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Despite Tua, Dolphins' Playoff Shortcomings in 2020, the Future Is Beyond Bright

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJanuary 4, 2021

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) looks to pass on the run in the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)
John Munson/Associated Press

The Miami Dolphins fell short of the playoffs with a blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, and that 56-26 defeat might have robbed them of the ability to finish first in scoring defense while potentially costing head coach Brian Flores the league's Coach of the Year award. 

But this is a team that was never supposed to contend in 2020 after completely blowing up the roster in 2019. This season was inevitably part of a considerable rebuild in Miami, and losses by the Dolphins and Houston Texans on Sunday might actually have abetted the franchise's rebuilding process. 

Those results confirm that the Dolphins, despite winning 10 games in 2020, will pick third and 18th in the first round of the 2021 draft. They'll also have four picks in the top 50, two of which originally belonged to Houston but were sent to Miami in a trade package for offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. 

Cameron Wolfe @CameronWolfe

The Dolphins didn’t make the playoffs but they do own the No. 3 and No.18 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Huge pieces to make this team better.

To boot, Miami is projected by Spotrac to enter the 2021 offseason with more salary-cap space ($32.8 million) than all but seven teams, and there aren't any impending free agents on the current roster who are expected to be expensive or critical cogs next year and beyond. 

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The football world is Miami's oyster.

Flores, general manager Chris Grier and chairman Stephen Ross could decide to bolster support for young quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, add insurance for him, give him more weapons or put an already-strong defense over the top. 

Tagovailoa's rookie season wasn't exactly a tremendous success. The former Alabama star was benched on several occasions for veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, and you could count his big-time throws on one hand. Some will push for the Dolphins to draft highly touted Ohio State product Justin Fields if he is indeed available in that No. 3 spot.

Doug Murray/Associated Press

But imagine the Dolphins with potential generational offensive lineman Penei Sewell at left or right tackle. If the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets take Trevor Lawrence and Fields first and second overall, the 6'6", 325-pound Sewell could drop into Miami's lap.

Still, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase would look damn good opposite DeVante Parker, and hyped off-ball linebacker Micah Parsons could help put that defense over the top.

They could pay for an impending free-agent wideout like Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin or Kenny Golladay and then take Sewell to team up with sophomore first-round tackle Austin Jackson.

Or maybe they could add a veteran offensive lineman like Brandon Scherff, Joe Thuney or Corey Linsley in support of Jackson and then draft Chase. 

Penei Sewell could be Tua's primary protector for years to come.
Penei Sewell could be Tua's primary protector for years to come.Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Want to push Tua or insure yourself in case he becomes a bust? Use some of that leftover draft capital to position yourself for Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Kyle Trask later in the first round. 

Imagine this Dolphins team plus Robinson, Scherff and Sewell, as well as someone like Wilson, Lance or a front-seven first-rounder like Gregory Rousseau or Zaven Collins out of Round 1. That's entirely within the realm of possibility. 

The scenarios are almost endless, and they all wind up with the Dolphins in even better shape next summer than they were when they won 10 of 13 games between Week 3 and the end of the 2020 calendar year. 

Considering the strength of the Dolphins coaching staff and the fact they shouldn't be in cap trouble for years to come, it almost feels unfair. 

Dolphins fans are understandably hungry and impatient. They haven't seen their team win a championship in nearly half a century, and Miami hasn't even won a playoff game since the turn of the century.

In a perfect world, they would have gotten more out of Tua, although it's important to remember the 22-year-old is barely a year removed from a career-threatening hip injury. He was also operating under tough circumstances after a coronavirus-impacted 2020 offseason. 

Is it somewhat of a shame he didn't make waves immediately like fellow top-10 pick Justin Herbert? Sure, but there's no way to call him a bust after nine starts, he still has an All-Pro-level ceiling, and his team is positioned to do everything possible to make life easier on him with more support and insurance entering 2021. 

It's a good time to be the Dolphins. 

     

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.

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