The Miami Dolphins are entering their third year of the rebuild that began under Brian Flores. After an initial 5-11 season (2019), last year’s play-offs were all but one win with a 10-6 record. Coach Flores was nominated for coach of the year. The goal of this season is simple: make the play-offs. However, in a division where the Buffalo Bills have held sway since last year and where Bill Belichick coaches a team, that is easier said than done.
Owner Steven Ross therefore pulled out all the stops to create the ideal conditions for reaching the play-offs. On July 20, the Dolphins opened a new training facility, next to the Hard Rock Stadium, which lacks nothing, absolutely nothing. A small summary of what this $135 million facility has: three training fields (one indoor), four swimming pools, a players lounge with hairdresser (only available on Friday before game day), 209 televisions, 210 palm trees and, not unimportantly, a 9 meter long slide. In any case, it will not be the facilities this season.
The biggest gain of this off-season is Jason Sanders’ contract extension. The 26-year-old kicker signed a $22 million contract and will represent the colors of the Miami Dolphins for the next five years. A deserved overtime, as Sanders didn’t miss his first kick until Week 10, eventually hitting 36 of 39 kicks.
Kyle van Noy’s resignation came as a surprise. The edge player recorded six sacks and three forced fumbles last season. As a team captain, he also seemed to be one of the pillars on which Flores wanted to build his defense. In March, the resignation of KVN came and he quickly returned to where he came from: the Patriots.
The biggest loss in free agency is probably not even visible on the pitch, but especially in the locker room. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and defensive back Bobby McCain both found shelter in Washington and are likely to play an important role there this season. Fitzmagic needs no explanation, but McCain had played with the Dolphins for six years and was the jack of all trades in the secondary. He was especially important vocally in determining the coverage.
As a backup quarterback, the Dolphins recruited this Jacoby Brissett. He comes over from the Colts, where he was a reliable backup behind Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers. It also provides a little more peace of mind for Tua, because few fans will say it’s time for Brissett. The gap left by McCain is filled by Jason McCourty, who came over from New England. The 34-year-old corner takes a lot of experience from the Patriots and knows coach Flores from their time there.
The two free agents who will make the biggest impact on the team are wide receiver Will Fuller and linebacker Benardrick McKinney. Both players come from the Houston Texans. Will Fuller signed a one year prove it deal and McKinney was part of a trade with Houston for Shaq Lawson and a pick swap. Both signings are starters next season.
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With four picks in the first two rounds, expectations were high. However, the Miami Dolphins seem to have mostly stuck to their draft board. With the sixth pick, they did not opt for reinforcements on the O-line. It became wide receiver and old teammate of Tua: Jaylen Waddle. He has to deliver splash plays that the Dolphins offense haven’t had in a long time.
With the second pick in the first round, the Dolphins chose Jaelan Phillips. The defensive end must fill the gap that arose after the departure of Cameron Wake in 2018. The advantage is that he already feels at home in Miami. His last college years he already played in the Hard Rock Stadium for the local Hurricanes.
In the second round, the free agency gaps were filled. Safety Jevon Holland, who recorded nine interceptions and ten pass break ups in his last two years in Oregon, will probably get a free role in the defensive backfield. With choice 42, Miami chose offensive tackle Liam Eichenberg. He has been the left tackle at Notre Dame for the past three years. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference’s best lineman.
The player with perhaps the greatest potential to surprise is third round pick Hunter Long. The Boston College tight end can grow nicely behind Mike Gesicki. Gesicki is due for a new contract next season.
Chan Gailey was pulled out of retirement two years ago to lead the Finnish attack. This did not turn out to be the success they had hoped for, so the Dolphins chose a different path. Not one path, but a double path. Miami has two offensive coordinators this season: Eric Studesville and George Godsey. The two coaches have been promoted from within the organization. Studesville was the running backs coach and run game coordinator last season. Godsey has been in charge of the tight ends for the past two seasons.
Both coaches must ensure that the reins around Tua Tagovailoa are released. The sophomore quarterback played well in his rookie year (6-4 record, 11 TDs and 5 interceptions). Next season should be the season in which he approaches his Alabama form and the team is fully equipped for that.
The signing of speed receivers Waddle and Fuller and the return of Albert Wilson – a COVID opt-out in 2020 – is good news for Tua. In terms of targets, the still present DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and Jakeem Grant are also included. That means the Miami Dolphins have arguably the deepest receiver roster in the National Football League (NFL). With these six receivers it is easier to deal with an injury, but also to start with four receivers.
Last season’s running game was disappointing, partly due to injuries. As a result, it was long hoped for Najee Harris in the draft. However, the starting running back this season will still be Myles Gaskin. The backups are Salvon Ahmed and ex-Ram Malcolm Brown. Gaskin has every chance to put himself on the map. The only question is whether the O-line can let it reach its potential. Attracting center Matt Skura is a good move. He provides much-needed experience on a line that mainly consists of rookies or sophomores.
The Miami defense was the strength of the team last year and the main reason they finished the season with a 10-6 record. The X factor in this defense is cornerback Xavien Howard. Howard is the first player since 2007 to record ten interceptions in a season. After some haggling about his contract, he can earn more than $16 million this year, partly due to bonuses. That makes him potentially the highest-paid corner of the upcoming season.
The defense gave up just 1.3 touchdowns per game last year, which was the second-best average in the NFL. That didn’t stop GM Chris Grier from getting even more talent and experience for the secondary. Holland and McCourty came to Miami and attract the 28-year-old nickel cornerbackJustin Coleman brings enough depth.
The edge rushing this year should come from Emmanuel Ogbah – he had nine sacks last season – rookies Jaelan Phillips and Andrew van Ginkel. AVG could easily become the new Clay Matthews this season, because last year he already scored five and a half sacks and three forced fumbles.
The run defense is definitely stronger just with the signing of LB McKinney and ex-Patriot DT Malcolm Butler. They have created more weight in the middle. Sophomore DT Raekwon Davis can easily become a ProBowl player with his rapid development.
Expectations for the Dolphins are not only high among the fans this season. Several media outlets expect the Miami Dolphins to make the playoffs this year. The playing schedule with a strength of 0.471 helps in any case. Fortunately, few matches will be played in the extreme cold against good opponents. In November there is only the visit to the Ravens.
In addition to the favorable playing schedule, the success will mainly be due to the development of Tua. He has now completed an entire off- and preseason in an NFL program with the offense set up especially for him. He needs to show significant growth this year to win enough matches. In addition, the defense has the same starters in at least eight places. That only benefits the continuity in the group. There are plenty of great ingredients, but it’s up to the coaching staff to make a nice dish out of it. There is every confidence in that.