonetheless, the 2017 draft class showed good cohesion between coach Adam Gase and general manager Chris Grier. Grier’s primary responsibility in Miami’s power structure is to oversee the draft, and he was the director of college scouting for the team from 2007 through ’15 before becoming general manager.

The Dolphins found instant contributors in first-round pick Charles Harris at defensive end and fifth-round defensive tackle Davon Godchaux. Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley took over a starting job about a month into the season, and sixth-round defensive tackle Vincent Taylor got steady playing time off the bench.

Miami also picked up linebacker Chase Allen, who started the season opener and played all 16 games, and punter Matt Haack.

“I thought they did a good job,” Gase said of his 2017 rookies. “It felt like we had a lot of guys play. I thought our college free agents—We had so many guys either make it at the beginning or ended up being on the roster toward the end of the year. And our draft picks, the ones that ended up staying healthy… did a really good job. They were a good example of how we want to do it going forward.”

The Dolphins believe they landed a starter in linebacker Raekwon McMillan as well. They took him in the second round and had him on track to start before he tore his ACL in the first preseason game.

Seventh-round wide receiver Isaiah Ford missed the whole year due to injury, though he is expected back this season. Offensive guard Isaac Asiata was deemed far from ready to play at the NFL level and did not appear until the season finale, but he’s determined to be part of the offensive line rotation this year.

In the upcoming draft, most of the holes Miami needs fill are on offense. The team needs a quarterback to play behind Ryan Tannehill, a tight end, at least one offensive lineman, a slot receiver and possibly another running back. Those needs would change, of course, if the Dolphins are able to address some of them in free agency.

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