Next Steps for the Miami Dolphins This Offseason

The Miami Dolphins suffered a historic collapse in 2022, and the offseason brings the potential for notable moves.

The Miami Dolphins have had a roller coaster of a season to say the least. Each time they have seemingly pulled away from Wild Card contention, they completely neutralized their winning streaks, and are now sitting at 8-8 with a game to go.

There is still a chance to make the playoffs, which will lie in the hands of Skylar Thompson against the New York Jets. If Miami can win (along with a Patriots loss to the Buffalo Bills), they will secure their first playoff berth since 2016.

However, it is clear that there are underlying issues within this franchise, many of which need to be solved this offseason in order to maximize the potential of the Mike McDaniel regime. Thus, here are some potential solutions to the issues the Miami Dolphins face this offseason.

Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Josh Boyer could be fired this offseason
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Doug Murray

The Josh Boyer Problem

When the Dolphins hired Mike McDaniel, they maintained a supreme confidence in their defensive coaching staff from the Flores regime. It was clear that they saw that unit as the catalyst for their back to back winning seasons, and that faith extended to defensive coordinator Josh Boyer.

That faith, however, seems to have been misplaced. With similar talent to Miami’s opportunstic units of the past, the Dolphins’ defense has fallen off a cliff. They rank 27th in points per game and are 30th in takeaways. That’s a far cry from their significant successes in those areas over the past two seasons.

Their pressure numbers have also clearly been lacking. Despite trading for Bradley Chubb, they are middle of the pack in sacks. Along with this, they have been unable to gain pressure without blitzing. With a pass rushing duo as promising as Jaelan Phillips and the aforementioned Chubb, the volume of blitzes and schemed pressures called by Josh Boyer has been dumbfounding.

The bottom line is that Miami needs a new defensive coordinator. There is simply too much talent along the defensive front to struggle the way they have. Some have suggested switching to a 4-3 scheme, which makes sense with the personnel on the roster.

Phillips and Chubb can play strictly on the edge, with Sieler and Wilkins wreaking havoc on the interior. The potential change is a more natural fit for their skill sets, and would limit mismatches in crucial situations.

Either way, it’s clear that it’s time to make a change on the defense. Moving on from the final Flores holdover may be that step.

The Quarterback Conundrum

The end of the season has been catastrophic, regardless of playoff success, and the simple fact is that the quarterback play has not been up to par over the last month or so.

Following a five game winning streak where Miami didn’t play a single top ten defense, the Dolphins faced a tough December. It’s safe to say that the team, and specifically the quarterback, didn’t make the most of it.

Dolphins’ fans biggest fears were realized as, against Miami’s toughest stretch of opponents, Tua Tagovailoa absolutely collapsed. He threw less than 60% completions against the 49ers, Chargers, and Bills, as Miami lost all three. Then, in a Christmas day game against the Packers, Tagovailoa threw an interception on each of the offense’s three fourth quarter drives. It was later discovered that he suffered a concussion prior to those interceptions, but that only adds onto the concern over the “injury prone” label.

Miami is now playing their final games of the season with backup quarterbacks. Although they spent significant capital on Teddy Bridgewater, it’s clear that it hasn’t panned out. He has been unable to win any games to this point, and has been injured himself at times this season. With Tagovailoa bound to miss significant time, it’s important to secure a high level backup, and Bridgewater hasn’t been that.

The Quarterback Solution in the Miami Dolphins 2023 Offseason

This leaves two potential solutions, one of which is much more aggressive than the other. The first is to draft a young quarterback to back up Tua Tagovailoa. It’s clear that pursuing backups such as Jacoby Brissett and Bridgewater hasn’t worked. Thus, a rookie would not only potentially be more effective, but cheaper with a higher ceiling. This quarterback class has some depth, and Miami could bring in a young backup to excel in ways Bridgewater has failed.

The second path is far more controversial.

There are several starter-level quarterbacks rumored to be moved this offseason. Tom Brady and Derek Carr are expected to be free agents, while there are rumors of Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson being on the move as well.

It’s undeniable that Tua has improved this season. Miami’s offense sat atop the league for significant stretches with him at the helm. However, when you combine the injury history and consistent drop off against high-level opponents, it’s not a stretch to say that it may be in the Miami Dolphins’ best interest to be aggressive this offseason.

The Dolphins are likely squandering away the first year of a three-year Super Bowl window. Talents like Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle don’t come around often, and outside of a historic comeback, their first year will have all been for not.

Miami must ensure that the next two years are different, and without a first round pick, they can’t secure a top flight quarterback prospect. Despite this, there are options available who provide a ceiling and consistency that Tagovailoa lacks. Miami has the chance to go from good to great, and Stephen Ross is tired of watching his years of spending be unfulfilling.

Photo Creit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Chris Grier Dilemma

The last of the potential moves would be the biggest, and it involves general manager Chris Grier.

Grier has been with the organization dating back to 2000, even predating owner Stephen Ross. He has continued to rise up the organization, becoming Ross’ right hand man and general manager in 2016.

Despite his rise, however, the Dolphins haven’t won a single playoff game in the last twenty years. The team seemingly finds themselves in the same position year-in and year-out, and Grier remains a constant. It was his recent work, however, that may be the final straw.

When the Miami Dolphins decided to go for a full rebuild in 2019, they positioned themselves for a crucial 2020 offseason. They held five picks in the first two rounds of that draft, including three firsts. Their haul? Tua Tagovailoa, Austin Jackson, Noah Igbinoghene, Robert Hunt, and Raekwon Davis.

The 2020 Blunder

The last two have been solid, with Hunt proving this season that he can be a cornerstone of Miami’s line. However, it’s the first round picks, Tua, Jackson, and Igbinoghene where the missteps are clear.

While the verdict on Tagovailoa is unclear, the same can’t be said about Justin Herbert. Taken only one pick later, Herbert has vastly outperformed his 2020 colleague. The last pillar of the Tua-Herbert debate was the idea that Herbert couldn’t win big games. That has now fallen with Herbert’s Chargers clinching a playoff spot and Miami on the outside looking in yet again.

Jackson and Igbinoghene are a similar story. Both have underperformed to their draft slot, with the latter struggling to see the field at all. While Jackson has started, his production has lacked, and this year he has been unable to stay healthy.

Thus, in arguably the most important draft in franchise history, Miami selected the following:

The wrong quarterback, a below average right tackle, a cornerback who doesn’t see the field, an above average right guard, and a starting caliber nose tackle.

This simply isn’t going to cut it for Grier, who is now seeing the successes of talents of like Justin Herbert, Justin Jefferson, and Jonathan Taylor (all of which were available with Miami’s respective first round picks).

It’s not unheard of for a team to keep a coach and hire a new general manager. That may very well be the path if Ross decides to move on from Grier.

The Bottom Line on the Miami Dolphins Offseason

No matter what Ross ends up doing, it’s clear that a change needs to be made. Miami can ill afford to squander the Super Bowl potential of the high-end talent on this roster. Tyreek Hill may very well be the best Dolphin since Dan Marino, and his presence must be capitalized on.

It likely won’t be as drastic as firing a general manager, but there are reasonable changes to make. Time after time, Stephen Ross has seen his teams come up short and December and January. He holds the power to ensure that this time is the last and that the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl hopes are realized. That starts with this offseason.

Austin Jackson: Allowing Pressure?

From a historically bad 2019 season, the 2020 Miami Dolphins’ offensive line made considerable strides towards improvement, nevertheless question marks remain. One particular uncertainty is that of the position of Austin Jackson. Despite what can only be regarded as a trying season, having been asked to be the starter from the outset, Jackson appears to have his position locked down heading into 2021, with there being no heir apparent at the position. If this is true, it is Jackson who needs to make the biggest jump in his second year to live up to the expectations of the 18th overall selection.

From a historically bad 2019 season, the 2020 Miami Dolphins’ offensive line made considerable strides towards improvement, nevertheless question marks remain. One particular uncertainty is that of the position of Austin Jackson. Despite what can only be regarded as a trying season, having been asked to be the starter from the outset, Jackson appears to have his position locked down heading into 2021, with there being no heir apparent at the position. If this is true, it is Jackson who needs to make the biggest jump in his second year to live up to the expectations of the 18th overall selection.

Coming out of the 2020 draft we knew that Jackson was a very raw prospect. Aged only 20 he was a great athlete with all the physical traits required, but needed to refine his technique to make it in the NFL. Not to mention the obvious challenges that all rookies faced last season, that have been repeated endlessly, it would be unfair to think that those concerns had just gone away and he was NFL ready week one. Contrast this with the analysis of Liam Eichenberg, the Notre Dame, NFL ready tackle who hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 33 games; the positions of the two are very different indeed.

PFF ranked Jackson 78th out of 83 qualifying tackles, a rating is not necessarily a true reflection of his play. Jackson started 13 games, missing three games with a foot injury allowing 4 sacks. In fact 18 tackles allowed more sacks including Andrew Thomas, who the Dolphins were at a point rumored to be trading up for (farcical I know) yielding 10 sacks, whilst Mekhi Becton allowed 7 with the Jets. However, Jackson did allow a further 40 QB pressures, whilst his run blocking was nothing to write home about either, which was ranked 76th among 83 qualifying tackles. Jackson’s performance becomes more open to question following the relatively successful rookie campaigns of Solomon Kindley and Robert Hunt, who were both selected after Jackson. From week 12 onward, Hunt was the fifth best right tackle in the league with a PFF grade of 76.4.

Jackson’s worst performances unsurprisingly coincided with the offenses worst games, the matchup with the Broncos immediately comes to mind. Looking back it is almost painful to watch, as time after time Bradley Chubb dominated the rookie. There were several instances whereby Jackson would be beaten without actually ever getting his hands on the rusher, with Chubb merely running round him untouched. Coming into his second year, Jackson needs to work on his reactions; at times it seems like he focuses too much on where he is supposed to be blocking according to the playbook, rather than anticipating where the pressure is coming from in real time. Whilst all of this may seem like an indictment of Jackson, this is nothing that cannot be resolved with more and more reps. Let us not forget that tackle is one of the toughest positions to play as a rookie in a normal season, it is evident that at present the game is merely moving too quick for Jackson.

There were times throughout the season where it was a benefit that Tua is left handed, meaning that the left side was not his blindside.

Jackson appeared to play his best football when there was not as much space around him, in essence when he had tight ends blocking alongside him, making him more akin to a guard rather than a tackle. However, with Solomon Kindley the favorite to lock down the left guard position, whilst Robert Hunt has also moved from tackle to guard. It is expected that Hunt’s ceiling is much higher playing as a potential pro-bowl guard, so playing Jackson on the interior may not be an option. This is where the versatility instilled within this roster can be extremely beneficial and could potentially be season saving if things dont go to plan. If Jackson continues to struggle, the Dolphins do have the fallback option, if needed to shift Eichenberg to LT and then Hunt/Davis/Fluker or even Eluemunor back out to RT and then play Jackson and Kindley at guard. It is hoped that Jackson’s performances improve so that such contingency options are not required. So what is Jackson doing to improve?

“There’s a lot of new things, new adjustments from college to the pros, but one little thing I try to live by is I try not to make the same mistake twice. So whenever I come into a situation, make sure I do what I’ve got to do to get past it and get better, and make sure I’m getting better every single day.

The game slows down the longer you play. I think the first year, you learn a lot. The second year, you kind of handle more. So I would say I would expect to get a lot better next year, and then the year after that and then the year after that.”

Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson has been working on all aspects of his play throughout the offseason. One particular point of emphasis he states is in his knee bend and being able to get lower giving him more flexibility. Coming into his second year he acknowledges that he has seen strides in his development as a result of having a years playing experience under his belt. With the knowledge he has learnt from a trying rookie season, he is using that to put into his training, whilst refining his approach and technique to be consistent in his performances week in week out.

Whilst this tweet may not have aged well since Jackson was drafted, it is hoped that Jackson will be able to assert more dominance in his matchups in 2021 like he did for the Trojans.

Conclusion

While it may be Tua the highlighted player in the national media as being the Dolphins player under the most pressure to perform, it is the development and performance of Austin Jackson that will be just as vital to this offense. 2020 was not a disaster of a season for Jackson, but was very much below par of the 18th overall selection and pressure is mounting to show a quick improvement. Once again this article is by no means an indictment on Jackson or a call to move on. There is no doubt about it he is a stand out guy, an excellent character off the field and most importantly a team guy. He has everything Brian Flores and Chris Grier could want off the field, the question is can he dominate on it? Over the past three drafts whilst Brian Flores has been at the helm, the Dolphins have drafted 7 offensive linemen, signing 4 free agents this season alone on the line. Flores and Grier seem like men possessed to fix the holes within the line. Be in no doubt, Jackson will be under the microscope this season to improve, or risk looking over his shoulder next offseason for the next experiment on the line. Fins Up!

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