Crucial Calls: 5 Mistakes That Could Ruin the Dolphins’ Offseason

The Dolphins will be busy this offseason, that’s for sure. As they begin the draft and free agency processes, they must realize how important this offseason is. With new faces all around the organization, the team has various question marks that the front office will be concerned with when forced to make tough decisions prior to next season. First and foremost, the front office must determine who is worthy of being a part of the team’s foreseeable future. This could be a player that is already in Miami, a draft prospect, or a potential free agent signing. Making these choices will be critical in ensuring that at the onset of Adam Gase’s head coaching journey, there are as few hindrances in the rebuilding process as possible.

Avoiding critical mistakes in these evaluations will put Miami in a great position to make progress early in Gase’s tenure, which is all fans can hope for at this point. So without further ado, here are the top five mistakes (in no particular order) that the Dolphins can’t afford to make this offseason.

Assume Dion Jordan Will Ever Play Again, or Be Effective If He Does:

Dion Jordan

(Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Dion Jordan has been one of the more disappointing draft picks in recent memory. The Dolphins spent the third overall pick of the 2013 draft on Jordan, the former star defensive end out of University of Oregon. During the draft process, Jordan received countless comparisons to former Dolphin, and future Hall of Famer, Jason Taylor. Now the question is, could the comparison have been any worse?

Jordan’s substance abuse issues, and astonishing lack of drive and dedication, ensured that he would never reach his limitless potential. His third drug related offense resulted in a suspension for the entire 2015 season. His absence from the team’s voluntary workouts at the beginning of last offseason already had critics questioning his work ethic, and the fact that he fails to learn from past mistakes does nothing to silence his doubters.

Even on the field, he hasn’t shown anything to warrant being a top three selection in the NFL draft. With only 46 tackles and 3 sacks, Jordan has undoubtedly been ineffective throughout his three-year career. This, paired with the fact that Jordan was never a good fit in a 4-3 defense, means that Miami can’t count on Jordan to contribute high-level play to their team, even if he is able to straighten himself out. Uncertainty and questions surround the defensive end position in Miami, as Cameron Wake isn’t getting any younger and Olivier Vernon is not sure to return next season. The only certainty is that Dion Jordan isn’t part of the answer.

Miss on Early Draft Picks

That leads us perfectly to our next topic: missing on early draft picks. The coaches and front office simply can’t make the same mistake as they did with Dion Jordan. Now, they can’t take all of the blame. Jordan was widely considered a top five pick around the league, so pretty much no one saw this disaster coming. However, that doesn’t mean the Dolphins’ organization can afford another miss.

Miami has quite a few obvious needs heading into the draft process and free agency that have to be addressed. While teams often argue that they will always draft for value over need, it seems likely that in this case they will address these needs in the early rounds of the draft. Arguments will continue to be made over which need is most pressing, and whom the front office should set their sights on. But one thing is for sure: the front office better be confident in their decision.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Alabama

(Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, I believe it’s fair to say that there is a high probability that the Dolphins take either a cornerback or a linebacker with the 8th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. There could be a variety of targets for the team at this draft slot; Vernon Hargreaves, Mackensie Alexander, Myles Jack, Jaylon Smith, and Reggie Ragland are all potential options at these positions. Despite Jack’s and Smith’s injuries, none of these players have serious red flags as draft prospects. So I am not trying to make an argument here about whom they should pick, I’m simply suggesting that the Dolphins may take the player they feel is the “safest,” despite this being a term that often has a negative connotation attached to it. As if “safe” means “boring” or “lacking upside.” For Mike Tannenbaum & Company, it may simply mean avoiding another drafting disaster.

Miami has quite a few obvious needs heading into the draft process and free agency that have to be addressed. While teams often argue that they will always draft for value over need, it seems likely that in this case they will address these needs in the early rounds of the draft. Arguments will continue to be made over which need is most pressing, and whom the front office should set their sights on. But one thing is for sure: the front office better be confident in their decision.

Fail to Address Needs at Linebacker, Cornerback and Offensive Line

The team must inject as much talent and depth into these three positions as possible this offseason. Arguments can be made for each being the most pressing need (although fans and experts alike are beginning to settle on linebacker as the answer to that question), but regardless of one’s opinion, changes have to be made going into next season.

The Dolphins’ linebacker core was thoroughly disappointing in 2015. The group of Koa Misi, Jelani Jenkins, and Kelvin Sheppard struggled stopping the run throughout the season and as seen below, were equally as bad in their attempts to cover tight ends.

Tight End

They might be better off using an early draft pick on the position rather than spending some of their limited money on a high-end free agent, but the route they choose remains to be seen. Either way, they need to find a solution to the problem somehow or the entire defense will continue to suffer.

On the other hand, the Dolphins still have Brent Grimes manning the outside of their defensive backfield. Despite his age,, he will still be able to produce results on the football field next season. Lets not forget about the presence of Reshad Jones at safety either, as he surely makes life easier for the team’s outside corners. This isn’t to say that cornerback isn’t a position of need, as it quite obviously is, but perhaps it makes more sense for Tannenbaum to use the first round pick on Jack or Regland, sign a veteran cornerback to play alongside Grimes next season, and take advantage of the draft’s cornerback depth by selecting the position on day two. Regardless of the path they choose to take, something has to be done to fix a pass defense that ranked 21st in opponent passing yards and 24th in opponent passer rating in 2015.

O-Line

Finally, there is the offensive line. Improvement at this position has been long overdue, and should be an essential aspect in guaranteeing offensive improvement under Gase and offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen. Pro Football Focus ranked the Dolphins’ linemen 31st overall this past season, due to their lowly ratings in both pass-blocking (29th) and run-blocking (32nd). While injuries have contributed to these numbers throughout the season, a lack of starting-caliber talent and depth can’t be ignored either. Improvements at both guard and tackle are necessary to enhance the development process of Ryan Tannehill, and to have success on the ground in 2016.

Let Derrick Shelby and Lamar Miller walk

Miami has to do their absolute best to retain defensive end Derrick Shelby and running back Lamar Miller. Both offer flexibility and would seemingly be good fits for the defense that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is attempting to install, and for the offensive philosophies that Gase is trying to instill respectively.

Shelby

Shelby, a backup for the first three seasons of his career, received his first real opportunity after Wake went down with his Achilles injury, and didn’t disappoint. In the nine games he started, Shelby finished the season with 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and even an interception. His play inspires confidence that he would be able to hold down a starting job if need be, or at least provides some necessary depth at the position. While I expect that they will still address the position in the draft, Shelby would be an affordable in-house option with knowledge of the 4-3 defense.

Miller

Miller’s situation is a little more difficult to analyze. He’s a 24-year-old entering his prime, and therefore should receive a ton of interest from other teams. However, he has largely been unable to prove his true potential in Miami; he hasn’t been used enough (or even correctly for that matter), and has been playing behind a well below-average offensive line. With that being said, he has shown enough glimpses to prove that he can be the team’s lead rusher. As our very own Jacob Berkowitz explained in his analysis of how Gase utilizes running backs, Miller has displayed the tools necessary to thrive under Gase. He has impressive speed, agility and awareness, and can definitely be a contributor to the passing game with his receiving and pass-protection abilities. Keeping him would also allow Jay Ajayi to remain in the backup role, which is a better scenario for the team at this point anyway. Tannenbaum may have to work some magic to get a contract done, but if he is able to keep Miller in Miami for even a few more seasons, Miller will be able to hit free agency again while he is still in his prime, and Dolphins’ fans will finally see him reach his potential in Miami.

Overpay Olivier Vernon, Rishard Matthews or Danny Trevathan

Trevathan

(Jeff Legwold/USA TODAY Sports)

Based on the situations discussed above, overpaying to keep Olivier Vernon or to obtain Denver Broncos’ linebacker Danny Trevathan would simply be a terrible decision. Getting into a bidding war for Rishard Matthews would be similarly misguided. While each would be an improvement at their respective positions, none of them would make sense financially.

Vernon will be a hot commodity for any team looking for pass-rushers this offseason. In the final six games of 2015, Vernon had 5 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss, and without Wake playing across from him to boot. He was also second in the league in quarterback hits. He has played in every game since he was drafted in 2012, therefore his sample size is large enough to make inferences from, and at only 25 years old he still has considerable upside. Vernon will likely become a $10+ million-a-year player no matter where he decides to sign, and it would be a huge surprise if the Dolphins find enough cap space to get that size of a deal done. Cameron Wake, while out of his prime, is still effective, and the re-signing Shelby and drafting another defensive end would provide the team with flexibility without having to binge on Vernon.

rishard-matthews-wr-miami-dolphins-3-3-percent-owned_pg_600

(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

Similarly, re-signing Matthews would be more of a luxury than a necessity. His emergence this past season was huge for the Dolphins’ offense. While it was supposed to be first-round pick DeVante Parker becoming the number two receiver across from Jarvis Landry, his injury gave Rishard Matthews an opportunity and he took full advantage of it. For this reason, I believe Matthews fully deserves a respectable contract from some team, and it simply shouldn’t be Miami. Parker should continue to improve and show the potential that made the Dolphins draft him with their first pick, Jarvis Landry should remain a perennial contender for the Pro Bowl, and Gase should be able to make use of Kenny Still’s speed on the outside. The Dolphins simply have too many positions of needs that have to be taken care of, that spending on Matthews shouldn’t even be in consideration when taking into account the price it would likely take.

Danny Trevathan is perhaps the most interesting out of these three options. Improving the play at inside linebacker is certainly a necessity for the Dolphins but, as I explained before, I think it might be in the team’s best interest to rebuild the position through the draft. Perhaps it is possible that they both utilize an early draft pick on a linebacker and splurge for a free agent such as Trevathan. However, in this situation, another area of need would surely suffer. There may also be questions considering how much of Trevathan’s play was a product of the talent around him. To top it all off, Denver Broncos’ general manager John Elway has already said that retaining Danny Trevathan will be a priority this offseason, and other organizations are always looking for players with championship experience. Therefore, Trevathan’s price should rise to the point that the Dolphins lose interest, and hopefully be cautious enough not to overpay.

The Skinny: 

This offseason is absolutely critical for Miami. Fans are becoming tired of hearing the hype and being sold on hope, only to be disappointed by the product on the field. Gase and Tannenbaum have to work together to ensure that progress is made prior to the 2016 season. They can do that by avoiding these mistakes.

Mistakes like “Miss on early draft picks” and “Fail to address positional needs” can sound general, but that’s because they are the goals of every franchise each offseason. While some teams have more leeway, the Dolphins simply don’t. They are a rebuilding team that has been underperforming for far too long, and making potentially avoidable mistakes will simply slow down the process even further. If the offseason goes as planned, I think most fans will be satisfied with what they see from their team next season.

 

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