Pictured Above: Dolphins pregame speech before their week 13 upset win over Philadelphia.
What happened in 2019?
It might be hard for some fans to conjure back thoughts to the beginning of last season, even more so considering how long this off season has felt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dolphins entered last season with low expectations having already traded away Quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the Titans, and Left Tackle Laremy Tunsil and Wide Receiver Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans and sadly, they delivered.
Led by journeymen Ryan Fitzpatrick the season got off to a tumultuous start with a 59-10 beat down at the hands of the future MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. Following the defeat, the Dolphins were the laughing stock of the NFL in the real world and even fantasy football. Pictured below is the ESPN Fantasy Football analysis of the Dolphins prior to playing the Patriots in week two, enough said.
Miami would go on to lose their next six games, by a combined score of 179-67. During their six game skid, the Fins traded both star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers and running back Kenyan Drake to the Arizona Cardinals for more draft capital joining Tannehill, Tunsil, and Stills out the door signaling a clear rebuild in 2020.
Although the first half of the season was marred by talks of “Tanking for Tua,” the second half of last season offers reasons for optimism in 2020. In weeks nine and ten, Miami notched their first wins of the season against the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts. Following two straight losses in weeks eleven and twelve the Dolphins closed the year winning three of their final five games finishing with a 5-11 record, and a fourth place finish in the AFC East. Their strong finish can largely be attributed too younger players such as Tight End Mike Gesicki and former 2015 first-round pick wide receiver Devante Parker emerging as a number one options.
The Miami Dolphins entered the offseason with a bevy of draft capital, totaling fourteen picks including five in the first three rounds, and a large amount of cap space at their disposal. Such as any rebuild goes, the Dolphins experienced a great amount of roster turnover this off season.
Miami suffered multiple notable losses this offseason, releasing starting safety Rashad Jones as well as other veterans to trim the fat on the roster. The Dolphins will also be without wideouts in Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns who both opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the Fins razor thin at receiver heading into the year.
In free agency, as expected the Fins utilized their cap space to make a splash in the open market and they did in a big way. On March 18th, at the start of free agency Miami inked former Dallas Cowboys Cornerback Byron Jones to a 5 year/$82.5M deal pairing him alongside Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard to bolster their secondary.
Pictured Above: Cornerback Byron Jones at Dolphins training camp, August, 26th.
Miami then turned it’s attention to the front seven, inking both former Detroit Lions Linebacker Kyle Van Noy (4 years/$51M) who played under Head Coach Brian Flores for years in New England, as well as swooning Shaq Lawson away from divisional rival Buffalo with a 3 year/30M offer. Both players will be relied upon to bump up last years poultry sack total of 23, worst in the league.
To address their needs on the offensive line Miami brought in Tackle Ereck Flowers to the club. Flowers has struggled in the past, but showed enough to the Miami front office last season in Washington to award the former first round pick a 3 year/$30M contract and a starting job.
One of the more pressing needs for Miami going into the offseason was at running back after having traded Kenyan Drake in 2019. Miami addressed this by signing former Eagles running back Jordan Howard (2 year/$10M) and traded a 5th-round pick to San Francisco for Matt Breida on the third day of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Howard has been highly productive since he entered the league in 2016 and is expected to handle most of the early down, and goal line work for the Fins. Breida on the other hand is much smaller than Howard, and comes with some injury concerns, but electric with the ball in his hands, clocking in as the fastest player in the NFL per NFL Next Gen Stats at 22.3MPH on an eighty-three yard scamper last season.
First Rounders: The Big Three
Round 1: Pick 5: QB, Tua Tagovaila, Alabama: The Dolphins finally made Tua their quarterback of the future on draft night, in hopes that he will become their first true franchise Quarterback since Dan Marino. For now, he will be competing with Ryan Fitzpatrick for the starting job.
Round 1: Pick 18: OT, Austin Jackson, USC: With their second pick in the first round, Miami opted for more protection around Tua in selecting Tackle Austin Jackson, pairing him with free agent addition Ereck Flowers.
Round 1: Pick 30: CB, Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn: With it’s final pick in the first round Miami’s selected Igbinoghene who excels in man-to-man coverage. The selection fortifies the back end of their defensive backfield, giving them depth behind Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, and a chance for him to grow into a bigger role.
Pictured Above: Dolphins Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa directing the huddle during the Dolphins scrimmage at Hard Rock Stadium, August 29th.
New Year, New Hope
Following a 5-11 record and a last place record in the AFC East in 2019 there are reasons for optimism going into the second season in the Brian Flores era aside from Tom Brady taking his talents to Tampa Bay and out of the division.
On offense, whether it’s incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick or rookie Tua Tagovaila will have receivers Devante Parker and Preston Williams as legitimate perimeter threats, and a bullish Tight End in Mike Gesicki who was a playmaker down the stretch last year.
Behind the retooled offensive line with the additions of Ereck Flowers (Free Agency) and draft day additions of Austin Jackson and Guard Robert Hunt, the running game looks to be vastly improved with the one of the most consistent backs in league with the addition of Jordan Howard in free agency. Not to mention the draft day trade with San Francisco to bring in Matt Breida who is expected to be a playmaker in this offense.
The defensive side of the ball is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was compared to this time last year. The secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the league with Xavien Howard and Byron Jones forming a pro bowl duo at Cornerback and rookie first rounder Noah Igbinoghene. The front seven was bolstered by the additions of Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson who will work to improve Miami’s league low sack total from a year ago.
Record Prediction: 7-9
The Dolphins schedule this year is no slouch as they will face off against two of the toughest divisions in football in the AFC and NFC west . They will play five playoff teams from last year including the 49ers, Seahawks and the current champion Kansas City Chiefs, to go along with their typical bouts with the Patriots, Bills (both made the playoffs in 2019) and Jets.
A lot of what will happen this year obviously hinges on who will be the starting quarterback, as of now Coach Flores has not tipped his hat as to who that will be. With Fitzpatrick the Dolphins would enter the season with proven veteran option, and a mentor for Tua to learn from. Going with Fitz would give the Miami offense continuity from last year, a trait that can not be understated following an offseason affected by COVID-19. The Dolphins know what they have in Fitzpatrick, and he gives them the best chance to win as of now in my opinion.
On the flip side, the coaching staff could throw Tua in the fire, more than likely to the appeal of the fan base starving for a star at the Qaurterback position. While Tua has all the potential in the world, he is still a rookie and will need time to acclimate to the nuances of pro game, especially with no preseason introduce him to the differences in speed, size, strength, intellect, etc. than college football.
Personally, I think the Dolphins will roll with Fitzpatrick out of the gate but will be on a short leash due to Tua’s presence, and pressure to put him on the field. If the Quarterback play is stable, and Miami’s young core continues to grow on both sides of the ball I can see this team exceeding five wins this year.