3 Big Changes Dolphins Must Make in 2023 Offseason After Playoff Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2023

3 Big Changes Dolphins Must Make in 2023 Offseason After Playoff Loss

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    Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel
    Dolphins head coach Mike McDanielCliff Hawkins/Getty Images

    Credit the Miami Dolphins for putting up a strong fight on Sunday despite having third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson under center.

    The Dolphins nearly stole a wild-card victory from the heavily favored Buffalo Bills, and there's every reason to believe Miami would have advanced if starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (concussion) was available.

    Thompson played well for the most part, but he threw two interceptions and failed to generate the explosive plays the Alabama product frequently created with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in the regular season.

    With Tagovailoa still in concussion protocol and Teddy Bridgewater nursing a finger injury, Miami played the hand it was dealt, and there's no changing that. The Dolphins can, however, target a few changes this offseason in order to help them better contend next season.

    Here, we'll examine three big changes Miami must make following Sunday's 34-31 loss to the Bills in the Wild Card Round.

Establish Better Quarterback Depth

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    Dolphins QB Skylar Thompson
    Dolphins QB Skylar ThompsonBryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    Tagovailoa is expected to be Miami's starter once again in 2023, and head coach Mike McDaniel offered his support of his quarterback following Sunday's loss.

    Joe Schad @schadjoe

    Mike McDaniel: We all see Tua as the leader of this team. He's a great young player. I spent 6 months trying to convince people he's good. This is a challenging time for him. His health is of primary importance. I'd be a fool to not embrace him when he's healthy and ready to go.

    However, concussions must be taken seriously, and the 24-year-old had two diagnosed ones this season. Should he suffer another one in 2023, he could and probably should sit for an extended period.

    Even if Tagovailoa's concussions weren't a factor, Miami would be wise to have a better Plan B at quarterback. Injuries happen, and we also saw the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens play with backup signal-callers over the weekend.

    The 49ers were fortunate to uncover a hidden gem in seventh-round draft pick Brock Purdy. The Ravens, like Miami, lost a closely contested playoff game in part because they didn't have their star quarterback under center.

    With all due respect to Thompson and Bridgewater, Miami should upgrade its backup QB spot for 2023. That could mean bringing in a former starter like Baker Mayfield or bringing back Jacoby Brissett, who posted an 88.9 passer rating with the Cleveland Browns this season.

    Whatever the case, Miami must be better prepared to win games without Tagovailoa next season.

Find More Balance on Offense

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    Dolphins RB Salvon Ahmed
    Dolphins RB Salvon AhmedBryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

    Another way for Miami to win games without Tagovailoa—if they have to—will be to lean a little less on the pass next season. Even if the quarterback never misses time, a bit more balance would be beneficial.

    This was less of an option for Miami on Sunday, as starting back Raheem Mostert missed the game with a thumb injury, but the team had a strong backfield trio in Jeff Wilson Jr., Salvon Ahmed and Mostert in the regular season.

    Yet, the Dolphins rarely leaned heavily on their running backs. They finished the season ranked fourth in passing attempts and 31st in rushing attempts. This became a particular problem late in the season when opponents focused on taking away Hill, Waddle and the deep ball.

    Miami rushed for fewer than 100 yards in five of its last seven regular-season games. In those five games, it went 1-4.

    By making a schematic change, the Dolphins can provide more for opposing defenses to plan against. By using a bit more ball control, they can, in theory, also extend the length of drives and keep their 27th-ranked pass defense off the field more.

    The first step in this challenge may be keeping impending free agents Wilson, Mostert and Ahmed (restricted) in the fold and/or finding another talented runner in free agency or the draft.

Part with Cornerback Byron Jones

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    Dolphins CB Byron Jones
    Dolphins CB Byron JonesDavid Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    While we're on the topic of free agency, we must mention that Miami won't have much money with which to work.

    The Dolphins are projected to be $9 million over the cap, and they'll need to find some space just to cover the basics such as re-signing role players and signing draft picks.

    It's time for the team to make a significant roster change and part company with cornerback Byron Jones.

    The 30-year-old spent the entire 2022 season on the physically unable to perform list following Achilles surgery, and it's not as if he was spectacular before the injury. When last healthy in 2021, he allowed an opposing passer rating of 100.6.

    If the Dolphins release Jones with a post-June 1 designation, they can clear $14.1 million of the 2023 cap. That wouldn't put Miami quite where it needs to be financially, but it would be a great start.

    While the Connecticut product was once a Pro Bowler for the Dallas Cowboys, that time has passed. He was merely a serviceable starter last season, he wasn't available this season, and he's too expensive to keep in 2023.

    Jones must be among Miami's first cuts as it prepares for the start of free agency on March 15.

    *Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference. Cap and contract information via Spotrac.