Dolphins owner Stephen Ross on team's rebuild: 'I am committed'

The Dolphins, behind owner Stephen Ross, from left, coach Brian Flores and general manager Chris Grier, are taking a realistic approach to the team's rebuild entering the 2019 season. Mark Brown/Getty Images

The main takeaway of the Miami Dolphins this offseason is they aren't tanking, but they are taking a long-term view to build a team that may be ready for contention closer to 2022 than 2019.

One key factor is that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has always wanted to win now -- just as much as the Dolphins' fan base -- but he sees a need to take a different path.

Ross says he's all-in on this rebuilding plan, which means no more Band-Aid fixes. No more being OK with just being in the playoff hunt in December. Ross is well aware this rebuild likely means taking several steps back before moving forward.

"I'm looking at it now to do it the way I've built every business, and build it from the ground up. I'm prepared to stay with it," Ross promised reporters at the NFL owners meetings this week in Arizona. "I am committed."

For too long, the Dolphins every offseason tried to sign veterans in hopes of making a playoff push. The result? Miami was the only team that finished between 6-10 and 10-6 in each of the past 10 seasons. Talk about the very definition of mediocre.

Ross' commitment to change is pivotal for the Dolphins at a crucial restarting point for the organization.

There has been a strategic decision to avoid spending significant money in free agency this offseason in hopes of obtaining compensatory picks, evaluating the Dolphins' young foundation of players and setting their salary cap up to spend in the future.

The top priority is finding a franchise quarterback. Then, next up is rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines, with each having major short-term and long-term question marks.

So, when will the Dolphins' rebuilding process end?

"I would love for it to be two years. But you have to be realistic," Ross said. "Hopefully, we make the right decisions. We have a good, young nucleus to start with. It's not like we're starting all over again. We have great players."

At the top of the list of Miami's great players is cornerback Xavien Howard and left tackle Laremy Tunsil, but there are far more holes to plug than players to list in that foundational players' group.

"We are a young team, but there are positions we need to get better at. You're not going to go buy those positions," Ross said. "You've got to draft and build them and grow them."

That will require Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and his team of talent evaluators to draft and acquire the best players to turn this team around.

Given where the roster is now, a three-year plan seems realistic to get the Dolphins in position to compete with the AFC's top teams. Perhaps Patriots QB Tom Brady is retired by the start of the 2022 season?

"I want to win all the time, but sometimes you gotta take a little pain," Ross said.

Former coach Adam Gase wanted to win now, and a three-year rebuilding plan wasn't going to work for a coach who already had spent three seasons trying to get over the hump in Miami. But Ross has found the leader he was seeking in Brian Flores, who jumped on the rebuilding bandwagon. Miami gave him a five-year guaranteed contract -- all the other coaches hired in this cycle got four-year guaranteed deals -- as a sign of commitment for their long-term process.

"I'm prepared to stay with it. You can call me on it anytime you want, [and say] 'You know what, you're abandoning your idea,'" Ross said. "I am committed."

So Flores, Grier and Ross are all on the same page of how to rebuild this Dolphins team into a contender. The goal, they say, is to build through the draft and build continuity.

"We can't ask the players to communicate and we can't communicate. That doesn't make any sense," Flores said. "We have to practice what we preach."

The united message from Miami's power trio, made clear "over and over and over again" at the NFL owners meeting, is that there is no tanking. Establishing a foundation of hard-working players who always compete is more valuable than trying to lose and be the worst team in football to get the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft. The Dolphins have 10 draft picks in 2020 after offseason trades of Ryan Tannehill and Robert Quinn. They could also receive two mid-round compensatory picks for losing Ja'Waun James and Cameron Wake. Also, Miami is projected to have more than $100 million in salary-cap space in 2020.

Ross, as he said earlier, is treating it like he has all of his business pursuits throughout his career.

The Dolphins' organization has been top-tier in many areas of business. Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel worked to transform Hard Rock Stadium into an eye-opening, innovative and entertaining event venue for the ongoing Miami Open tennis tournament. In community affairs, the team's Football Unites program continues to be a progressive difference-maker within a diverse community.

But the Dolphins haven't come close to that level of success on the most visible platform -- the football field.

That's the next step. That's why Ross' commitment to change, and to stick with it for the long haul, is so important. "It feels like this is more me," Ross said.

He says he's all-in on the plan, and that's the first step for Dolphins fans -- to be all-in on it.