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AC In The AM: Important Answers In Place As Offseason Starts

Posted Jan 10, 2017

The players went their separate ways on Monday, but they share with each other the knowledge they were a part of something important.

(AC in the AM will appear during the offseason as events warrant. You can also follow AC in the AM by twitter at @acohenfins).

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Monday is always a hard day. Players pack their belongings, say their goodbyes, meet with the coaches one final time and head off to let their bodies and minds begin the offseason healing process.

For the last six months or so the locker room at the team’s training facility has been home for these players. Now it will be empty again, void of the passion, camaraderie and commitment that helped make this team what it was. It’s always a weird time. You never know who is saying goodbye for the final time. You never know what the offseason will bring.

But what we do know is this: The players that departed that locker room on Monday were part of something special and nothing that transpired the frigid afternoon before in Pittsburgh could change that. Maybe that’s what made saying goodbye so difficult because deep down these players expected more. You taste the playoffs and the hunger only grows. You want to keep playing, keep proving, keep adding chapters to this turnaround story.

The reality now is that we’ll have to wait for another season. The injuries were too much to overcome. So were the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Dolphins came a long way this season. What the last two Sunday’s taught them – losses to both the Patriots and Steelers – is that they still have many more miles to travel.

This team remains a work in progress. But at least we can now use that word “progress” with conviction. That’s what this season was about. Becoming relevant again. Regaining home field advantage. Gaining ground in the AFC East. Winning double-digit games. Earning a spot in the playoffs. That’s progress.

Indeed, the emptiness I have seen in this locker room on so many Mondays following so many seasons has now been replaced with a sense of accomplishment and a strong-inner belief that what we saw over the past several months is merely a sign of things to come.

But it doesn’t make this day any easier. The locker room was filled early Monday afternoon with players loading up their gear, with coaches like Clyde Christensen walking around shaking hands and with some players even collecting autographs on a helmet to always remind them of what this season meant.

“This is for me,” said practice squad player Julius Warmsley, gripping that signed helmet. “You just never know when you’ll see these guys again.”

Across the locker room, veteran guard Jermon Bushrod is sitting by his locker, slowing putting some jerseys in a large, clear bag. Bushrod has seen a lot of Mondays like this and it never gets any easier.

“You have all kinds of feelings going on inside of you,” Bushrod says. “But I guess all good things must come to an end. We did a lot this season. We have a lot to be proud of.”

From 1-4 to 10-6. From a season on the brink of failure to one of great satisfaction. This season won’t be remembered for what this team lost or how it lost; it will be remembered more for what it found. Four of those finds stand out above all else.

• Found a head coach: There no longer should be any doubts: Adam Gase is the right coach for this franchise. This year. Next year. For many years to come. There can be no greater comfort than that heading into an offseason.

• Found a quarterback: We said when the summer began that this would be the defining season of Ryan Tannehill’s career and it was. Tannehill showed us everything we were hoping to see until that late-season knee injury. There is a real conviction now about Tannehill moving forward and we expect even more improvement in his second season under Gase.

• Found a running back: Any doubt that Jay Ajayi was the MVP of this team? There shouldn’t be. Never really saw this coming when the summer began, but in one season Ajayi has blossomed into one of the league’s top young backs. At 23 years old, I emphasize the word “young.”

• Found a future left tackle: We wanted to make sure that No. 1 pick Laremy Tunsil belonged and this season, even making a switch to left guard, he clearly showed that he does. After seeing how quickly he learned and how efficiently he played, there is little doubt that he can successfully make the transition to left tackle when Branden Albert calls it a career. You can check off a huge box on the “to do” list.

Certainly there are other things. A pair of young cornerbacks that offer so much promise. A linebacker in Kiko Alonso who bounced back strong after two injury plagued seasons. A trio of young receivers who have a chance to grow together. The list goes on.

Now the challenge is continuing to build, to fortify this roster in the draft and in free agency and spend an offseason getting healthy. But that’s for another day. The sting of Sunday’s loss is still so fresh, the reality of failing short so vivid.

It’s going to take time to digest this season, time to put everything that happened in perspective. Monday began that process as the locker room cleared out and the players headed home.

“We’re not all the way there yet,” said receiver Jarvis Landry. “But it’s coming.”

And with that, he slowly began walking away, a large bag of equipment over his shoulder and his eyes focused straight ahead, no doubt hoping that next season’s goodbye Monday feels a whole lot better.

The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by our columnists and bloggers represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.