The Miami Dolphins did what they had to do on Monday. Joe Philbin is out, leaving behind a legacy as the franchise's face of mediocrity over the past three years.
A strong case can be made that Philbin shouldn't have survived last season, after piloting Miami to its third straight dark January. Instead, team owner Stephen Ross kept the faith and poured more resources into a team many expected to finally push the Patriots in the AFC East.
The Dolphins imported tight end Jordan Cameron, and re-made its wide receiver corps with Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker, the team's first-round pick. Ryan Tannehill was given a "face of the franchise" contract extension. The offseason highlight was the signing of Ndamukong Suh, who received the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history.
The good news for the Dolphins is that all those players remain able-bodied and capable of big things, regardless of what their stat line may read at the season's quarter pole. And while the team's 1-3 record is indeed grim, it is premature to completely write Miami off in a wide-open AFC.
They need to start winning, of course. The Dolphins come back from their bye with a pair of managable games: a road matchup against the up-and-down Titans and a home date against a Texans team that trailed 42-0 at one point on Sunday. They are virtual must-wins with a trip to Foxborough to face the Patriots in prime time in Week 8.
Dan Campbell, the team's interim head coach, has two things working in his favor:
1) A case can be made that Miami has top-10 talent on both sides of the ball. Tannehill is a solid, if not exceptional, young quarterback. Lamar Miller delivered top-10 production at running back last season. Jarvis Landry is one of the AFC's most promising young playmakers, Brent Grimes is an above-average No. 1 corner and Cameron Wake is an All-Pro level edge rusher. Suh, despite disappointing early results, has proven he can be an unmatched game-plan wrecker when he's on.
2) The team remains invested. NFL Media's Rand Getlin reported that "80 percent" of the Dolphins' roster stayed awake for at least half their flight home from London talking about the team's dire situation. You can't make definitive statements off a report like that, but it's fair to deduce that the players still care.
"I am extremely disappointed with how we have started the season," Ross said on Monday. "But I feel confident that we can improve quickly with the talent we have on our roster."
The Dolphins can still pick up the pieces at 1-3. But the margin for error, like Philbin, has been removed.