The Minkah Fitzpatrick saga was the most uncomfortable and controversial player relations problem the Miami Dolphins handled in 2019.
New coach Brian Flores wanted Fitzpatrick to prepare to play multiple positions and be versatile. And Fitzpatrick, the team’s 2018 first-round draft pick, wanted Flores to put him in a spot and let him concentrate on mastering that spot.
We remember that disagreement. And, frankly, everyone lost.
Flores wouldn’t budge despite public statements about wanting Fitzpatrick to be part of the Dolphins’ future. Fitzpatrick didn’t budge despite his reputation for being a team-first guy.
So the Dolphins were forced to trade Fitzpatrick. And he went to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he became a Pro Bowl player and favorite of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
And the Dolphins got back the No. 18 pick in the first round of this year’s draft.
So what’s the point?
Flores really, really, really, really values versatility among his players. I guess he values it so much that he was willing to part with a very good player picked No. 11 in the draft the year before.
And he values it so much that many of the players the Dolphins just added in free agents are, you guessed it, versatile.
The Dolphins added Kyle Van Noy from the New England Patriots. And how can Van Noy’s ability to move around in the front seven help the Dolphins?
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“I like that question,” Van Noy said. “I feel like my versatility will be able to be a matchup problem for any coach because you never know where I’m going to line up and match up against.
“I feel [and] envision that I’ll be playing everywhere like I have been. I’ve said it before — I don’t really consider myself having a position. I don’t really like that. I don’t like being called a D-end or a linebacker or anything. I’m just a football player. You roll the ball out onto the field, I’m there. I’m showing up. That’s my job and I’m going to be about it all the time.”
Van Noy obviously covered from his linebacker spot with New England at times. He rushed from a 3-4 look and as a defensive end in the 4-3. He sometimes blitzed when New England used a hybrid 5-2 look.
The Dolphins also added Shaq Lawson from the Buffalo Bills. And Lawson played in the 4-3 on the outside and sometimes on the inside. And, yes, he sometimes worked out of a hybrid look and even played in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 earlier in his career.
“I can play anywhere on the field,” Lawson said. “I’ll play in any scheme. I played in a 3-4 coming out in the league, so I’ve seen it all. Wherever a coach needs me to play at, [I am] willing to play. I’ll be in any position to help this team.”
Defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah is 6-4 and 275 pounds so he has classic 4-3 defensive end size. And that’s what he’s most comfortable playing. But he can also stand up as well as play in a three-point stance. So the look of the defense can change at a whim with Ogbah on the field and he can move inside if necessary.
“Personally, I think my biggest impact’s as an edge rusher, but I’m versatile enough to do a lot of things,” Ogbah said. “That’s why Miami brought me in. I can rush inside. I can rush outside and just do my part to help the team win games. That’s why I’m here.”
One can argue this desire for versatility and position flexibility only applies to the defensive players the Dolphins signed but it’s possible in a crisis the Dolphins can draw upon the flexibility of both Ted Karras and Ereck Flowers.
Karras was signed to play center. He is the presumptive replacement for Daniel Kilgore.
But Karras can play guard as well and has experience doing just that.
Flowers was signed as a guard where he had a very good season with Washington after struggling at tackle with the New York Giants. And the Dolphins expect to play Flowers at guard.
But in an extreme emergency, do not forget that Flowers can play tackle.
“I think the switch plays into a lot of my natural strengths,” Flowers said. “It really helped to have [Bill] Callahan make that switch. To make the switch with the best offensive line coach in the league, I think I was very fortunate in the situation and the timing and placement and all of that together. I’m just looking forward to taking those next steps and getting better.”
And if the Dolphins ask him to play tackle in a pinch?
“They haven’t gone into details,” Flowers said. “This whole thing — wherever they need me to play, I’ll play.”
And here’s the point:
The Dolphins didn’t just sign a handful of guys who can switch positions and show versatility, they just signed a bunch of guys willing to do that.
Last year, the Dolphins wanted Kiko Alonso to do different things he hadn’t before and he declined and asked to be traded.
They asked Fitzpatrick to move around and the same thing happened.
That issue isn’t likely to repeat in 2020.