As teams get mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs, we’ll give you a jump on their offseason by examining what went right, what went wrong and what needs to change before next season.
The Dolphins couldn’t follow up last season’s playoff appearance. Those hopes probably died in training camp, when quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Dolphins dragged Jay Cutler out of retirement, but he was poor most of the season. The Dolphins started 4-2 but anyone who watched them knew they weren’t nearly that good, and it showed during a five-game losing streak that effectively knocked them out of the hunt.
What went right: The most positive breakout might have been running back Kenyan Drake, who emerged after Jay Ajayi’s trade and Damien Williams’ injury. Drake averaged 4.8 yards per carry and showed workhorse tendencies he never had before. Jarvis Landry had more than 100 catches again, as he played his role well. Cornerback Xavien Howard came on strong near the end of the season. Safety Reshad Jones made a Pro Bowl, and Ndamukong Suh probably should have as well. And ageless Cam Wake had nine sacks at 35 years old.
What went wrong: Any team that loses its quarterback for the season before the season opener is up against it. Jay Cutler had some bad games and Matt Moore was worse. That long-awaited DeVante Parker breakout never happened, due in part to injuries. The offense was awful most of the season, and the defense underperformed given how many big names it has.
Will the coach be back?: Adam Gase will return, but the shine appears to have worn off a bit. It’s not easy to replace a starting quarterback on the fly, but it’s not impossible (look at the Minnesota Vikings) and Gase wanted Jay Cutler out of retirement. Nothing about the offense looked innovative in 2017. Gase has to be safe, but 2018 will be a big season for him. This season was a step back.
Do they have a quarterback?: The Dolphins could cut Ryan Tannehill, given how his contract is structured, but that would be a surprise. Tannehill hasn’t been great, but he has had moments of promise and it’s not like the Dolphins have another option. If Tannehill returns at 100 percent he’s good enough to win with, if the Dolphins have a solid cast around him. There are worse options than Tannehill, though there are better ones too. He’s a middle-of-the-road NFL starting quarterback. Some teams would love to be in the middle of the pack at quarterback.
Quick free agent fix: The Dolphins have a very interesting offseason coming with Ndamukong Suh. Suh’s cap number blows up to $26.1 million in 2018. The Dolphins can’t keep him at that. Can they restructure? Suh is still a very good defensive tackle and the Dolphins won’t be better without him. A new deal with Suh, calming down that ridiculous cap number for next season, would be a nice offseason move. The Dolphins are among the bottom five teams in projected cap room, though it would be crazy for Suh to be on the roster at that cap number, so the Dolphins will get some space whether they move on or restructure. However, those savings should be used to re-sign Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins probably don’t have enough cap space to have Suh and Landry return and also sign another impact free agent.
Quick draft fix: Pass rusher is still a big need, because Cam Wake can’t keep playing at this level forever. Charles Harris, a 2017 first-round pick, didn’t have a huge impact but he can develop. The Dolphins could do worse than double up at the position by using a high pick on a pass rusher in 2018 too. They should also use some draft capital on the offensive line, particularly at guard. Fixing the offensive line in free agency is expensive, and the Dolphins don’t have the resources for that.
Give it to me straight, can my team make the playoffs in 2018?: I don’t think so. In 2016, the Dolphins caught a wave of bad opponents and rode it to a wild-card spot. They weren’t one of the best teams in football that year, and we saw their record correct itself in 2017. Miami did have a lot of injuries (we’ve talked about Ryan Tannehill, but rookie linebacker Raekown McMillan’s torn ACL was also a huge blow) so maybe some better injury luck helps. I’m still not very impressed with what Adam Gase is doing there.
PREVIOUS FOND FAREWELLS
– – – – – – –