Ranking Miami Dolphins' 5 Biggest Offseason Needs

Andrew TornettaCorrespondent IIJanuary 14, 2014

Ranking Miami Dolphins' 5 Biggest Offseason Needs

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    The Miami Dolphins' 2013 season was much like a roller coaster. There were ups, downs, twists and turns before it eventually fell off the tracks and crashed to the ground in a blaze of fury.

    The crash landing that was the final two losses to the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets cost general manager Jeff Ireland his job, along with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman.

    While the Dolphins showed flashes of being a dangerous team throughout the season—their 4-1 record against the AFC postseason teams proves that—they still have many pressing needs if they want to get over that playoff hump and play in January.

    Regardless of who the next general manager is, he will have plenty of tough decisions to make in order to improve the team.

    Here are the five most important moves the Dolphins need to make in the offseason.

5. Find the Right Offensive Coordinator

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    The Dolphins will be looking for an offensive coordinator who can maximize the talent on offense, something Mike Sherman failed to do.
    The Dolphins will be looking for an offensive coordinator who can maximize the talent on offense, something Mike Sherman failed to do.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    While this decision likely won't be on the new general managerthe Dolphins are already interviewing prospective clients now—this is obviously an important hire.

    Under Mike Sherman, the Dolphins offense ranked 26th in scoring, averaging just 19.8 points per game in 2013.

    Despite having a solid cast of weapons, Miami scored at least 25 points in a game just twice. In comparison, 11 different teams in the league averaged at least 25 points per game.

    There is no question that Sherman's conservative play-calling was one of a handful of reasons why the offense didn't play up to its potential. 

    The new offensive coordinator must properly utilize the weapons on the roster and exploit mismatches in the defense. Most importantly, he also needs to help develop quarterback Ryan Tannehill and put him in the best position to succeed.

    If the Dolphins hire the wrong offensive coordinator, it could spell doom for Tannehill's development and the entire offense as a result.

4. Acquire a No. 1 Running Back

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    Daniel Thomas has been a failure in his time with the Dolphins.
    Daniel Thomas has been a failure in his time with the Dolphins.Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

    It's no secret that the Dolphins rushing offense last season was abysmal. As a team, Miami averaged just 90 yards per game and finished as the 26th-ranked team in that department.

    A major reason for the team's struggles on the ground were due to the offensive line, but in the case of Daniel Thomas, the reasoning is far more simple than that.

    He is simply not good.

    His 3.7 yards-per-carry average last season was actually the best of his three-year career. His four rushing touchdowns also tied a career high. 

    So in other words, what we saw from him last season was the best football he has ever played since joining the NFL.

    Yikes.

    According to Pro Football Reference, since getting drafted in 2011, Thomas has been the worst running back in the league in terms of yards per attempt. Among players with at least 350 carries since 2011, he has averaged a league-worst 3.59 yards per rush.

    The Dolphins are in desperate need of a go-to running back who can pound the ball 20 times a game. They also need a guy who can actually finish runs at the goal line and on short-yardage situations.

    While Lamar Miller has shown enough flashes to deserve a spot in the backfield, he is much better utilized as a change-of-pace back who can offset a more physical runner from time to time. 

    The Dolphins have many options to choose from in free agency and the draft, but they need to address the running back position because Thomas is not the answer. 

3. Fix the Linebacker Problems

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    Dannell Ellerbe's first season in Miami didn't quite go as planned.
    Dannell Ellerbe's first season in Miami didn't quite go as planned.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last season, the Dolphins thought they had upgraded at linebacker by cutting Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett for Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler.

    On paper, the acquisitions seemed to be brilliant, as the team got younger and faster at two pivotal positions on the defense. 

    The problem is that the game isn't played on paper. The moves turned out to be huge downgrades, especially when it came to the run defense.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Ellerbe ranked 53rd of 55 inside linebackers against the run, while Wheeler ranked 35th of 35 outside linebackers.

    Anyone who is expecting the team to replace the two linebackers are being unrealistic, considering both of their cap numbers.

    However, I believe that their struggles had more to do with the scheme than their talent and ability.

    This past season was Ellerbe's first in a 4-3 defense, and it was also Wheeler's third straight season playing in a new system.

    Take a look at this tweet from Pro Football Focus prior to last season, which compared the four linebackers.

    While Ellerbe wasn't a stud against the run in 2012, he was solid. Wheeler, meanwhile, has never been a good run-stuffer, but he excels in rushing the passer, which he didn't do nearly enough of in 2013. 

    It seems that Kevin Coyle will remain the defensive coordinator, so the task is on him to better use what Ellerbe and Wheeler bring to the table.

2. Re-Sign Brent Grimes

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    Brent Grimes put up the best season for a Dolphins cornerback since Patrick Surtain in 2004.
    Brent Grimes put up the best season for a Dolphins cornerback since Patrick Surtain in 2004.Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Brent Grimes shouldn't suit up for anyone other than the Miami Dolphins next season.

    Coming off an Achilles injury that sidelined him in 2012, he proved to be one of the biggest steals in free agency as the 30-year-old re-established himself as one of the elite cornerbacks in the league.

    Playing on a one-year, prove-yourself deal, he answered the call as the team's defensive MVP. He recorded a team-high four interceptions and defended 16 passes on his way to earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.

    He also anchored a secondary that held opposing quarterbacks to a 77.3 passer rating (fifth best in NFL) and allowed just 17 passing touchdowns (third best). This occurred despite the loss of Dimitri Patterson, who was expected to start opposite Grimes but played in just six games all year.

    The best-case scenario for Miami is that it can agree to an extension with Grimes, who has already expressed his desire to stay with the team.

    However, if that doesn't happen, the team will be forced to place a franchise tag on him. 

    Either way, there is no way that Grimes, the team's most productive cornerback since Patrick Surtain, won't be wearing aqua and orange next season.

1. Rebuild the Offensive Line

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    The Dolphins offensive line was the worst in all of football this season.
    The Dolphins offensive line was the worst in all of football this season.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    At the end of the day, the No. 1 reason that the Miami Dolphins did not make the playoffs was because of the porous offensive line.

    The unit allowed Ryan Tannehill to get sacked a league-worst 58 times this season—the most times a Dolphins quarterback has gone down in franchise history.

    The O-line was largely responsible for the team's 26th-ranked rushing offense. It was also at the forefront of a bullying scandal that is still being investigated. 

    The 2013 offensive line of the Dolphins will likely go down as the worst in franchise history.

    With only center Mike Pouncey guaranteed to return, Miami will be in store for a complete rebuild along the line.

    The problem is that the team doesn't have the money or the draft picks to find four new starters in one offseason, unless the Dolphins ignore all of their other needs. 

    As a result, Bryant McKinnie, who performed admirably after getting traded from Baltimore, will likely be a priority to bring back, as he can be a solid one-year stopgap at a low cost.

    Will Yeatman and Danny Watkins will likely be brought back for depth as well.

    Building an offensive line that won't get the quarterback killed should be priority No. 1 for Miami, as Tannehill has proved to be deadly when given enough time to throw the ball.

    The team can pursue some strong options in free agency such as Branden Albert and Alex Mack, and the Dolphins will be going after offensive linemen in the draft as well.