What’s Left: How Can the Dolphins Improve the Left Side of Their OL in the 2017 Offseason?
Building a successful offensive line may be the hardest thing to do in the National Football League. Trying to find five, sometimes even six, guys that have the necessary talent, communication skills, and ability to stay healthy is near impossible.
What makes matters worse is the fact that a team absolutely needs all the pieces of an offensive line for there to be success. A team can have two great offensive linemen and still have one of the worst lines in the league. The offensive line is the foundation for any successful offense. For instance, the Falcons had the best offense in the NFL while having five offensive linemen that didn’t miss a single game. That is no coincidence.
There are plenty of ways to go about building an offensive line, but nobody can predict injuries. Whether the line is built through the draft or in free agency, there is always a little luck involved.
Miami’s current offensive line situation
The Dolphins find themselves in a tricky situation surrounding the offensive line. The team currently has Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert, who are both being paid as top-shelf players at their position. Neither of these guys have played 16 games since 2012. The Dolphins are also in need of a new right guard and will likely need to figure out what to do at left guard and right tackle after the 2017 season. Don’t forget, they will likely need to find a center during that time too, unless they want to trust Pouncey’s shaky track record.
As we can see, there are a lot of questions surrounding this unit, but there are even less answers. It is impossible to build an offensive line in a year, so let’s focus on just a part of the unit. The left side of Miami’s 30th ranked offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus, was viewed as the unit’s strength for most of the season.
This was possible even though Albert missed four games and Laremy Tunsil had to jump from guard to tackle quite a bit. Tunsil even missed a few games after slipping in the bathtub on gameday early in the season.
Tunsil fell to the Dolphins in one of the strangest draft-day storylines in the history of the NFL. At the time, Tunsil was seen as the best player in the entire draft by some, expected to be an elite-caliber left tackle for ten-plus years in the NFL.
The Dolphins couldn’t pass on the 6’ 5” tackle from the University of Mississippi, even though they had Branden Albert taking a $30 million cap-hit over the next three seasons. Tunsil had an up-and-down rookie season, but his talent was obvious. Developing offensive linemen boils down to consistency. When a player has an opportunity to learn and stay at one position, they are more likely to have success than someone who has to play multiple positions across the offensive line.
With that being said, we can blame any poor play from Tunsil in 2016 on the health issues of Miami’s offensive line. When looking ahead to 2017, the Dolphins want to make sure that Tunsil has the chance to master a position, rather than playing different spots on the line, which would likely stunt his growth. So the $20 million question for Adam Gase and his coaching staff is simple. Where is Laremy Tunsil going to play in 2017?
There are two options here. Keep Tunsil at guard, where he had success in the run game because of his athleticism and hope Albert stays healthy, or move Tunsil to his natural position at left tackle and hope that Albert restructures his contract.
What to do with Branden Albert
Before we get ahead of ourselves, this decision should have nothing to do with Albert. Wherever Adam Gase wants Tunsil to play in 2017 is where he is going to be. The Dolphins may decide to keep Tunsil at guard for another year because they believe he is talented enough to move to tackle after 2017.
The only reason this would happen is if they trust that Albert will be healthy and they don’t want to add another position to a long list of needs for the team this offseason. With that being said, the Dolphins lucked into a cheap left tackle for the next four years and should be taking advantage of that.
When the Dolphins signed Albert in the 2013 offseason, he was paid to be an elite tackle. While there is no reason to knock Albert’s level of play, he isn’t on the field enough to be deemed elite. If he is unwilling to restructure his contract, the Dolphins would be saving $8 million against the 2017 salary cap.
To put that into perspective, Oakland’s Kelechi Osemele, Tampa Bay’s J.R. Sweezy, and Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler were the only guards to make that much money in 2016. The money saved from Albert’s contract could be used to sign a top-tier left guard to play next to Laremy Tunsil.
This would make sense for the Dolphins for a handful of reasons. Not only would the left side of Miami’s offensive line be set for at least the next four years, but also it wouldn’t impact Miami’s current cap number of $30 million, which they could still use to fill other needs.
The 2017 class of free agent guards has potential without breaking the bank. The Dolphins could look to guys like Chance Warmack and Luke Joeckel. If they wanted to make a splash, there are also guards like Ron Leary and T.J. Lang (if healthy) getting ready to be on the market.
No matter what Miami’s plan for the offensive line is for 2017, it is hard to see Albert at left tackle with Tunsil ready to go. The Dolphins have the opportunity to improve the offensive line by using Albert’s money elsewhere without affecting plans to fill other holes on the roster. That seems like a no-brainer for Adam Gase and his staff.