Offseason in Review: What We Liked, Disliked & Wish We Saw From the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins’ preseason debut is almost upon us. As the team prepares to take the field, we decided to look back at the draft, free agency and most importantly the coaching hire to decide how we truly feel about the Dolphins’ moves over the last seven months.
What We Liked:
The Miami Dolphins finally got their man. After years of failed pursuits and settling for second options, the team entered the offseason and swiftly filled their coaching vacancy with a top candidate. Gase is respected universally among the league by fellow coaches as well as former players. What better show of respect than Peyton Manning’s visits to South Florida, or Wes Welker’s time spent as an assistant coach? Players with options choose to come visit Gase.
Adam Gase also commands respect from his players, while still managing to foster an environment in which they interact comfortably with him. Gone are the days of a cardboard figure roaming the sidelines. Gase is dynamic, and players appreciate that.
While we don’t know whether or not Gase will find success with the team, it is difficult to take a negative angle on the decision from a pure hiring standpoint.
The Eagles Trade, Luck of the Draw & Laremy Tunsil:
The Miami Dolphins don’t usually seem to be on the receiving end of good luck during the offseason. However, they clearly had some good karma saved up ahead of this year’s draft.
After trading back from the 8th spot to the 13th in exchange for Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell, the Dolphins still managed to select (arguably) the best player in the draft class. Had Tunsil not fallen? Things would have gotten murky.
The Dolphins would have been out of luck in terms of defensive backs, likely looking at a situation in which they would be forced to overdraft someone at the 13th spot. They also could have taken Myles Jack, but there is a substantial injury concern and he did not fill a position of dire need.
Laremy Tunsil is expected to fight for the starting left guard job this season and step into the LT role in 2017 when Branden Albert departs. This will make for a smooth transition and allows Tunsil to learn the system for a year before assuming a role as the most important blocker on the line.
This is an example of winning a trade out of pure luck. The Dolphins ended up filling two needs with Maxwell and Alonso (say what you will about them as players, but bodies are bodies) as well as drafting a top-tier talent. Why were they comfortable enough to draft Tunsil following a video of him smoking marijuana out of a gas mask bong? Because Adam Gase, Mike Tannenbaum, Ndamukong Suh and Laremy Tunsil all happen to share an agent in Jimmy Sexton.
Moral of the story? Sometimes you just get lucky.
Letting Olivier Vernon Walk:
While Olivier Vernon was a valuable asset for the Dolphins, the team clearly could not give him such a massive contract. Vernon’s statistics are overblown and his impact was inconsistent for Miami. I do believe he will be a good player for the Giants, but thankfully for their salary cap’s future the Dolphins let him walk and will now receive a high compensatory pick in next year’s draft.
Signing Arian Foster and Jermon Bushrod:
These are two examples of picture perfect signings. Bushrod is a depth player who has experience in the league and can mentor the Dolphins’ younger linemen. Foster is a back with plenty of upside when healthy who the team managed to secure on a deal that leaves them with almost no risk.
The Dolphins brought in two talented players and did so without acquiring any major baggage if they do not pan out. These are the types of moves that help teams win games down the stretch in a long 16 game season.
Mike Tannenbaum and Dennis Hickey could not work together. While Hickey did have a successful draft for Miami in 2014, the team knew that they needed a GM who could work with Tannenbaum in the front office.
Chris Grier rose through the ranks in Miami, having worked with the team for sixteen years. He will be tasked with scouting and what some might call “the dirty work,” while Mike Tannenbaum works on big picture decisions. Grier will be able to work with his boss, who is able to work with Stephen Ross. The chain of command makes much more sense now, with Tannenbaum receiving a bit more GM-esque power than a usual team president and Grier accepting more scouting based responsibilities than many GMs might have (while focusing less on the big picture).
The front office structure itself is not my first choice, but I do believe that Grier is the perfect man to bridge the gap in the team’s executive leadership.
What We Didn’t Like:
Letting Lamar Miller Walk:
This was one of the more disappointing moves of the offseason. Lamar Miller would have been a perfect fit for Adam Gase’s system, and his talent could have been utilized to its fullest extent for the first time in his career.
Miller’s deal with the Texans is substantial, but would have been feasible for the Dolphins to take on had they adjusted accordingly. Miller, however, clearly felt that Houston gave him the best chance to both get paid and become a bell-cow running back.
The Miami Dolphins then attempted to sign C.J. Anderson to an offer sheet, which was surprisingly matched by the Denver Broncos. Most thought that he was as good as gone in the Mile High City, but alas the team cleared enough room to retain him.
Adam Gase will now be forced to roll with a running back by committee approach, which has actually been a preference of his in the league. Miller’s departure falls into the dislike category, but not by much. It is easy to understand why he was not re-signed, and there is a well-documented body of analysis that lends itself towards not committing to running backs long term. However, it is tough to stomach letting such a talented player walk just as the rest of the offense starts to find itself in order personnel-wise. Lamar Miller could have been a serious difference-maker for the Dolphins in 2016, but it is easy to see why the team made the decision that they did.
Trades on Draft Day:
Mike Tannenbaum is known for mortgaging future draft picks to move up the board aggressively during the draft. Even he outdid himself with a few moves this year.
First, the Dolphins gave up a fourth round pick in order to move up 4 spots and select Xavien Howard. Not only did the team give up far too much to only move up a few spots, but they also (by many experts’ measurements) over drafted Howard. The team could have used as many picks as possible and instead aggressively went after a cornerback who they knew was already a risk.
Later, the Patriots would acquire a fifth round pick from the Dolphins in exchange for two sixth round picks. This didn’t seem too troublesome, until the Patriots flipped that pick in exchange for a 2016 seventh round pick and a 2017 fourth rounder. The Dolphins ended up moving down, but in return missed out on a potentially valuable pick next offseason.
One of the most questionable trades could be the move that sent Jamar Taylor to the Browns with a seventh round pick in exchange for Brandon Doughty. Doughty could be a valuable piece as a backup QB, but the Dolphins desperately need bodies at cornerback and gave one away to the Browns. While Taylor is far from the type of player you expect a big impact from, it is still troublesome to see depth given away at one position for depth in another less needy area.
Letting Derrick Shelby Walk:
Derrick Shelby carved out a nice role with the Dolphins during the 2015 season. His ability to play outside and inside allowed the team to shift Ndamukong Suh around and create confusion for offensive lines. Shelby was also their top rotational option.
Shelby’s deal features a low cap hit this offseason and a gradually escalating deal. However, when the deal reaches the $5.750M range, the Falcons could move on from his deal with a lower dead money pickup.
While this isn’t the type of move you lose sleep over, it would surely have been helpful for the Dolphins to keep Shelby in the fold going forward.
What We Wish Happened:
Signing Adam Jones or Alex Boone:
The Dolphins would currently be in a much better position with these two players in the fold. While the team clearly did not want to overspend in free agency, adding Boone and Jones would have changed the complexion of the team going forward.
If Boone had been acquired, the Dolphins’ starting OL could very well have been Albert, Tunsil, Pouncey, Boone and James. It could have even allowed for them to acquire more picks by trading Albert and starting Tunsil at LT immediately. Regardless of how the situation would have ended up, the team is still in need of one surefire guard, as next year Tunsil will move out to LT and leave the LG spot vacant once again.
Adam Jones would have been a big boost for the secondary, and he has a very close bond with Vance Joseph. The Dolphins were among the teams in Jones’ final considerations, but the Bengals ended up being able to retain him. While his baggage off of the field is worrisome, the Dolphins couldn’t really afford to be too picky with their current depth chart. Yes, the team probably planned on drafting a corner, but their situation would have been vastly improved with Jones on board.
Depth in the Draft:
The Dolphins’ late round picks in the draft could end up becoming offensive contributors, but the team clearly needs depth on defense and in other spots.
The defensive line is the most notable area that the team could have addressed with picks. While players like Jakeem Grant and Thomas Duarte could have some impact, rotational linemen would have been welcomed additions.
It’s tough to complain too much about the Dolphins’ offseason.
The team kept a low profile for the first time in years during the opening days of free agency and, thankfully, was able to draft a dominant player while still picking up contributors in a trade they clearly won. The team also brought in their top choice at head coach and managed to promote a GM from within who can be relied on to work well with Mike Tannenbaum.
The biggest pitfalls that the Dolphins faced during the offseason came in the area of missed free agents. However, one could suggest that Alex Boone would not have been necessary after the Tunsil pick, that Lamar Miller’s injury history could have become a problem with a heavier load, and that Adam Jones’ baggage off of the field was a deal breaker. The C.J. Anderson situation was a disappointment, but bringing in a low risk/high reward player like Arian Foster helps lessen the blow.
As a whole, the Dolphins’ offseason is best looked at as the first year of a rebuild. The offense’s personnel is in a very good place, with starters secured at 4/5 offensive line spots and a solid rotation at running back. The team could need another guard next offseason, but 1-2 needs could be easily addressed.
The defensive side of the ball will be the area that receives the most attention during the 2017 offseason. However, if the secondary and a few defensive line spots are the main areas that need help, then it can almost certainly be managed in a single offseason. Regardless of how you choose to look at the Dolphins’ situation, it is easy to see how a massive improvement could come with a solid defensive rebuild next offseason.
Luck was finally on Miami’s side at times this offseason, and the team has put themselves in a positive position going forward. They will not be hamstrung by absurd contracts, and they have flexibility when approaching a likely defensive rebuild in 2017. While expectations might not be high for this season in Miami, there are certainly high hopes for the current regime to help turn around the Dolphins’ fortunes and help produce a winner in the coming years.
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