Miami Dolphins: 7 Areas of Need for Miami Going Into the Offseason
Like it or not, the Cleveland Browns successfully buried the Dolphins playoff hopes six feet under the turf of Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. In retrospect, however, the Dolphins playoff aspirations actually died when they failed to seal a whole slew of roster holes this past summer.
But those roster holes are only the first layer on Miami's offseason-needs cake.
Finishing a season marred with such high hopes in such a disappointing fashion means angry fans and even angrier management. This often leads to overhauls, such as the one we saw in 2007 when Wayne Huizenga reeled in the Big Tuna.
Whether or owner Stephen Ross decides to part with Tony Sparano & Co. is also just another conundrum in a long line of questions and areas the Dolphins need to address this upcoming off-season.
This is almost awkward to write about. After all, Chad Henne was the solution to all of the Dolphins long-winded problems three short months ago, so are we already prepared to dismiss him as a bust?
Based on his performance thus far, it is reasonable. He has digressed from last season despite the addition of Brandon Marshall and everybody went gaga over his 307 yard, two touchdown performance last week; a performance which would garner only moderate praise for most other NFL quarterbacks.
The direction the team takes with this matter will hinge greatly on whether or not Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano return next season. If they do, expect Henne to remain on board as a starter; however, if a new regime takes over, there's a good chance a new quarterback will roll into town.
Might the Dolphins reach for a prospect like Ryan Mallett, give Tyler Thigpen a chance, or scour the free agent market?
Another awkward topic. Like Henne, Tony Sparano was praised as the savior in South Beach after he marched the 'Fins to the playoffs two seasons ago. Now, Sparano is being cast as the villain responsible for the team's downfall.
Some owners might be pleased with Sparano's 23-21 record as a head coach given the mockery of a roster he inherited in 2008, but Stephen Ross might not be that type of owner. The problem is, we don't know what type of owner Stephen Ross is yet. Early indications characterize him as a fidgety owner who wants to do his own thing and bring in his own people. But considering he has not done anything yet, those are technically unfair assertions.
Ross seems easily wowed by big names and celebrity status (You could almost call it obsession. The guy brought in Jimmy Buffet, the Williams Sisters, J-Lo, Marc Antonio, and Fergie to purchase stakes in the team, trademarked the "orange carpet" and wishes to install a night club into the stadium). And now that Jon Gruden's name is circling the head coaching candidate wagon, might Ross jump at the opportunity to add some more star-power to his staff?
It's entirely feasible and increasingly easy to envision. If the Dolphins struggle to win down the stretch, Gruden's name and the Dolphins head coaching gig will become linked throughout the media.
New Offensive Coordinator
Okay, so even if the Dolphins decide to stick with Tony Sparano for 2011, there is still one position that absolutely, positively, indubitably must be upgraded: offensive coordinator.
Incumbent coordinator Dan Henning has constructed a robot of an offense this year, which has turned out to be a glaring negative. His schemes and play calling are painfully redundant and inefficient, and at age 68, Henning seems to have lost his touch and inventiveness. Regardless of what transpires over the next few weeks, we should expect to see Henning relieved of his duties.
Meanwhile, quarterbacks coach David Lee would make for a logical replacement given his time with the team and familiarity with its schemes, players, and so on. Lee is the architect of the Wildcat, and his willingness to get creative makes him an appealing option. However, Lee has not done a suitable job grooming Chad Henne, and that might be enough to force him out of a job as well.
Pursuing a completely new coordinator who can bring fresh eyes and a unique edge might make the most sense at this juncture.
An Athletic Tight End Opposite Anthony Fasano
Anthony Fasano received a gracious contract extension from the Dolphins earlier this season, but that does not diminish the team's need for another tight end.
The Dolphins have been lacking a legitimate receiving threat at tight end since Keith Jackson in the early 90s, and it's time they find a new one. An athletic tight end opens up a completely new dimension for an offense. Just ask some teams with receiving-oriented tight ends: Chargers, Colts, Falcons, Patriots. It's not a coincidence their passing games are so wildly successful.
Although Martellus Bennett will not be a free agent this summer, the 2008 second round pick has become lost in the Cowboys offense, and his talent has largely gone to waste. The fact that Bennett's role has not increased under Jason Garrett might indicate that the team could be open to trading him away.
Whether or not the Dolphins actually inquire about Bennett, he is just an one example and possibility in a long line. Either way, this team just needs some speed at the position.
A Speedy Running Back Capable Of Being a Feature Back
Fortunately for the Dolphins, the 2011 Draft Class is going to offer a massive selection of running backs. With Ricky Williams likely headed for retirement and Ronnie Brown showing signs of decline, Miami must weave through this crop of youngsters and find a 'running back of the future.'
Ronnie Brown is a free agent after this season, but in a likelihood, the team will give him an extension primarily out of fear of starting the 2011 season without a proven running back. (Plus, Ronnie still has two or three decent years left in the tank.)
The Dolphins might not pursue a running back in the first round of the draft, but they should consider one early, especially considering the recent success of recent early/mid round picks (Shonn Greene - 3rd Round, Matt Forte - 2nd Round, Ray Rice - 2nd Round).
Depending on the team's evaluation and decision on Brown, they could pursue a highly-touted workhorse like Kansas States' Daniel Thomas (picture above), or they could pursue a complement to Brown, such as Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers.
A Complement to Karlos Dansby at Inside Linebacker
Where does Channing Crowder's three-year, $13 million extension rank amongst the worst recent personnel moves by the Dolphins? Crowder's young career has been one marked by false hope and durability issues. The 2010 season has only reiterated those shortcomings.
Crowder was supposed to breakout with Karlos Dansby attracting double teams every play. Instead, Crowder has racked up a dismal 22 tackles this season, missing five games along the way. At this point, Crowder's big mouth and lack of production are starting to make him look like dead weight.
Backup Tim Dobbins has also been rather disappointing, recording only 27 tackles despite the added playing time filling in for Crowder.
Dobbins deserves a shot at a full time role before Miami begins searching for replacements, but if he does not show signs of progressions down the stretch of this season, the Dolphins will likely look into the draft to find a young linebacker to relieve the pressure on Dansby. A player like Boston College's Mark Herzlich, currently projected as a late-second round/early-third round pick, could be a nice fit in Mike Nolan's hybrid defense.
A Space-Eating Nose Tackle
Mike Nolan's hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense has been relatively successful in its first season, but it is not without its flaws. Most notably, the Dolphins are missing a nose tackle capable of simply clogging up space.
Incumbent space-eater Paul Soliai has done little to sell himself as the player capable of being the clogging-complement to Stark's athleticism for the future.
There should be plenty of options for Miami to weave through, and the Packers' Johnny Jolly, who is currently serving a year-long suspension for legal troubles could come at a bargain price next summer.