Dolphins' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2021

Dolphins' Early Report Card for Most Impactful Offseason Decisions

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    As expected, it's been a busy offseason for the Miami Dolphins. With the first wave of free agency behind us, they've made some big moves to improve on a 10-6 campaign last season. 

    The number of total players acquired has already crept into the double digits, not counting Isaiah Wilson who was on the team for a matter of days. The Dolphins traded for the former second-round pick but subsequently cut him three days later.  

    Ultimately, it wasn't that big of a deal. Miami swapped seventh-round picks with the Tennessee Titans in the move. It was a low-cost deal that gave the Dolphins a look at a talented tackle prospect. 

    There were, however, moves the Dolphins made that will have a larger impact. For better or worse, we will look back after the 2021 season and some of the successes and shortcomings will come down to the moves they made this offseason.

    From coaching staff changes to free-agency signings, here are some of the biggest decisions they've made and how they grade based on the likelihood they work out to better the team.  

Promoting Co-Offensive Coordinators

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    Doug Murray/Associated Press

    One of the most important things the Dolphins had to do this offseason was figure out who would be running the offense. With a commitment to Tua Tagovailoa as the quarterback of the future, it's important to put him in a system that accentuates his strengths and mitigates his weaknesses. 

    Chan Gailey resigned in January after replacing Chad O'Shea just one year prior. That left a fairly sizeable hole in the coaching staff. Brian Flores' background is predominantly on defense, so it's important they have strong voices on the offensive staff. 

    The Dolphins looked outside the organization to fill the role. NFL Network reported the list of candidates included Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks coach and former Indianapolis Colts OC Pep Hamilton and San Francisco 49ers run game coordinator Mike McDaniel. 

    Instead, Flores decided to promote from within, elevating George Godsey and Eric Studesville to co-offensive coordinators.

    Given the names they were looking at, this announcement was a little underwhelming, but Flores' reasoning is solid. 

    "Continuity was a big thing for me and making that decision," Flores said, per Joe Schad of The Palm Beach Post. "I wanted that for Tua and really a lot of the offensive linemen we have offensively."

    Resisting the temptation to install a third system in three years requires an element of restraint. With a young offensive line that will likely feature at least three starters who are second-year players and a second-year quarterback, it's a wise move. 

    Then again, the Dolphins were 17th in offensive efficiency last season, per ESPN, so it's hard to feel excited about keeping things in-house. Still, the continuity likely makes this the right decision. 

    Grade: B  

Signing Will Fuller V

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    This free-agent class isn't the Byron Jones class of 2020 for the Dolphins, but they still made a pretty big splash in signing Will Fuller V. 

    The Dolphins came into free agency with a desperate need to improve their wide receiver room. It could still be addressed in the draft with either the No. 3 or No. 18 pick, but they really needed to come out of the process with at least one new weapon for Tagovailoa. 

    Mission accomplished on that front. 

    Perhaps more than Fuller himself, the contract is easy to love here. The Dolphins inked the former Texans pass-catcher to a one-year deal worth $10.6 million

    That's important given the risk associated with Fuller. He's one of the best deep threats in the league, averaging 16.6 yards per catch in 2020. But he's struggled to stay on the field consistently. He's missed at least five games in each season for the past four years. 

    To compound those issues, he has one game left to serve on a suspension for PEDs. It's fair to wonder what he will look like coming off of that suspension. 

    The Dolphins paid up, but they did so in a way that won't hurt them long term if Fuller doesn't work out. At his best, he's an answer to the receiver dilemma. If he gets hurt or isn't the same after the suspension, the Dolphins can move on pretty easily. 

    This isn't quite as good as if the team had been able to bring in Kenny Golladay. He is a legitimate No. 1 who had done it for a whole season in 2019. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Corey Davis would have been safer picks too. But Fuller is a strong piece and raises the Dolphins' ceiling, even if he also lowers their floor. 

    Grade: B+

Trading Shaq Lawson for Benardrick McKinney

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Dolphins fans were hoping there would be a trade between the Texans and Dolphins this offseason. Trading for Deshaun Watson was probably more what they had in mind, but the teams produced an interesting deal to ship Shaq Lawson and a sixth-round pick to Houston for linebacker Benardrick McKinney and a seventh-round pick. 

    The picks are pretty immaterial in this situation, so this is essentially a Lawson-for-McKinney trade. 

    McKinney definitely fits a need. He's an off-ball linebacker coming to a defense that needs one to pair with Jerome Baker, especially after they parted ways with Kyle Van Noy. 

    The downside is the Dolphins gave away a fairly consistent pass-rusher in Lawson. He has had 18, 28 and 25 total pressures in each of the last three seasons, respectively. Last season, he played in 55 percent of the team's defensive snaps. 

    In McKinney, the Dolphins are getting the older player of the two. He is 28 years old while Lawson is 26. McKinney will have the 15th-largest cap hit for an off-ball linebacker next season, per Spotrac. 

    By comparison, the Patriots will be paying nearly $3 million less next season for the departed Van Noy. McKinney's highest levels of play have been better than Van Noy. McKinney was a Pro Bowler in 2018 and All-Pro in 2016. 

    However, he missed 12 games in 2020 with a shoulder injury. Even if McKinney overcomes that injury to become the same hitter he was before, he's a liability in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks had a 143.6 passer rating when targeting him, and he gave up five touchdowns in 2019. 

    McKinney makes sense from a positional need standpoint, but trading a valuable asset in a pass-rusher for an off-ball linebacker coming off injury who doesn't cover well makes this hard to see as a huge win. 

    Grade: C+