Offseason Revisited: Analyzing the Impact That 2016 Free Agents’ Decisions Have Had on Miami
Miami, like all teams in the offseason, was named as a potential destination for a myriad of free agents prior to training camp. While a lot of these rumors were simply speculation as to what teams could potentially be interested in what players, there were a few free agents in which it seemed could truly be on their way to South Beach. Let’s take a look at these players and analyze how things would be different had they ultimately signed with the Dolphins.
At one point in the offseason, the Miami Dolphins were reportedly “in discussions” with veteran offensive lineman Alex Boone. All of a sudden, it seemed like one of the team’s weaknesses could suddenly turn into a relative strength. Soon after the “Boone to Miami” possibility began to gain traction, however, the former 49er was on his way to Minnesota.
Boone got off to a slow start with his new franchise and has been hindered by a hip injury as well. With that being said, the trajectory of his performance took a turn for the better this past week. Head coach Mike Zimmer praised Boone’s fundamentals, physicality, communication and ability in pass protection, describing the left guard’s performance against the New York Giants as, “the best game he’s played since he’s been [in Minnesota].”
Miami’s offensive line has been disappointing to say the least, failing to create much space in the run game and tying for the fourth most sacks allowed in the league (11) as well. Jermon Bushrod has done a decent job occupying the right guard position, but Boone would be an obvious upgrade. Although Boone plays on the left side currently, he made a name for himself with his performance on the other side of the center. Without Mike Pouncey on the field, communication has been an obvious problem. Boone would have, at the very least, helped indescribably in this regard on the right side of the line.
This one understandably hurts the most. After Lamar Miller left Miami, the Dolphins turned their attention to C.J. Anderson. Gase coached Anderson in his breakout season in 2014 and likely fell in love with the idea of getting a player that was already comfortable in his offense. Thus, Miami signed the restricted free agent to an offer sheet. Reports then began flooding in, suggesting that Denver wouldn’t match the offer, and making it seem like a forgone conclusion that Anderson would be Miller’s replacement.
Boy, were those initial reports wrong. John Elway and the Broncos matched the offer before the given deadline, bringing Anderson back to Denver and sending Miami scrambling for other options.
Anderson has been an absolute workhorse for the Broncos, ranking sixth in the league in carries. His efficiency has undoubtedly been trending in the wrong direction since his 139 total yard, 2 total touchdown performance against the Panthers in Week 1, but he has surely been valuable nonetheless. Considering the ineffectiveness of the four-man committee that Gase has attempted to employ, having a three-down back like Anderson would have been invaluable.
Gase hasn’t been successful as he attempts to implement a balanced game plan and would have had no such issue with Anderson in the fold. While he is averaging less than four yards per carry at this point, he has taken a ton of pressure off of Trevor Siemian. This is the type of threat that has been lacking in Miami’s offense and has led to unwarranted risk taking by Ryan Tannehill. For this reason, it remains to be seen if Gase has the personnel in his backfield to successfully run his offense in 2016.
As mentioned earlier, Miami’s loss in the Anderson sweepstakes sent them searching for a plan b. Chris Johnson seemed like one of the more reasonable options. The veteran running back visited the Dolphins, prior to ultimately resigning with the Cardinals.
Now, acquiring Johnson would not have been as flashy as the signing of Anderson that ultimately slipped through the cracks. Yet it was a move that made sense. Jay Ajayi had shown plenty of flashes as Lamar Miller’s backup, and pairing their young up-and-comer with a veteran like Johnson was a safe and well thought out possibility.
Chris Johnson returned to Arizona at peace with being the change of pace back, with David Johnson running the show. He would have had a larger workload in Miami, but was sure that he could be successful in tandem with David Through four games, Chris was largely correct. He was averaging nearly four yards per carry and had already scored a touchdown. He was in the midst of his best game of the season this past week, but exited in the fourth quarter and has since been placed on injured reserve.
It is impossible to say if Johnson would have been injured if he became a Dolphin, but it’s interesting to wonder if he would have been a good fit in Gase’s offense regardless. He is not nearly the same threat out of the backfield as Foster is and is better suited for a cameo role at this point in his career. While losing out on a second straight running back stung after the Anderson fiasco, it is arguable that Johnson would not have been any more successful than Ajayi, Drake, Williams and Pead have been in relief of Foster.
Along with the offensive line and linebacker positions, cornerback was arguably Miami’s biggest question mark this offseason. That made it easy to suggest that Adam Jones could sign with the Dolphins and reunite with his former defensive backs’ coach Vance Joseph. After all, Jones harped praise on Joseph for the positive effects he had on his career, and Miami had a major hole at the position. Why not come to South Beach?
Instead, Jones chose to remain with the franchise that helped him revitalize his career, and the impact on the Dolphins’ defense has been obvious. They have forced rookie cornerback Xavien Howard into early action, benched Byron Maxwell and had Tony Lippett (I repeat, Tony Lippett) attempting to cover Jones’ teammate AJ Green during Thursday Night Football. Jones is by no means a perfect defensive back, but he undoubtedly would have been better than the options Joseph currently has at his disposal.
He is a tenacious tackler and is equally as physical in coverage. His aggressiveness does get him into trouble at points, however, as it did when he fell for a double move by Emmanuel Sanders in Week 3.
Nevertheless, he would have immediately been one of Miami’s best defensive playmakers; he already has an interception and forced fumble on the season. As evidenced by the whopping one total interception the Dolphins’ defense has so far in 2016, Miami could have used Jones’ talents. While he makes mistakes at times, nearly every corner does. The reality is, we already know that he is a perfect fit for Joseph’s defensive schemes, and Miami likely regrets failing to make a harder push for him.
We also can’t forget about the players Miami let walk away. Had they kept Lamar Miller, they would have never had to pursue Anderson. Miller ranks in the top five in both rushing attempts and rushing yards. It would have definitely been fun to see how Gase employed him after the complete misuse and underutilization of Miller by the last coaching regime.
Olivier Vernon and Derrick Shelby would have made an already strong defensive line even stronger. While Shelby has been underwhelming since joining the Atlanta Falcons, you can never have too much depth along the line of scrimmage. All Vernon has done, on the other hand, is accumulate the second most snaps in the league among defensive linemen. While he only has one sack thus far, you can expect some positive regression to occur in this regard. Of course, it wouldn’t really have been realistic to expect Miami to retain Vernon after seeing him sign a historic contract with the New York Giants. Yet it is still fair to wonder how things would be different had they had the cap space to make such a move.
Overall, the Dolphins’ front office missed out on multiple opportunities to improve the team this offseason. While in hindsight it seems as if signing Chris Johnson would have failed to move the needle by much, the same can’t be said for the other three players described in detail above. C.J. Anderson, Alex Boone and Adam Jones are three talented and reliable players, at a few of Miami’s weakest positions. It can absolutely be argued that Miami would have a better record than 1-3 had they been successful in obtaining even one or two of the three. Anderson is undeniably the biggest name of the bunch, which is part of the reason the blindside of his return to Denver hurt so much. Boone would be an immediate improvement for the offensive line and was desired by Miami as a cost-effective alternative to Kelechi Osemele. Jones similarly would have been a major step in the right direction for a defensive backfield that lacks consistency. Alas, the past is in the past, and all we can do now is hope that Gase is able to right the ship with the players he has at his disposal.