After being perhaps the worst team many have seen in years in 2019, the Miami Dolphins came just a few plays short of a playoff campaign in 2020, as they finished with a 10-6 record. The Dolphins got their guy, or so it seems, by selecting Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the draft. Some moves to bring in Byron Jones, Ereck Flowers, and many others helped pave the way for Brian Flores to continue to build the culture shift in Miami. The front office has lots of cap and draft picks to continue their ascension into a potential playoff team for the 2021 season.
Before we get into the offseason preview, one thing needs to be talked about. As pointed out already, the Dolphins selected Tagovailoa with the fifth pick in the 2020 draft. The former Alabama product had an up-and-down rookie campaign that didn’t see him start until Week 8, then, for him to get benched in one of Miami’s most important games of the season in Week 15 against the Raiders. Ryan Fitzpatrick went on to lead the Dolphins to a comeback victory in that game. Now, Tagovailoa has been mentioned as a trade piece for Miami to get Deshaun Watson. The Dolphins are one of the only likely teams to land Watson, thanks to their draft capital. While things will get clearer as we go, nothing seems fully set in stone yet for who Miami’s starter is next year.
Pending Free Agents
Miami enters free agency with the tenth-most cap space in the league at almost $23 million. The Dolphins have 18 free agents that they will need to make decisions on. Fortunately, there aren’t many franchise-changing decisions that Chris Grier, Flores, and the front office will have to make.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Quarterback
This is something that will be closely looked at around the league. If Fitzpatrick isn’t offered a contract from the Dolphins, they are all-in on Tagovailoa as their franchise signal-caller or a trade chip. He completed almost 70 percent of his passes last season for over 2,000 yards, 13 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Fitzpatrick played better than Tagovailoa, and there have been rumblings coming out in reports that members of the Dolphins, whether it be coaches or players, don’t agree with Tagovailoa as a franchise quarterback. Fitzpatrick is one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league if he is that alone. He could start on some teams around the league today, and if he leaves Miami, look for him to sign somewhere where he can compete for the starting role.
Elandon Roberts, Linebacker
Miami completely renovated their linebacker room last offseason. The addition of Roberts was just one of the many moves. He finished fifth on the team in tackles with 61, had 1.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss. He could be brought back for cheap, but the Dolphins could opt to go younger at the position and get a player that provides more of a spark at the second level than Roberts does.
Isaiah Ford, Wide Receiver
After being a part of one of the few trade deadline deals, Ford stayed on the Dolphins roster. He had somewhat of a coming-out party this year after not seeing the field as a former sixth-round draft choice. Ford finished fifth on the team in targets and catches, and sixth in yards. He will likely be signed to a short-term deal and stay on the roster as a depth piece.
Ted Karras, Center
Karras is one of the lone starters that the Dolphins have to worry about re-signing. After signing with the Dolphins on a one-year contract, he provided some solid play from his center spot. With an opportunity to improve the position, whether it be on the open market or in the draft, Karras most likely won’t be back with the team next year.
Vince Biegel, Edge Rusher
After being a fourth-round selection by the Packers in 2017, Biegel was cut by Green Bay following the 2018 preseason. Then, New Orleans signed him. He was traded from New Orleans to Miami, where in 2019, he had a good season. Biegel provided a spark off the edge, where he had 59 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He missed all of 2020 with a torn Achilles suffered in training camp. Now, he will likely re-sign with Miami and fight for a starting role.
Davon Godchaux, Defensive Line
Godchaux is listed as a starter currently, but he isn’t a starter in reality. He only played in five games last year and was outplayed by second-round selection Raekwon Davis. He will likely play elsewhere in 2021.
Nik Needham, Cornerback (ERFA)
This is an easy decision. The Dolphins will sign Needham, who has been a big part of their secondary, to a cheap contract worth about $850,000. He finished sixth on the team in tackles, third in pass deflections, and tied for second in interceptions last year. He is a name that many fans don’t recognize because he doesn’t play on an all-star team or create a ton of interceptions.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Dolphins only have a few options here. Emmanuel Ogbah won’t be counted in this section, even though Miami could save $7.5 million by cutting. Ogbah led the team in sacks last year with 9.
Bobby McCain, Safety ($6.4M Saved)
McCain likely won’t be the starting free safety next season as Brandon Jones showed enough development to warrant being a starter next year. McCain could find a starting role elsewhere on a team that is competing for a Super Bowl or a team willing to overpay to get him.
Eric Rowe, Safety ($5.525M Saved)
Unlike McCain, the Dolphins don’t have an option on the roster that would take over for Rowe. The case for cutting him is if the front office likes some options they have already in the building or find someone in the draft that they fall in love with that can play opposite of Jones on the backend.
Albert Wilson, Wide Receiver ($2.85M Saved)
Wilson opted out of the 2020 season. Following the 2017 season, Miami gave him a pretty hefty contract to be the starting slot receiver. Unfortunately, Wilson’s injury woes have gotten in the way of him having a lasting impact on the Dolphins. He has only been able to play 20 games for the last three seasons. The Dolphins could find a better, cheaper option.
Open Market Free Agents
Miami will be one of the most active teams in free agency. They will likely clear up some space and only re-sign a few of the players mentioned above to small contracts. The Dolphins could improve at running back and receiver early in free agency and get some help along the offensive or defensive line.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Dolphins have a few role players at their running back spot. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed showed flashes during the 2020 season, but neither expect to be the featured back next season. While some may put Aaron Jones here, Conner is a much cheaper option. He could be brought in on a one-year prove-it deal after his injury-plagued 2020 season for the Steelers. Signing Conner would also not rule out the Dolphins taking a running back on day two of the draft.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Another Steeler makes the list. With Wilson being a potential cap casualty, that opens the door for a new, or better, slot receiver. Smith-Schuster primarily works out of the slot, and the Dolphins would be able to sign him to a long-term contract if that’s what he’s looking for. Miami already has two starting options with DeVante Parker and Preston Williams. With Wilson out of the fold, that opens the door for one, or maybe multiple receivers.
Corey Linsley, C, Green Bay Packers
The Dolphins could bring back Karras as the veteran of the offensive line. Miami could go in a different direction by getting Linsley, who is one of the best centers in the league. Another option would be targeting a center on day two of the draft, but Linsley is as close to a sure-thing as you’ll get. Green Bay doesn’t have the cap space to retain Linsley currently, and he said this week that a return doesn’t seem likely.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Los Angeles Chargers
With Fitzpatrick likely on his way out, a backup quarterback is needed. Taylor spent last season starting over Justin Herbert until a wild situation happened that opened the door for Herbert to get his opportunity and run with it. He could help mentor Tagovailoa, and he has a similar skillset to him as well. He could provide a safe floor as a backup if he is thrust into playing time.
Previewing the Draft
The Dolphins currently hold seven picks in the draft. While that may not seem like a lot, they have four picks in the first 50 and five in the first 100. Miami only has two picks on day three of the draft currently. The front office will likely trade back with one of their first four selections to gather more capital in the later rounds. Unfortunately, we can’t do that in this preview.
Round 1, Pick 3: Offensive Tackle
Miami has a hole at the left tackle spot. Austin Jackson was selected in the first round last year but fits best as a right tackle. The first two selections in the draft will likely be quarterbacks, so Penei Sewell could very well fall into Miami’s lap. Taking Sewell would not only help the left tackle spot but other spots on the offensive line. This has been a popular pick in some mock drafts lately as well.
Round 1, Pick 18: Linebacker
Miami has three linebackers with expiring contracts. A linebacker or two could be drafted early to provide some depth at the second level. Some recent reports may have Micah Parsons slip in the draft, and he is a perfect fit for Miami’s system. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (scouting report here) and Zaven Collins (scouting report here) would also be good fits here.
Round 2, Pick 36: Running Back
These next three could all be switched around. As pointed out earlier, the Dolphins don’t have a star at the running back spot that improves their offense immensely. At this spot, it is unknown if Travis Etienne or Najee Harris would be available. If either or both are, they are in contention for this selection, along with Javonte Williams (scouting report here). Any of the three would be an immediate upgrade at the running back spot.
Round 2, Pick 50: Edge Rusher
Ogbah is a solid pass-rusher, but the Dolphins need to add more to their pass-rush rotation. Jayson Oweh (scouting report here), Joseph Ossai, Ronnie Perkins, Carlos Basham Jr. Joe Tryon, Quincy Roche, as well as many others all can provide a spark as a number two pass-rusher in their rookie seasons with the potential to develop into a top-tier pass-rusher.
Round 3, Pick 81: Wide Receiver
The second and third rounds could be a variety of different positions. Miami has other needs besides these five that need to be addressed, but these are the most notable. The receiver class in this draft is deep. Players like Amari Rodgers, Tylan Wallace (scouting report here), Dyami Brown, and Demetric Felton (scouting report here) could all be available with this selection.
Early 2021 Expectations
The Dolphins were a few plays away from making the playoffs in 2020. That was in part thanks to one of the easiest schedules in the league but let’s not dive too deep into that. With a strong free agency period, draft class, and development from young players in key roles, Miami could make the playoffs as a wild card team. In a division with the Bills, they likely won’t win the division but will have to fight with other teams for the final wild-card spots.