AFC East

Where Does the Dolphins Rebuild Stand?

Expectations For Miami Prior To The Season

Jevon Holland has had an excellent rookie season and is a key part of the Miami Dolphins rebuild
© Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images Jevon Holland has had an excellent rookie season and is a key part of the Miami Dolphins rebuild

Coming into the third year of the rebuilding process prognosticators varied on how far along the Miami Dolphins were. Some questioned Miami’s improvement in the offseason, sitting the offensive line as the biggest question mark. Others felt that Miami showed enough coming off a 10-6 season to make the playoffs. Tua Tagovailoa must stay healthy. He also needed to show the ability to make tough throws and greater leadership Brian Flores and Josh Boyer helped make the defense into the team’s strength. It was the part of the team that would keep Miami in games as Tua continued to grow and learn.

How Should the 2021-22 Season be Seen?

This season Miami rode a roller coaster, becoming the first to lose and win seven games in a row in the same season. Four of those losses came when Tagovailoa was out with a thumb injury. The defense struggled early in the season. They gave up game-winning drives to Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Jacksonville. The running game and offensive line ranked near the bottom of the league. Miami ranked last in Pro Football Focus’ latest ranking of offensive lines. The defense did improve in the seven-game winning streak. Going into the Tennessee game they had the most in the league. Tua ranked number one in completion percentage as well. His short passes provided Miami with enough offense to get back in the playoff hunt.

Loss to Tennessee Revealing Miami’s Rebuild Still Has Holes

The Tennessee Titans showed the Dolphins rebuild still has a ways to go for Miami. Yes, Tua is accurate, but taking away Jaylen Waddle, as Tennessee did, limits Miami’s effectiveness on offense. Waddle is Tagovailoa’s first read. He and Mike Gesicki are Tua’s first two reads. They are the receivers who can best stretch the field. Together they had seven receptions for 98 yards. Tua was 18-38 and 205 yards passing. He threw one interception and could have had at least four other passes picked off. The running game, as Miami fell behind, was a non-factor.

Tennessee’s running game was the key to the Titans wins. The one weakness in Miami’s defense coming into this season was its inability to stop the run. The Titans had 40 rushes for 198 yards. They only threw 18 passes. Finding better running stuffing defensive linemen and linebackers has to be an offseason priority.

Huge Offseason for Dolphins to Get Out of Retooling Mode

This offseason the Miami Dolphins will have as much as 90 million dollars in cap space. The first three years of their rebuild the team stockpiled draft picks. Given that Miami only has seven draft picks, one in every round, spending money wisely in free agency is a must. Obviously, Miami wants to sign the best free agents but spending on high-profile players may not be the best idea. The Dolphins still have a number of holes to fill.

That’s been the question in the entire process of gathering picks, and some analysts’ minds, tanking the 2019-20 season for them: why haven’t the Dolphins been able to fix their biggest areas of need? Running back has been an issue going back to Dan Marino’s years with Miami. The offensive line has been an issue seemingly since the time he left. Run defense has been an issue the last three years. Analysts questioned Tua’s weapons the year he was drafted. Waddle and Gesicki have been the only ones to show a real connection with the quarterback.

Miami is still in a position that they have been in many years before, close to the playoffs but not good enough to make it, because their draft picks in the last three years, particularly the offensive linemen, have not been good enough. Waddle, Jevon Holland, and Jaelan Phillips have all been important contributors to this year’s class. Miami didn’t take a running back until the seventh round, shocking almost every analyst. Given the struggles at the position, it has to be a high offseason priority. Raekwon Davis and Christian Wilkins have been solid on the defensive line but linebacker, outside of Jerome Baker, must be upgraded if the Dolphins want to improve against the run.

Bottom Line for 2022 and beyond

This is the biggest offseason for General Manager Chris Grier and Head Coach Brian Flores. Grier has to hit on lower-round picks in particular and be thoughtful in who he targets in free agency. Flores has to prove that he has a formula that can win games like this year against Tennessee and last year against Buffalo. Games against the better teams to get Miami into the playoffs have not been close. Miami’s starts to the season with Flores: 0-7, 1-4, and 1-7. Clearly, Flores will not survive any start to next season if the Dolphins don’t come out strong.

The whole idea behind the stockpiling draft picks was to build for the long term and get Miami out of the middle of the pack, 8-8 seasons. The goal: build a consistent contender that could stand up against New England, in particular. But the Dolphins haven’t had a back-to-back winning season in 18 years. They haven’t swept the Patriots in 21. Grier and Flores must get this offseason right for those things to happen more often.

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