Miami Dolphins 2013 Offseason Preview
SI.com is laying out offseason road maps for all 32 teams as they start their journey for the Lombardi Trophy -- two teams per day, from the teams that need the most work to contend in 2013 to the ones that are in pretty good shape. See them all.
2012 Record: 7-9
Key Pending Free Agents: Reggie Bush, RB; Chris D. Clemons, SS; Tyrone Culver, FS; Anthony Fasano, TE; Nate Garner, OG; Brian Hartline, WR; Jake Long, OT; Matt Moore, QB; Sean Smith, CB; Randy Starks, DL
List of Draft Picks (pending compensatory picks): 1 (12), 2 (42), 2 (54), 3 (77), 3 (82), 4 (108), 5 (139), 7 (201), 7 (208)
Available Cap Space: $35.8 million
GM/Coaching Moves: Zac Taylor was promoted to QB coach, with Ben Johnson elevated to assistant QB coach. Charlie Bullen steps up as assistant DL coach. Assistant special teams coach Dave Fipp was replaced by Marwan Maalouf.
This was yet another rebuilding year in Miami, one defined by a series of false starts. After letting Jeff Fisher (the favorite to replace Tony Sparano) slip through their grasp, the Dolphins settled for Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Not long thereafter, two more bids to acquire would-be saviors -- the Colts' Peyton Manning in free agency and, later, Packers supersub Matt Flynn via trade -- fell through.
Pre-draft deals with St. Louis for the second overall pick (which was where Robert Griffin III went) went unmade. Instead, Miami stood pat and selected Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill eighth overall. The plan was to stash him behind '11 starter Matt Moore and '12 starter-to-be David Garrard, who had taken all of the previous season off to tend to a bad back and legs. But when the then-34-year-old buckled again in training camp with a left knee injury, Miami turned to Tannehill, a receiver-cum-quarterback. He played well -- his 3,294 passing yards and 282 completions set franchise rookie records -- but not well enough to come within shouting distance of classmates Griffin, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson in the rookie of the year conversation.
Of course, Tannehill's numbers might have been better had Miami not traded away Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall to the Bears for two third-rounders before the draft or cut Chad Ochocinco in training camp. But that's not to say receivers Brian Hartline, Devon Bess and tailback Reggie Bush didn't carry the offense admirably, or sackmeisters Cameron Wake and Randy Starks didn't bring bite to a mostly toothless D.
Despite their early fumbling, the Dolphins knocked off the playoff-bound Bengals and Seahawks and came within a score of beating or tying the Jets, Cardinals, Colts, Bills and Patriots. The Dolphins' seven wins were a surprise, but the losing season was their fourth in as many seasons. Still, the byproduct of this lost year -- a talented young nucleus and a boatload of cap space -- gives Miami a solid foundation to build upon at last.
43.0. Career sacks by Wake, an undrafted former mortgage broker who invested two years in the CFL before Miami took a free-agent flyer on him in 2009. That's the third-most most of any active player in his first four years. Only Indy's Dwight Freeney (51.0) and Dallas' DeMarcus Ware (53.5) have more.
Don't meddle with the West Coast offense. Philbin and coordinator Mike Sherman have sworn by it long enough to know that it will only become more explosive once they surround Tannehill with more playmakers. So why then would the Dolphins consider experimenting with the read-option, as a recent report suggests? It's not that Tannehill wouldn't be good at it; he ran for 369 yards and five touchdowns in college, after all. It's that the teams who ran it successfully in 2012 -- Washington, Seattle and San Francisco -- all had solid backups behind their starters. Miami has had enough trouble finding one dynamic signal caller. The rise of third-stringer Pat Devlin, a forced B-story in last season's Hard Knocks, would spin off into a genuinely scary drama were life to suddenly imitate art.
65.3. Tannehill's third-down passer rating, which ranked 36th out of 39 quarterbacks eligible. The only rookie who came close was Luck at 27th, with a 75.5 rating. Wilson and Griffin finished in the top 10.
The Dolphins didn't make enough of the kinds of plays that turn around games, ranking near the bottom in first-down pass completions (158 out of 504 attempts), plays over 20 yards (55, or 10 more than the last-place Cardinals, Jets and Chargers) and takeaways (16, or three more than the last-place Eagles and Chiefs). The good news is that this is a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it, and the Dolphins have more of it to spend than every team but the Colts ($46 million), Browns ($48.9 million) and Bengals ($55.1 million). Miami couldn't be better positioned to seduce playmakers like Steelers unrestricted free-agent receiver Mike Wallace or even Packers cornerback Sam Shields, a restricted free agent Green Bay will likely fight hard to keep.
1. Re-sign Jake Long. So the four-time Pro Bowler has given up almost as many sacks in his last two seasons (12.5) as his first three (13). Even while battling shoulder and arm injuries, he's still far better protection than second-year tackle Jonathan Martin, whose 57 sacks/hits/hurries conceded in '12 was the fourth most in the league per Pro Football Focus.
2. Reunite Philbin with Greg Jennings. The Packers free-agent-receiver-to-be thrived in the coach's offense and would give the Dolphins the downfield threat they lacked all season. What's more, he wants to take his talents to South Beach. He could even be had for a bargain given his recent health setbacks.
3. Don't overpay for Reggie Bush. Even though Bush fell well short of his stated goal of leading the league in rushing in '12, he should be applauded for successfully reinventing himself as a between-the-tackles runner during his two seasons in Miami -- a metamorphosis many Saints fans thought impossible. That said, if he's not open to taking a hometown discount, there should be no shortage of low-cost replacements available among a lush free-agent crop that includes Ahmad Bradshaw, Steven Jackson and Mike Goodson.
The word shrewd comes to mind, and the Dolphins don't even have to work hard to hear it. All they have to do is press home their considerable advantages in spending and in draft picks and build a serious contender around Tannehill. They'd be halfway there if they re-signed a few of their steady contributors (Hartline, Starks, et al.), added a few free-agent playmakers, and drafted at least one offensive player who could be an opening-day starter.
The obvious candidates are Stanford juniors Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- second- and third-round projections, respectively. Ertz has the stats (1,434 yards and 15 TDs in three seasons). Toilolo has the Jimmy Graham-like body (6-foot-8, 265 pounds) and athleticism. Either player, both products of the West Coast system, would be more than capable complements to or replacements for Anthony Fasano, depending on how the Dolphins handle his impending free agency.
Far more intriguing, however, is how we'll view GM Jeff Ireland, who in his five-plus years in Miami has come under fire for everything from his inflexible negotiating approach to asking Dez Bryant if his mother was a prostitute (although Ireland did apologize for that). After coming within a whisker of losing his job after last season, he can't afford any more crackups now.
The pressure on Ireland has never been greater. Owner Stephen Ross is getting antsy. His thumb is hovering over the speed dial entry for former Chiefs czar Carl Peterson. His eyes are trained on a $400 million stadium renovation plan, one that would be an easier sell if there were some indication that a title contender was moving back in. Ireland has Miami better positioned than ever to "win" this offseason, but he has to follow through. If Ireland fumbles this chance, he and the Dolphins will be starting from scratch again -- only separately next time.