Miami Dolphins Offseason: 5 Ways They Can Get Better
The 2013 version of the Miami Dolphins began with buzzing expectations and ended with thunderous destruction.
Despite just barely missing a playoff spot with an 8-8 record, the Dolphins turned in a disappointing performance after making a huge splash in free agency in the offseason last year.
The draft class was especially weak once again, and it is very apparent now that the Fins have several glaring needs that need to be addressed if they want to be considered serious contenders in the AFC in 2014.
The Dolphins should not be considered anything more than wild-card contenders until they prove they can go toe-to-toe with the almighty New England Patriots on a consistent basis. Miami finally snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Patriots with a last-minute win in December, but they had to do it to a team severely weakened by injuries, as they played without studs Rob Gronkowski and Vince Wilfork.
The gap is still significant.
The Dolphins offensive line was arguably the worst in franchise history, surrendering 58 sacks on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The ground game was non-existent at times. The defense could not stop the run. The team seemed to lack fire and often came out of the gates flat, even in crucial divisional games.
With offensive coordinator Mike Sherman now out of the picture, it allows the Dolphins to re-focus on offense and find a new identity (or an identity at all, for that matter). Although much of the blame has been put on general manager Jeff Ireland (and deservedly so), he remains on the team for now, so the Dolphins must focus only on how to improve its personnel in every way possible.
Here are some moves that would help the 2014 Dolphins take the next step.
Trade for Mark Ingram
OK, so some of these suggestions may not even be on the radar for some Dolphins fans (they're certainly not in Jeff Ireland's plan of attack), but bear with me.
Mark Ingram's situation in New Orleans has always been intriguing because his value to the team never seems to match his potential on the field. From the outside, it certainly has seemed like Ingram and the Saints don't necessarily get along.
The former Heisman Trophy winner struggled with a toe injury and missed several games early in the season; he was even booed by his own fans. There were trade rumors swirling around Ingram while he rehabbed his toe, and it seemed as if the Saints were just about ready to move on.
A similar situation surrounded a certain player named Reggie Bush as he began to fall out of favor of the fans and coaches in New Orleans before he eventually landed in Miami.
Last week, while filling in for the injured Pierre Thomas in the Saints' playoff game against the Eagles, Ingram had one of his best career games, falling three yards short of just his second-ever 100-yard rushing game and scoring a touchdown to propel the Saints through to the next round.
Ingram has a career 4.1 YPC average, but has actually run for 4.9 YPC this season. He is a tough, downhill runner that the Dolphins need in short third-down distances and in goal-line situations. He would also provide an excellent complement to the speed and quickness shown by Lamar Miller in 2013.
Running back Daniel Thomas currently sits on the team in the last year of his contract and is due to make $816,000 this season. Ingram comes a bit more expensively at $1.39 million, but the Dolphins project to have the fourth-most cap space heading into the offseason. Thomas has been unimpressive, to put it gently, and the Dolphins need to upgrade at the running back position.
Another reason this makes sense for the Dolphins is because Ingram could come cheap. If the Dolphins can get Ingram for a fifth-round pick or less (which I think they can), they should pull the trigger. Pierre Thomas is still the featured back in New Orleans, and he does not turn 30 until the end of next season. The Saints also use Darren Sproles extensively in many packages and have even started to give rookie Khiry Robinson opportunities on the field.
The bottom line is Ingram is expendable.
This makes him affordable for the Miami Dolphins and he should be a target in the offseason.
Re-Sign CB Brent Grimes
This will be expensive, but it needs to be done.
As stated in the previous slide, the Dolphins enter 2014 in very good cap position despite the spending spree in 2013. The Dolphins need to focus on keeping their best players.
Miami ranked 27th against the pass in 2012, but improved to 16th in 2013. Brent Grimes was a big part of the turnaround.
Grimes was arguably Miami's best player on either side of the ball this season and was certainly one of the most consistent. His four interceptions tied for most on the team and his pick-six against Cincinnati on Halloween probably won the game for the Dolphins.
Grimes will be 31 in July, but he doesn't appear to be slowing down soon after one of the best seasons in his career. Opposite him on the field in 2014 will be Dimitri Patterson, who also tied for the team lead in interceptions with four despite only playing in six games.
Letting Grimes walk would be a serious gamble considering the lack of experience and depth the Dolphins have at the cornerback position.
Re-signing Grimes will give the Dolphins a consistent one-two punch of lockdown corners and two ball hawks on defense and help the team continue to build on an improving pass defense.
Sign OL Branden Albert in Free Agency
This was the biggest trade rumor surrounding the Dolphins in the 2013 offseason that never happened but probably should have.
The Dolphins declined to send a second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in return for Albert and instead scraped through the 2013 campaign with one of the league's worst offensive lines.
Nevertheless, the Dolphins still have their second-round pick, but still have a terrible line. Albert, who anchored the Chiefs' left tackle position, is a free agent and the team is not expected to re-sign him after drafting OT Eric Fisher No. 1 overall last April.
Albert won't turn 30 until November 2014 and would fill an immediate and massive need for the Dolphins. He could also provide versatility in situations where the Dolphins could potentially play him at the guard position.
He will command a top-dollar contract on the open market, but the Dolphins can't afford to miss on an opportunity to solidify the team's weakest link. Albert is entering the prime of his career and could anchor the left side of the Dolphins' line for the next several years if he is able to stay healthy. Signing a guy like Albert would also give the Dolphins greater flexibility in the draft.
Sign DL Henry Melton in Free Agency
I know I'm on a bit of a spending spree with this article, but again, hear me out.
Henry Melton is only 27 and is already one of the best defensive tackles in the league. The Bears could use the franchise tag on him this offseason as they did last year, which would obviously take this scenario off the table. But if they don't, the Dolphins should make a serious run at him.
Miami struggled to defend the run in 2013, ranking 24th in the league and giving up 124.9 yards per game. Some of the blame can certainly be placed on the poor play of Miami's linebackers in 2013, but you also have to consider that defensive linemen Randy Starks and Paul Soliai had disappointing seasons up front, as well.
Both Starks and Soliai will be free agents, and it seems a foregone conclusion that at least one of them will not return in 2014. The Dolphins could let both go and use the money to offer a contract to Melton and then look to the draft to fill the other DT spot.
Melton's significance on the Bears defense cannot be denied. In 2012, Chicago ranked eighth against the run on defense, giving up only 101.7 yards per game. After Melton was lost for the season with a knee injury very early in 2013, the Bears went on to have an abysmal season stopping the run on defense.
They ranked dead last and gave up more than 160 yards per game on the ground, nearly 30 yards more per game than the next closest team.
While the Bears certainly had more critical injuries on the defensive side of the ball besides Melton, his presence up front anchors everything and allows the Bears to work from an inside-out perspective on defense.
The Dolphins need to get bigger, better and younger on the defensive line. Melton would be a perfect piece to build around.
Draft Texas A&M WR Mike Evans
Here is where Dolphins fans might be screaming.
"No offensive lineman in the first round?! Are you crazy?!"
But if the Dolphins sign Branden Albert, they will have solidified the biggest hole on the line. And just because the offensive line was the biggest glaring weakness on the team this season, that doesn't mean there aren't major holes elsewhere.
Call me crazy, but I think the offensive line in place (with the addition of Albert) can and will play much better in 2014 with better play-calling. There were too many times when Mike Sherman did not use his team's strengths on offense. He instead put his shaky line and young quarterback in no-win 3rd-and-long situations because of his refusal to run the ball when necessary.
Sherman also failed to call screen plays to take pressure off his line and very rarely called bootleg options to evade pressure. I also believe Tannehill was to blame for many sacks because he held the ball too long or was not good at sliding around in the pocket.
With the continued development of Tannehill and smarter play-calling, I believe the offensive line can play much better next season without much shuffling. Besides, quality linemen can always be found in later rounds.
Mike Evans is 6'5" and 225 lbs and has been the favorite target of Johnny Manziel for the last two seasons. His highlight-reel ability has helped him amass 151 receptions for 2,499 yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons and catapult himself into a first-round projection.
The Dolphins were awful in the red zone this season, and the Ryan Tannehill-to-Mike Wallace connection did not happen nearly as often as it should have. While Brian Hartline is a consistent receiver, he does not scare many opposing defenses, and certainly not in the red zone. The Dolphins lack a big body they can throw it up to in the end zone like the Detroit Lions can with Calvin Johnson. Wallace holds elite speed but lacks certain ball skills, such as catching the ball at the highest point.
Evans gives the Dolphins elite size and a monster target opposite Wallace that would take the Dolphins offense to another level.