Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier – April 19, 2017 Download PDF version

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Pre-Draft Press Conference
Executive Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum
General Manager Chris Grier

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Opening statement) – “We want to start by thanking everyone for coming. We appreciate it. I just want to start off by publicly thanking Chris (Grier), again, for doing a great job of leading the draft process along with everybody in the organization. Truly, it’s an organizational effort from our coaches, personnel department, scouting, medical, security, they’ve all done a great job and we feel really good about our preparation. As of now, we’re sitting on seven draft choices – a first, second, third, three fives and a seventh (round pick). That is a combination of our own picks as well as the three compensatory picks that we received. For us, this is just the next step in the offseason in terms of trying to improve the team. We look at it as a continuum. Some of the things we did earlier in the offseason were designed to give us the most flexibility heading into next week’s draft. That was all part of our overall plan. We’ll get through the draft and we’ll try to remain opportunistic in terms of opportunities we see to improve the team – be it in June or July – heading into training camp. We just see the draft as the next opportunity for us to get better. One other housekeeping note, we recently added Matt Sheldon. He’s going to be our director of football research and strategy. We added him from the Chicago Bears recently. So with that, we’d be happy to answer any questions.”

(How would you assess the state of your defense and how different do you think it’s going to look 11 days from now?) – “Well, again, we started back in the offseason and assessed where we thought we needed to get better. We added a few players, notably William Hayes in a trade, Lawrence Timmons, signed Nate Allen and T.J. McDonald. So we feel like we’ve made some improvements. Again, the whole design of that was to try to give us some more flexibility heading into next week. I think not only our defense but overall, our roster will look different 11 days from now.”

Chris Grier:

(A year ago we were sitting here and it had been an awful long time since this team had made the playoffs – an awful lot of 8-8 seasons. Now you’ve had success, you’ve made the playoffs and you’ve been 10-6. How might your approach change, if at all, in terms of maybe a year ago there were needs all over the place, and now do you see needs in fewer spots on the roster for example?) – “I think every year you’re always addressing your needs and your roster. I thought last offseason, we came in working with (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) and the coaches and we thought we addressed as many needs as we could in the offseason through free agency. So entering the draft, we always talk about you want to be in as much of a position of strength as you can be so that you don’t have to draft for need necessarily in those first couple of rounds. So when Laremy Tunsil fell to us, we could take him instead of being locked in like, ‘We have to have this position.’ I don’t think we changed our approach. I just think a year together of all of us working along with Adam and the coaching staff, and to what the roster needs and being around … They had the players for a year to work with them. It’s been a good process. I don’t think we’ve really changed. The expectations are the same so for us, we just put our head down and keep working.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“I think just to add to that, our mindset is really no complacency. That’s really the fun part about working with Adam and Chris every day is (we’re) always challenging ourselves how we can get better. Certainly that’s been (Head Coach) Adam (Gase)’s message to the players is 2017 is a new year. We’re 0-0. We have a lot of work to do. We’re proud of some of the things we got done last year but that was really a long time ago. There is a lot of work to be done between now and opening day in 2017.

Chris Grier:

(There are obviously a bunch of defensive ends and edge rushers in the draft – all different shapes and sizes. What do you look for at defensive end? What’s the template you want to see for a guy for you to consider in the first round?) – “You’ve been around us for a year and we’ve always talked about guys that are tough, competitive and love football. We always talk about prototype but with that being said, there are players that aren’t always … Like Jason Taylor wouldn’t be a prototype player and he’s going into the Hall of Fame. At the end of the day, you’re just looking for good football players really and guys that have high character, are smart and they love the game. At the end of the day, if you don’t have those qualities, you’re not going to be successful in this league. So you’re right. There are all shapes and sizes in this draft so it’s a good draft for rush ends.”

(This seems to be a draft where it specifically feeds to 3-4 teams just because of the size of some of the ends and the fact that most of the pass rushers were outside linebackers in college. How difficult of an evaluation has that been for you guys because you run a 4-3?) – “It is. I think the one good thing of working with (Defensive Coordinator) Matt Burke here as we’ve gone through it is Matt’s talked about even though some of those guys may not be that prototype you’re looking for with 4-3 ends is that how we’re going to do things a little bit different than before. He thinks those guys can fit and play. We’ve had a lot of discussions about the scheme and how we’re going to use the players and stuff. For us, it’s still the traits. You look at the traits and what the players can do and then you try and balance it out in terms of what they can do in terms of playing the run, the physical toughness … As long as guys are willing to be physical at the point of attack against the run, it gives you a chance to be successful, no matter what size. The Elvis Dumervil’s of the world, those types of guys have always been good football players – undersized d-ends.”

(Are there specific character issues that will automatically rule out a guy for you?) – “With our philosophy, each player, we look at individually, and so, (Director of Team Security) Drew Brooks does a great job and (Director of Team Security Emeritus) Stu (Weinstein) doing the background of digging in on players. Again, when the Laremy (Tunsil) thing came up (last year), we had already done … (National Scout) Matt Winston did a great job of background stuff. So with each player, we’re still doing … We still have information coming in on players right now. We’ll make those decisions early next week on most of those players. For us, background and character is huge. We won’t take any shortcuts doing that.”

(Are there any specifics though? Like if it’s domestic violence, then this guy is out? Or something like that?) – “It’s a very sensitive subject. We have our feelings on it, but I think dealing with that, you have to look at every case individually. There are some cases where you hear it is domestic violence but the player was the one who called the police and the girl hit him, but because the police were called, it goes on the player as domestic violence. It’s something that we have to look at each case individually before we make a determination.”

(The guards who have been taken in the first round in the past few years, it’s kind of been a mixed bag. Do you have a general philosophy on taking a guard in the first round. If he’s the guy, you feel good, and you’ll get it? Or can you get a guard later in the draft?) – “I think with us through the evaluation process with our scouts – with (Director of College Scouting) Adam Engroff, (Director of Player Personnel) Joe Schoen and the rest of the college  scouts and then dealing with (Offensive Line) Coach (and Run Game Coordinator Chris) Foerster and (Assistant Offensive Line Coach) Chris Kuper – if a guy is a good player and he’s there and we’re comfortable with everything in terms of the football intelligence, the toughness, the passion for the game, we’ll take him. You always hear, ‘You can always find offensive linemen and guards especially, late in the draft.’ But I think if you pass up on (Pro Football Hall of Fame guard) Larry Allen sitting there in the second round or something because you think you’ll get him later, that’s a huge mistake. Again, you just go through your process and evaluate the players where you think they fit.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“Just to add to that, one the things we tried to proactively is we re-signed Jermon Bushrod and signed Ted Larsen, so we wanted to add depth to that position. If the right player is there, including offensive line, we would consider it; but adding those two guys before the draft was important for us.”

(Having said that – and I know you guys want to have as much flexibility as possible on draft day – your defense was No. 18 in the NFL in points allowed, No. 30 against the run. Does this not need to be a defense-sort-of-centric draft for you based also on the age of some of your defensive players?) – “Again, I think as Chris mentioned, last year I don’t think any of us would’ve sat here and said, ‘We’re going to draft Laremy Tunsil.’ I think it falls back to our preparation and we want to be opportunistic. Again, it’s a very important part of the offseason, but we’ve tried to address some of those areas of concern on defense before the draft, and we’ll see what happens. But to go in and say, ‘This is just going to be a draft defense,’ we’ve just been around it too long to say that, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Chris Grier:

(What would be, say, three position groups that this particular draft you’ve noticed has a lot of talent and depth?) – “We always go through this where we talk about positions of strength in the draft each year. You get to that point (where) you’re still going to have to draft somebody. I’d probably say running back is a really good position in this draft. For me, as far as the other ones, we talked about the rush ends. There are a lot of good players. Safeties are another. I think this year is probably a rare year for safeties. There’s many good players. At the end of the day, you always hear it’s a weak draft class, and then you look back five years from now and that ends up being a much better class than … The Class of 2009 –  I’m just throwing a number out there – that everyone said it was a great class, but there’s better players in the class. Again, we operate, we evaluate our players, rank them how we feel they fit for the Miami Dolphins, and we just move forward.”

(One week before the draft, how many players are literally ranked on your big board? I’m curious about the process. How do guys actually get moved up a little and down a little between now and next Thursday?) – “Right now on the big board, we’re probably a little over right now, so we’re probably in the 140s, and that’s probably a little heavy for us. At the end of the day, the process of moving up and down, we’re spending a lot of time this week – Mike, (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) and I – meeting together with some of the personnel guys and coaches, and little tweaks here and there. For the most part, the board is pretty much set, and now you’re tweaking within groups and rankings. There won’t be any real major jumps. We’ve had coaches calling us still. For the college coaches this time of year, they become available, so through our connections, we all know people. We’ll get on a conference call and we’ll talk about the player. So, that may help settle a discussion we have between a character of concern on a player or not. Just little tweaks throughout this week.”

(You said earlier you all haven’t had the character reports in, so does that mean that players haven’t been taken off the board yet, and that 140 includes players with character questions?) – “Yes. Right now, it includes them.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

“Just to add to that, sometimes it’s not absolute. Sometimes it’s going to be, ‘proceed with caution,’ or ‘there was an incident,’ and it may not just be legal, it could’ve been with a coach or something else. There may, as Chris said, be tweaks, so they could still be on the board, but it may be later on … Again, we’re just trying to be comprehensive in our approach. Again, we don’t have to make any final decisions until a week from Thursday, but we’ll have things pretty well finalized once we’re done with you guys so we can say the board is not quite done yet. (laughter)”

(When it comes to this point in the process, are you excited about the prospect of adding more talent to your roster, or are you looking forward to it being over at this point?) – “Speaking personally, I was really energized on Monday when all of the players came back. We’ve had a few players come through here, but with the start of the offseason program, it’s just a great reminder (of) why do we do this? Why do we work so hard and be away from our families? It’s about the players. Having them in the building is a great source of energy. Obviously, the draft is a big opportunity for us to get better, but having the players back is great.”

Chris Grier:

(You’ve obviously been here for a bunch of drafts under a bunch of GMs now, and now obviously the GM yourself. First round, you guys have had a ton of success in the last 10 years, but second and third rounds you haven’t had so much success. Can you identify what, if there was one problem you’ve had, in that second day of the draft and how to get better at it?) – “Speaking over the years, there is always varying circumstances for picks. Our philosophy is, again, when we go through this process … Really last week probably, we had a lot of healthy debate with the coaches, the personnel department, where we were in there and you go at it pretty good; but it’s all very respectful. At the end of the day, all everyone kept saying is it was a great process. We love that we can have our voice from the coaching side and the personnel side. At the end of the day, we’re always just going to listen to our board. I don’t want to speak ill of the guys that were here before me, because I have great respect for those guys; I worked for them. For me, I lean on what I’ve learned. I’ve got Mike as a great sounding board. We use various other people as we talk through this whole process.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Do you think that’s the next step for this team to get the depth that it needs to compete at the highest level – to hit on those second day picks to really have a full arsenal of players?) – “I think it’s just to always try to get better. That’s the message that (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) talks about quite a bit – it is player development. It’s not just the second or third round. To me, it’s about even the later-round guys. If you go back to last year and all of the injuries we had, where I took a lot of pride was … It was such a tribute not only to our coaching staff, but the support staff and all of the development and everything that went on, so that when we were playing meaningful games coming down the stretch, it was guys that were on the practice squad that got bumped up (like) Rashawn Scott. There were so many of those guys, and to me, that’s where you get a lot of pride from. Sure, do you want to hit on your second and third round, but I think what we stand for and we talk about all of the time is trying to develop as many players as possible on our roster.”

(To piggyback off of that, how do you think you guys did last year in the draft? I know it has only been one season, but how did you do?) – “Candidly, give us a grade of incomplete. We’ll know in two more years. The people that influenced me in my career always talked about take three years to try to develop a player. Coach (Bill) Parcells, in particular, talked a lot about that. I think that’s a reasonable amount of time for the most part in our system. From an economic standpoint, you control them for about four years, more or less, depending on what round they were drafted in. So, I think three years is a fair number, and I think some guys exceeded expectations and some haven’t. But again, I would say it’s a grade of incomplete as of now.”

(Are you happy with their first year contributions?) – “Yes, I think we were happy with their work effort and their character. I mean I’m thrilled about the environment that the players and coaches have created. Obviously (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) deserves the lion’s share of that, but there are a lot of people that work really hard that come into the building with a lot of energy that want to get coached. I think our coaching staff is a lot of teachers and I think that’s one of the reasons (former Defensive Coordinator) Vance (Joseph) became a head coach after just one year here. That’s something that we’re all really proud of.”

(When you look at your current first round slot and project who might be available, how open do you feel the organization might be, in your projections, to possibly move up or down? And the second part is, what is the process through which that will occur, fielding trade offers?) – “We’ll always make what decision we feel is best. Typically you get calls both ways – maybe three in front of you and three behind you. We have our trade charts and (Director of Analytics) Dennis Lock, who runs our analytics department, does a lot of really … (He) gives us great information and then we’ll see what happens. Again, just to go back to the process, last year was a great example where as Chris alluded to, (National Scout) Matt Winston spent a lot of time with Laremy Tunsil. Chris insisted that, when we were sitting in Indy, that we were going to interview Laremy Tunsil. At the time, Tennessee had the first pick. There were a lot of rumors that he was (going to be) the first pick in the draft. We had Branden Albert at left tackle and eight gazillion other needs. That process gave us a lot of confidence that here he is at 13 and it was an easy decision for us. So when a trade becomes available, we’ll measure that opportunity against the board. What our needs are, of course that’s going to be a little bit of a balance. But we’ll see what happens. Sometimes you get a trade offer that’s hard to say no to.”

(Do you enjoy that? Is it kind of exciting when all of these people are calling you?) – “I think that to work in this business, you have to enjoy everything about it. I enjoy going to Mobile (for the Senior Bowl). I enjoy getting to know these guys. It’s a privilege and you really have to enjoy the journey to spend as many hours as we do. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it.”

(Can each of you explain the dynamic of the decision making between each other and Head Coach Adam Gase so that people have an idea of how you reach that final call?) – “I think we’ve gone over that before but Chris runs the draft. We set the board and we rely on the board to make those decisions. (Head Coach) Adam (Gase) is right there. But a lot of those discussions are had well before – as Chris mentioned – when we have the debate and disagreements. Once the board is set, that’s really what we rely on to make our decisions. Last year is probably the best example of that. Again, we didn’t think we were going to be drafting a left tackle, but when there is a guy that’s so much higher rated than anything else, those are easy decisions. Our owner, Steve Ross, is there. We’re all sitting there and you say to yourself ‘This is the best player for the long term for us. Let’s turn in the card.’”

Chris Grier:

“The best part of that is, we could sit there and we’ll have where one of us will … an F-bomb will be dropped. But it is healthy debate. We’re always going to do what’s best for the organization. Truly, it’s egoless. I think most of you know the three of us, but we have a lot of debates and we are not afraid to tell each other no and that’s wrong and disagree. I think that’s what makes it work.”

(But that doesn’t happen on draft day, that happens when you set the board?) – “Right. All of last week and stuff, we had a lot of big debates, the coaching staff and personnel departments. It is fun. I enjoy it.”

(You said at the Scouting Combine that defensive end was a position that you thought would be addressed in free agency and the draft. Do you still feel that way?) – “We were really excited to get William Hayes. William was a guy that we targeted last year. We were going to bring him in here and he elected to stay out in L.A. (Los Angeles). So we are really excited to have him. Again, with the draft, for us … We agreed with Cam (Wake) at his age, but no one takes better care of themselves than Cam. I mean, Cam could probably play for five more years and still get eight sacks a year in the league. Re-signing (Andre) Branch was huge for us. Right now, it’s like every other position, I don’t want to get locked into anything. And there are still opportunities post-draft. There are always going to be veterans that can come open. A guy pops open every day that you’re surprised that hits the wire. We’ll address all of the positions – not just d-end. It will be linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver. We’ll hit everything all throughout this draft and post-draft.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(You got the guys back into the building this week. Do you have any health updates? How was QB Ryan Tannehill doing? Was everybody able to participate physically that was here?) – “We don’t really have (many) updates as of now. It’s the voluntary part of the program and we’re really encouraged about the attendance. Some guys are still getting some treatment but there really are no definitive updates, as of now.”

Chris Grier:

(Under what circumstances do you not stay with the board?) – “I think the one thing, and just listening to being around from (former New York Jets General Manager) Dick Steinberg to (former Miami Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations) Bill Parcells to everyone that I’ve worked with that’s had a good track record … Talking to (former Green Bay Packers General Manager) Ron Wolf about all of this stuff. You get in trouble when you start drafting for need and reaching around your board. So we try to stick with that. You try and stay as disciplined as you can to your board. There are always times late in the draft where maybe you say, ‘Hey, this and that.’ But for the most part, with us, we’ll always stick to the board. We’ve done too much work over the last eight months of this to just throw that out and just go with something. So for us, it will always be the board over need.”

(Last year most of us thought you needed a defensive-heavy draft. You still have those same needs, or most of the same needs on defense, but you had an offense-heavy draft. Was that an example of staying with the board and can you give me an example in that situation where the thought process was, ‘Okay, while this is the need, this is the board?’) – “For us I think, again, the first pick was one. We had gone through … We had talked about a lot of defensive players at that point in time and there were still a couple of players that we were interested in then, but the opportunity to take Laremy (Tunsil) for us was too great to pass on. Again, like I told the story last year, my dad was in Houston and they talked about J.J. Watt. They loved J.J. (but the fans wanted them to take) someone else and they got booed mercilessly in Houston. And four years later, J.J. could be the mayor of Houston. He’s considered one of the best players ever. I just think you really have to stay with your board and be very disciplined, and again, we’ve tried to stay with that philosophy.”

Mike Tannenbaum:

(Has RB Damien Williams signed his tender or indicated that he plans to?) – “As of now, he hasn’t. Beyond that, that’s something you would have to check with Damien (Williams) or his agent.”

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