Miami Dolphins - Cameron Wake
Photo: USA Today

The Miami Dolphins ended the 2018 season on a three-game losing streak to miss the postseason for the 15th time in the last 17 years. Now their newly promoted general manager and new head coach must begin the rebuilding process this offseason.

Like clockwork, the Miami Dolphins fired their head coach after another disappointing season. In fact, since hiring Jimmy Johnson in 1996, the Dolphins have had seven head coaches and 11 different quarterbacks to begin a season. In other words, the Dolphins have changed coaches after the season 30% of the time since ’96, with a new quarterback starting in Week 1 48% of the time. Now it’s time for some consistency!

Unproductive draft picks and overpaid free agents have plagued Miami over the last 17 years. Their poor decisions range from trading up to draft defensive end Dion Jordan with the third overall pick in 2013 to choosing quarterback Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees in 2006.

The 2019 season will now be headed by general manager Chris Grier, who will have complete control for the first time of his career. Miami will also have a first-time head coach in Brian Flores, who came over from the New England Patriots. Can these two first-timers lead the Dolphins out of endless mediocrity? There are some moves both in free agency and in the draft that can get the rebuilding process started on the right foot.

Who should walk in free agency?

The Dolphins currently sit with $11,366,137 in cap space only a month away from the start of the new league year. Although Miami isn’t expected to be very active in free agency, they will need more money to do business. The team needs more cap space to re-sign some of their own free agents. The first step in a rebuild is slashing exorbitant salaries that aren’t producing. Grier can slash roughly $53.5 million in cap space by releasing the following players:

QB Ryan Tannehill ($13.2 million saved)

Tannehill hasn’t necessarily been the “problem” for the Dolphins in his seven years as the team’s quarterback, but he hasn’t been the answer either. Without an elite ground game or defense, Tannehill probably won’t be a consistent winner in the NFL. After seven years, it’s time for both sides to part ways.

DE Robert Quinn ($12.9 million saved)

The Dolphins gave up a 4th round pick for Quinn after the 2017 season. Now he’s just another Adam Gase decision that didn’t pan out the way the club expected. Quinn finished with only 6 1/2 sacks on the season, which isn’t worth the $12.9 million cap hit.

WR DeVante Parker ($9.4 million saved)

Miami selected Parker with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The team envisioned the highly athletic receiver becoming one of the league’s feared pass catchers. Lingering injuries have hampered Parker throughout his four years in Miami. Although he’s shown flashes of the potential he displayed at Louisville, the wide receiver has never had more than 750 yards or 4 TDs in a season.

DE Andre Branch ($7 million saved)

Branch racked up 5 1/2 sacks in his first season with the Miami Dolphins. Gase rewarded him with a 3-year, $24 million contract that the defensive end could never live up to. Proving to be nothing more than a rotational player, his salary did not match the production. Last week, it was reported the Dolphins have already decided to release Branch.

G Josh Sitton ($5 million saved)

Sitton is a great example of Adam Gase’s free agency blunders. He was one of the many 30-plus-year-olds that the coach signed to hefty contracts to be stop-gaps. After signing a 2-year $13.5 million contract, Sitton only played in one game before being placed on injured reserve. That one game, however, was quite impressive. Still, Sitton hasn’t played a full season in three years; this doesn’t bode well for his future in Miami.

WR Danny Amendola ($6 million saved)

Amendola, like Sitton, was brought in by Gase as a stop-gap and a supposed locker room leader. Although he led the Dolphins in receptions and yards this past season, he takes valuable reps away from the younger players. Amendola will be familiar with the offensive scheme under new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea which could boost his value slightly. With a lesser salary and role, he could return and be valuable in a leadership role.

Who should the Dolphins re-sign?

The Dolphins aren’t expected to be active in free agency this year. However, they do have a few of their own free agents they should consider re-signing as they attempt to rebuild this team into a winner:

DE Cameron Wake

Derek Cameron Wake has 98 career sacks in 10 NFL seasons. Wake’s story could be a movie one day. Undrafted out of Penn State, he was signed and cut by the New York Giants before heading north to the Canadian Football League. After two seasons and 39 sacks, Miami signed the pass rusher. Wake rewarded Miami with five double-digit sack seasons over the past decade. To say he’s overcome the odds is an understatement. It would be nice to see Wake back for another season to reach 100 sacks as a member of the Miami Dolphins.

OT Ja’Wuan James

The Dolphins drafted James with the 19th pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He has been an above average right tackle in his time with Miami. Although he will require a large investment to return, it would be wise to bring James back. By doing so, Miami would have a reliable tackle duo for the foreseeable future with James and left tackle Laremy Tunsil. But the Dolphins will have another hole to fill if James does not return.

QB David Fales

The veteran backup has only played meaningful snaps in the 2017 season finale. Miami will be searching for a new quarterback this offseason, but Fales could compete for a roster spot in 2019.

NFL Draft

The Dolphins currently sit with the 13th pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Historically, this has been a decent spot to acquire top-end talent. In 2016 when Miami held the 13th pick, they landed the top tackle prospect out of Ole Miss Laremy Tunsil. Over the last ten drafts, the 13th pick has tallied up 11 Pro Bowl trips, 2 Super Bowl rings, 4 All-Pro nods, 2 NFL Rookie of the Year awards and 2 Player of the Year honors.

Miami should be able to land a top talent in this draft. With a potential run on quarterbacks before they pick, there is a good chance that an elite defender falls to them at 13. Miami has a gaping hole along the defensive line, particularly at defensive end. There’s a strong possibility that Miami will be without Wake, Quinn and Branch next season. This would leave Charles Harris as the most experienced rusher on the roster. The former Missouri Tiger hasn’t shown the pass rushing prowess that made him the 22nd overall pick in 2017. Securing an effective pass rusher should be Miami’s top priority of the draft.

Defensive line options in round one and two

Players like Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat could be available when the Dolphins pick at 13. Either one of those two players could come in and immediately start for the Dolphins. University of Houston’s interior pass rusher Ed Oliver could also be available when Miami is on the clock. Some have compared Oliver to back-to-back NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Others say he’s very similar to Cincinnati Bengals star defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Either way, Oliver would be a potentially dominant force along Miami’s defensive line.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons and Louisiana Tech pass rusher Jaylon Ferguson are two excellent prospects who may be available in the second round of the draft. Simmons had some off-field issues but is still widely considered a top ten talent in the draft. Unfortunately, the defensive tackle suffered a torn ACL while training for the combine. Ferguson, the NCAA’s all-time leader in sacks, had his combine invite revoked due to a battery charge during his freshman year.

Options on the offensive side of the ball

Most of the time when a new regime takes over, they like to choose their quarterback. With this in mind, if Grier and Flores fall in love with a transformative prospect in the draft, they need to do everything in their power to get him. With Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino being more involved in the decision making, fans should not be so cynical if the Dolphins select a quarterback in round one.

Another route the team could take at 13 would be to address the offensive line. If James returns, it would be a good idea to find an interior lineman to pair with him and Tunsil, thus providing a young nucleus of good offensive linemen. NC State’s Garret Bradbury is generally regarded as the draft’s top center and should be available at 13. Another good option would be Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, who has blocked for Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray over the last two seasons. Mid-round options include Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, Wisconsin’s Michael Deiter or Ohio State’s Michael Jordan. I believe that all these guys could come in and be day one starters for Miami.

Outlook

The Dolphins are on the verge of completely losing their remaining fanbase. They can only fall back on the 1972 perfect season for so long before it gets old. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a complete turnaround in just one offseason with this new regime. But the rebuilding must begin with strong offseason decision making to set the course of this franchise back in the right direction.