It seems like just yesterday the Miami Dolphins were in shambles, firing Joe Philbin and promoting tight ends coach Dan Campbell. Fast forward a few months and a highly sought after young coach, Adam Gase is headed to South Beach. Not many could have predicted what would happen under his influence in just one season. The 2016 NFL season for the Dolphins lasted a week longer than usual. Despite ending with a painful loss, the organization has more to build upon than ever before.
The Miami Dolphins 2016 Season Recap
Everybody knows the story, the 1-4 start, the six game win the streak, the playoff berth. What the everyday admirer does not understand is how many pieces had to fall into place for the lackluster Dolphins to be mentioned among the NFL’s elite. A plan years in the making. It stems from owner Stephen Ross, VP Mike Tannenbaum, GM Chris Grier and of course head coach Adam Gase. 2016 was the first full NFL draft under Tannenbaum, as well as Grier and Gase (their first years). What a draft it ended up to be.
Constructing a winning team is a simple process. Many have done it. However, building a winning team for years to come presents quite a mammoth task. A solid coaching staff, coupled with the right mix of veterans and youth players provides a starting point. The depth and dedication are what follows, creating a presence of a winning organization that attracts the right free agents and players willing to buy into the culture. This is the next step for Miami. Before looking forward as to what the newfound competitor has in store, it’s important to recap the groundwork laid by Tannenbaum and Ross, as well as the 2016 season in whole.
Heading into the 2016 season many teams were looking to land Adam Gase. He was known as the “Quarterback Whisperer.” How Tannenbaum and Ross were able to convince the man to come down South remains unknown. Perhaps the Miami Dolphins had more appeal than most realized. It is well known that Jay Cutler had statistically his best season ever under Gase in Chicago. Balancing head coaching duties, offensive play calling and crafting veteran QB Ryan Tannehill may have seemed too much for the NFL’s youngest head coach. This was obviously not the case.
While Ryan Tannehill‘s season ended early, he definitely had his best year in his NFL tenure. Although not his best season statistically, Tannehill was safe with the ball, not turning it over once during the six game win streak. This was vital in Miami’s route to the playoffs, finally shaping out to be the game manager he is. Gase was instrumental in this.
Cutting certain players such as Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner proved brilliance, something past coaches did not have the gut to do. Not to mention leaving future team MVP Jay Ajayi in Miami in week one at Seattle. Many would consider Gase a coach of the year candidate, however, he explicitly told his team not to nominate him. These awards are meaningless to coach Gase. Not even 40 and already humbled beyond his years. the materialistic things mean nothing. Winning is everything to this man.
Arguably the most exciting aspect of the NFL, the draft provides NFL teams with youth and talent galore. The right draft can be instrumental in a full NFL season; serving teams with bursts, big plays, surprises and determination. The Miami Dolphins 2016 rookies served quite the season, making clutch plays and some players getting steady first team reps.
The story of Laremy Tunsil is almost a forgotten one, and although he had a minor slip up (pun intended) when he missed one game, he was a valiant soldier on a patchwork offensive line. He also played out of position the entire season. While the first round pick Tunsil gained quite the hype, a few other rookies proved themselves worthy throughout the 2016 season. Cornerback Xavien Howard, running back Kenyan Drake and return specialist Jakeem Grant all contributed to the Miami Dolphins first playoff season since 2008.
Cornerback Xavien Howard instantly became prominent when Miami played man coverage. Blessed with great speed and size, Howard arguably seemed to be the #1 corner. Unfortunately a knee injury hindered Howard’s development and kept him sidelined until the end of the regular season. Moving forward Howard will likely be Miami’s best corner, overtaking veteran Byron Maxwell, assuming he returns in 2017.
Running back Kenyan Drake played second fiddle to Heisman winner Derrick Henry at Alabama. His ability to hit a second gear provided Miami with a useful change of pace back and a decent return man as well. Drake had a memorable touchdown return in the 2015 National Championship. He carried that over with a 96 yard kickoff return against the Jets in week 9. However, his largest contribution and best play so far was a 45-yard touchdown run where he ran left and looped 10 yards backwards and ran down the sideline. A decent return for a third round pick.
The most interesting Dolphins rookie was the petite Jakeem Grant, a wide receiver out of Texas Tech. Many may recognize Grant from NFL Network’s undrafted. He was featured on undrafted because he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, quite the snub. The 5’7 return specialist ended the season with only one touchdown, in which he returned a punt. He had a few called back due to unnecessary penalties. Grant’s lightning speed provide hope for the Dolphins return game, although he needs to work on his ball security. Coupled with Drake’s vision and return ability, the Dolphins special teams can be very dangerous. All due to a third and sixth round pick. Keeping Jarvis Landry off special teams is quite a relief.
Sure, it took the Dolphins five weeks to get going, but the season was quite enticing regardless. The first four losses were tough to swallow, coming up short in Seattle and New England. What followed was Jay Ajayi going on a tirade, while winning multiple games on essentially the last play. Somehow, Miami only earned two Pro-Bowl spots, ironically on defense (Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh) and no All-Pro spots, despite finishing 10-6.
Injuries were a key factor in Miami’s demise; leaders such as Ryan Tannehill and Reshad Jones could only watch from the sideline as Miami came up short against Pittsburgh. Somehow, behind a struggling defense and a backup QB in Matt Moore, Miami did the impossible. While the wild card weekend game was an embarrassment, it should be seen more as a learning experience for Miami. Players like Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Ryan Tannehill, Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake finally got a taste of the playoffs, although some may only be a late benefactor.
Adam Gase earned consideration as Coach of the Year, Jay Ajayi finished fourth in rushing (he wasn’t a starter until week six), and Miami wiggled into the final Wild Card spot. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is leaving to take over head coaching duties for the Denver Broncos, and now many teams are looking at key pending free agents Kenny Stills and Andre Branch.
The first step in building a winning team for years to come will be to re-sign key free agents. The aforementioned Kenny Stills and Andre Branch will be the toughest. Veteran guard Jermon Bushrod and long snapper John Denney will look to stay settled in Miami, while Kiko Alonso and Dion Sims earned at least another year in South Beach respectively. Players such as Jordan Cameron, Jelani Jenkins and Spencer Paysinger will most likely not be in Miami in 2017.
Players such as Mario Williams and Koa Misi need to be cut for Miami to establish themselves as a competitor, which would subsequently open up $12.7 million in cap space. Convincing a veteran player like Brandon Albert to reconstruct his contract will be tough. But, after a disappointing second half of the season it is necessary. Extending Jarvis Landry’s deal will be the most integral part of the offseason. If done, it will set up a fan favorite for years to come. He definitely deserves his payday.
After a successful and promising season, Miami will look to attract solid free agents. A warm location and a good young team are exactly what impending free agents look for in attractiveness.
The 2017 Draft will decide whether or not Miami can construct a decent run in the 2017 season. The Dolphins have obvious needs on the defensive side of the ball, specifically at linebacker, defensive end and cornerback. Not to mention a guard or two would be useful. If these gaps are addressed in a relatively decent fashion, the 2017 season will likely overshadow the 2016 roller coaster of surprises. Savor it fins fans, the time is now.