The Miami Dolphins had a terrific 2016 that saw them recover from a 1-4 start to a Wild Card contender, to a Wild Card 6th seed. Are they close to a championship?
Ask any player in Miami and he will give you a coy answer. He will give you the “company/team” answer. Those answers that sound like, “we have to keep grinding and growing and take it one step at a time”. In other words, no one is going to say anything without showing it on the field first.
This is the time internal time of year for the Dolphins. It’s the endless hours of executive meetings and film study of the teams own free agents, potential NFL free agents, and overall player evaluations. Adam Gase is no longer holed up with his coaches making game plans as much as they are huddled with general manager Chris Grier and Mike Tannenbaum.
Free agency doesn’t start for over a month, sometime in the first week or two of March when the NFL’s version of Black Friday begins. It’s even too early to fantasize about what potential free agents will be interested in Miami. So naturally the question at this point is, are the Dolphins a couple of pieces away from a championship caliber team or are they still a couple of years away?
The answer is both of course.
I know it’s a copout but here is the real deal. The Dolphins need more than a couple of pieces to keep this boat heading in the right direction. They need to address the offensive line again, linebacker again, cornerback again, and even tight-end. Again. Then they all have to gel together as a team. And that takes some time.
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Or does it? Many would have said that this team would need a year or two just to get with Gase’s program. It actually took four games. For the most part, the key positions on offense are already filled and there is some rumblings in RumorWorld that Miami intends to sign Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills to new deals. That keeps the offense together and that is a big part of continuing success.
Gase proved last season as a rookie head coach that he can handle the game as a play caller and as the HC and frankly every coach will tell you that while the job doesn’t get any easier year to year it does get simpler after the first year of being a head coach.
Most of Miami’s 2016 problems were on the defensive side of the ball where injuries really took their toll. Linebacker especially. If the plan last year was to wait a season before really addressing the LB spot, then we should see an improved “on-paper” unit in 2017.
Koa Misi will not likely be back due to his injury but the Dolphins are keen on keeping Kiko Alonso. Alonso played well and honestly I think he may have found where he needs to be in the NFL. His time in Buffalo and Philadelphia didn’t seem like the right fit but he has a lot of room to grow in Miami.
Miami can fix a lot of their holes this off-season. Unlike in years past the Dolphins lacked the talent on the roster to supplement the team but the Dolphins seemed to have learned from the overspending on players who didn’t fit within the organizations vision. Primarily because it didn’t have one. No more Mike Wallace type signings please.
For the Dolphins it’s now about finding what works in the locker room. Since Gase has arrived it’s become very clear that there is a direction that the team wants to achieve. Joe Philbin was simply in Miami to try to win but never showed any indication of how to achieve that. In part because he and Jeff Ireland couldn’t get a long. It was the same issues with Tony Sparano where it was either Bill Parcells or Ireland making decisions they felt best.
That is not the case anymore. Gase knows the kinds of players he wants and Grier and Tannenbaum have said that it’s their job to identify those players and get them in Miami.
This off-season will be more interesting than the past seasons because as fans we will get a better idea of what exactly Gase wants on his roster and we will see how success in 2016 helps attract players without necessarily having to use the no state tax line.
A couple of players will definitely help but at the very core is how well each player continues to develop and how well Adam Gase gets them ready to play. That might take another year but it will be a lot more fun watching it grow than it has in recent years.