Armando Salguero

It happened months ago but clarity now offers greater reason for optimism about the Dolphins

Think back to December 29 for a minute. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times for the 2019 Miami Dolphins.

On that day, we thankfully put a nail in the coffin of one of the stranger roster experiments ever undertaken by any NFL team. What a relief.

On that day the Dolphins finished off their weirdo season with a fascinating 27-24 victory in Foxboro, MA., that knocked the New England Patriots from a first-round playoff bye. It would be the final regular-season game Tom Brady would play at home -- a loss to Miami.

And if that game was amazing then, I’m going to illustrate in the next few paragraphs how we sorely underestimated the accomplishment.

On that day the Dolphins owned the rights to seven players -- two of which started, two more who played, another who was active for a total of five -- who would go on to become free agents this offseason.

Two more players -- defensive backs Reshad Jones and Aqib Talib -- were already on injured reserve and also are Dolphins free agents this offseason.

Those nine players generally comprise the list of former Dolphins who are either unrestricted or street free agents. All of them can sign with any team they wish.

Here’s the list:

S Walt Aikens.

OL Evan Boehm.

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WR Trevor Davis.

DE John Jenkins.

C Daniel Kilgore.

S Reshad Jones.

CB Aqib Talib.

TE Clive Walford.

OT J’Marcus Webb.

And one full week into free agency, not one of these players has landed with a new team.

Not one.

So, one supposes, other teams have seen what the Dolphins generally saw in either not re-signing or releasing these guys and have not put a priority on adding any of them.

I assume Kilgore will find a new team eventually. I believe Aikens will be on a team in 2020.

And Reshad Jones probably will interest a team if the price and need are right.

But generally the list of Dolphins free agents who hit the market has been met with a yawn around the NFL.

The Patriots, meanwhile, have caused something of a stir during free agency so far, and not exactly in the way most of their fans would appreciate.

That New England team that bowed to the Dolphins at home last December no longer exists for all intents and purposes. Because it has been ravaged during the last week of free agency.

The Patriots have lost WR Phillip Dorsett, LB Jamie Collins, LB Kyle Van Noy, OL Ted Karras, DL Danny Shelton, LB Elandon Roberts, DB Nate Ebner, and TE Ben Watson retired.

Did I forget anyone?

Yes, the Patriots lost Brady, who was introduced as the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback on Tuesday. And the Bucs, by the way, are elated.

“To say that this is an exciting day for the Buccaneers organization – and me personally – would be a rather large understatement,” Tampa general manager Jason Licht said. “Tom is, quite simply, the greatest quarterback to play the game of football. Any time you can add someone of his caliber, you instantly make your organization better.”

Brady was equally excited ...

“There were a lot of things that really were intriguing to me about the organization – the players, and the coaches and the willingness of everyone to try to accomplish what the goal of playing football is, which is to win,” Brady said. “I’m going to try to do everything I can in my position and in what I am responsible for to make it happen.”

And I say all that (basically burying my lead) to say this:

The work Dolphins coach Brian Flores and his staff authored that final Sunday of the regular season has come into much clearer focus the past week.

Because what happened is the Dolphins went on the road with a roster we now more fully recognize as truly substandard based on the lack of priority interest they’ve garnered in free agency.

And the Dolphins played against a team that other talent hungry teams are tearing apart like big African plains cats shredding the carcass of a wildebeest named Bill.

( Peanut gallery: Yeah Mando, glad you could catch up and finally recognize that was a nice win back three months ago. What does that have to do with right now? How will that help us be entertained today while we’re sitting at home waiting for permission to work?)

Ah, yes, welcome back gallery, it’s been a while since you appeared in this space. I trust your Miami Herald subscription is current.

One point I’m making in an inartful way is that you guys don’t know anything.

Last season, when the Dolphins were winning five of their final nine games, you complained that Flores was blowing the tank job for the Dolphins. You complained that he was starting the wrong quarterback, which would hurt Miami’s chance to land the 2020 draft’s best quarterback.

You said the victories were without value.

I didn’t agree then and I’m looking at it now and thinking those late wins have more value than I ever imagined now that the free agency details are in. Because free agency has made it more clear that the team Flores raised to victory that final Sunday had no real business being in that game against the Patriots.

And this: I would venture to guess that game made it clear to the current class of free agents the Dolphins just signed, including three former Patriots, that the Dolphins have a young coach who has no business beating Bill Belichick with a terrible roster...

...And did so anyway.

So imagine what he might do when the roster is better? When the talent is more on par with opponents instead of unfairly tilted to the other sideline?

I think that merits your attention. I think that merits this reminder.

I think it offers optimism for what is ahead.

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