Dolphins' Biggest Keys to Having Successful NFL Offseason

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2021

Dolphins' Biggest Keys to Having Successful NFL Offseason

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Looking back on 2020, the Miami Dolphins were one of the biggest winners of the offseason. 

    It may not have led to a playoff berth, but general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores orchestrated a roster and culture shift that resulted in one of the biggest improvements in 2020. After going 5-11 in 2019, the Dolphins went 10-6 while having a shot at the playoffs all the way to Week 17. 

    The challenge in 2021 now shifts from respectability to bonafide contender. 

    One of the most impressive things about the Dolphins' 2020 campaign was their ability to win at a high level while playing musical chairs at the quarterback position. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa saw time as the starting signal-caller, and the roster proved capable of winning with both at the helm. 

    This offseason, it's all about making a decision at quarterback and surrounding them with the tools they need to succeed.

    As the team starts to navigate the NFL draft, free agency and the preseason trade market, here are some keys to making sure they get the most out of the offseason once again. 

Continue Investing in the Offensive Line

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    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    At this point, it's no secret that the Miami Dolphins are one of the few suitors who would truly be in a Deshaun Watson trade market. Chris Mortenson of ESPN reported the Dolphins would be in the market for Watson should he get his wish and is traded from Houston. 

    Hanging their hopes on a Watson trade coming to fruition is fun to think about, but it really doesn't matter in terms of what the Dolphins' goals should be. Should the quarterback become available, they should go all-in to get him, but the ancillary offensive needs are going to remain the same. 

    Adam Schefter of ESPN reported earlier in February that the Texans are still telling teams they are not interested in trading their quarterback. 

    If the Dolphins can secure a deal before the draft, that's great. They can package Tagovailoa and picks to acquire a proven talent under center who will instantly make them a playoff team considering the improvement the defense saw last year. 

    Regardless, the Dolphins will have to protect whoever is at quarterback. One reason the Texans struggled despite having Watson is the offensive line play was uninspiring. The Texans unit ranked 23rd in PFF's final rankings, but the Dolphins were even worse at 28th. 

    That isn't surprising given the youth up front. Rookies Austin Jackson, Robert Hunt and Solomon Kindley all played major roles on the line. Those guys are going to continue to progress, but Ted Karras is set to hit free agency.

    Either bringing him back or finding another talent who is equal or better will be important. Drafting a left tackle such as Penei Sewell would allow them to kick Jackson over to right tackle while kicking Hunt inside to guard. 

    There will be plenty of debate over whether the Dolphins should be targeting Sewell, DeVonta Smith or Ja'Marr Chase (more on that later) with the third pick. But finding receivers on the free-agent market is much easier than quality offensive linemen. 

Find a Legitimate No. 1 Receiver

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Whether it is Tagovailoa or Watson throwing passes next season, the Dolphins aren't a team bereft of offensive weapons. 

    DeVante Parker and Preston Williams, when healthy, are good receivers. Mike Gesicki is a difference-maker at tight end. If Myles Gaskin can show his late-season efforts weren't an aberration, he can at least be part of a one-two punch in the backfield.

    The offense doesn't need a complete overhaul, but the only thing it's missing is a No. 1 receiver who can strike fear into secondaries. 

    This could be achieved by drafting either one of Ja'Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith with the third pick. Both are among the most prolific receivers in college football history and could develop into dominant receivers at the next level. 

    Free agency is also a viable option here. The free-agent class of receivers figures to have several No. 1 options including Allen Robinson II, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay. 

    Miami figures to have the cash to be a player in the pursuit of any of those players. They are projected to have $25.2 million in effective cap space, according to Over The Cap's projections. That's before the team makes any cuts, trades or restructures that would allow them to make even more room. 

    The Dolphins have plenty going for them when it comes to luring free agents. Florida has no income tax, Brian Flores has established himself as a good coach and they were incredibly close to the playoffs last season. 

    Combined with enough cash to get some big-time free agents, the Dolphins have a great chance to bring in one of the elite receiver options that should be on the market. 

Extend Jerome Baker and Mike Gesicki

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    Brett Carlsen/Associated Press

    One hallmark of a great franchise is identifying great young talent and making sure they are locked in early. The Dolphins have an opportunity to do that this offseason by making sure that Jerome Baker and Mike Gesicki are locked in with the team for the long haul. 

    Baker enters the final year of his rookie contract as a three-year starter for the Fins. Brian Flores' defense calls upon players to be versatile, and they don't get much more versatile than Baker. 

    In 2020, he led the team in tackles (112) while being second in sacks (seven) and improving on his passer rating allowed when targeted for the third consecutive year (86.1). Essentially, Baker roams the middle of the defense with the ability to do everything from stuff the run, rush the passer and cover tight ends and running backs. 

    Those kinds of talents are rare, and the kind of player who makes the Dolphins scheme work. Losing Baker would be a big blow to a unit that showed so much improvement last season. 

    The offensive version of Baker is Gesicki. The tight end has continuously improved on his rookie contract, catching 53 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns. He has shown growth in all three of his seasons with the Dolphins. 

    Enough growth to show he's deserving of a second contract, and it would be a good idea to get it done sooner rather than later. Travis Kelce's role in the Chiefs offense is only going to continue to inflate the value of tight ends. 

    If Gesicki goes out and has an even better fourth season, his price tag could get to a point where the Dolphins aren't willing to foot the bill.