The similarities are almost eerie.
Offseason champions to a 2-0 start — it’s the way two Dolphins teams over the past four years have defined their March through early September calendars. Of course, I’m referring to the 2010 Dolphins and today’s team.
This past spring wasn’t the first time Miami’s general manager, Jeff Ireland, was extremely aggressive in an offseason.
In March, 2010, Ireland, with assistance from football czar Bill Parcells, threw a five-year, $43 million contract at free-agent Karlos Dansby, making the then former Arizona Cardinal the league’s highest-paid linebacker.
But Ireland wasn’t done. A month later, he traded two second-round picks for wide receiver Brandon Marshall, then handed him a $50 million deal.
See the connection?
Six months ago, Ireland inked two of the offseason’s most-coveted free agents — Mike Wallace and Dannell Ellerbe. Wallace, a receiver like Marshall, signed a five-year, $60 million deal and Ellerbe, a middle linebacker like Dansby, agreed to another five-year contract, which is worth nearly $35 million.
Ireland and the Dolphins were more aggressive this time around, additionally signing sought-after players like Brent Grimes, Philip Wheeler and Dustin Keller. But in both offseasons, Miami amplified expectations for the franchise with an all-in player acquisition mentality.
How were and how have those expectations been met?
The Dolphins opened the season with back-to-back road games in 2010. A revamped defense led Miami to wins over the Bills and Vikings, 15-10 and 14-10, respectively. The Dolphins were 2-0, sitting atop the AFC East with a great opportunity to compete for a playoff spot and possibly a division title in front of them.
See the correlation?
This year, Joe Philbin’s Dolphins were forced to open the season with two games in hostile environments. Just like three years ago, Miami won both with a stingy defense, topping the Browns in Week 1 and the Colts this past Sunday.
Under Tony Sparano in 2010, the undefeated Dolphins marched into Weeks 3 and 4 — two primetime games against division opponents — with a chance to prove that they were a legitimate contender.
In the next two weeks, the Dolphins won’t play any division games, or conference games, for that matter. But they will square off against two Super Bowl contenders. And they will have the same opportunity those 2010 Dolphins had — the chance to validate themselves as a real threat in their division, conference and league.
Those Dolphins were exposed as a fraud, losing to the Jets and Patriots at home in consecutive weeks and conceding 72 combined points in the process. How will these Dolphins fare?
The 2010 Dolphins couldn’t win the big game. Yes, Chad Henne was far from the answer at the game’s most important position, but that team did have the ceiling of a wildcard squad. They were talented enough to play in important games. They were just void of what it took to actually win them.
After the back-to-back primetime division losses, Sparano’s team went on the road and beat the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. The next week, when the pressure was back on and when Miami, once again, had the opportunity to prove themselves, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in a game in which they had every opportunity to win.
The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, in Weeks 3 and 4 for this year’s team, present the same challenge that faced those Dolphins. Beat at least one of them, if not both, and continue the climb that began in the offseason and has sustained with a 2-0 start.
It should be noted that the 2010 and 2013 Dolphins aren’t exactly parallel with one another. The promise which has stemmed from Miami’s impressive start this season feels more genuine this time.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looks the part considerably more so than Chad Henne ever did. Kevin Coyle’s defense is more talented than Mike Nolan’s unit was.
But until they prove it on the field, until they halt the comparisons, Dolphins fans should proceed with cautious optimism. Although, it’s tempting given how well this team has come together, they shouldn’t buy into them as a contender…yet.
Win on Sunday, and that changes.