Dolphins can learn 3 things from this AFC East Rival

An upward view of a Hard Rock Stadium field goal post prior to a Sunday game - Image by Brian Miller
An upward view of a Hard Rock Stadium field goal post prior to a Sunday game - Image by Brian Miller /

The Miami Dolphins can learn a thing or two from their AFC East rival, New England Patriots.

It’s the same year after year. The Patriots go for a Superbowl run, and the Dolphins, along with the Jets and Bills, are usually left at home watching the playoffs on television. It’s been that way since 2001 when I was a 12 year old boy. I’m currently 30, and not much has changed in the AFC East.

As much as Dolphins fans loathe the New England Patriots and claim that they “suck”, it’s pretty obvious they know what they are doing.

Three aspects of the Patriots regime have stayed consistent throughout Bill Belichick’s and Tom Brady’s tenure in New England: the ability to turn over a roster, avoiding as many big-money contracts as possible, and protecting their quarterback.

The Dolphins, on the other hand, continue to be unable to even assemble a roster let alone turn over one, continue to overpay for players via free agency & extensions, and have not been able to assemble an offensive line since… when? 2009?

If only they could look up towards the heavens and see the Patriots shining in the football gods’ grace (or at least look up above their AFC East rankings).

Entering 2018, the Dolphins salary cap space was already a concern with an estimated $9 million remaining.

How did they fix this problem? By franchising their wide receiver Jarvis Landry to a $16 million tag. This sent them about $7 to $8 million over the 2018 cap.

According to, the Dolphins now have 11 players on the roster with a cap hit between the $8M to $26M range.

The Patriots, however, have an estimated $13 million available in cap space and only 6 players with a cap hit in the $8M to $22M range.

Comparing rosters…

Amount of Players with a cap number between $8-$9M? Dolphins – 2, Patriots – 2

Between $9-10M? Dolphins – 4, Patriots – 0

$10-$11M? Dolphins – 1, Patriots – 1

$11-$12M? Dolphins – 1, Patriots – 1

$12-$13M? Dolphins – 0, Patriots – 1

$16M? Dolphins – Jarvis Landry, Patriots – 0

Around $20M?

The Dolphins have 2 players: DT Ndamukong Suh ($26.1M) & QB Ryan Tannehill ($19.8M). Meanwhile, the Patriots only have 1 player: Tom Brady ($22M). Yes, Dolphins fans. Suh has a higher cap number than the most decorated quarterback in NFL History.

The Dolphins current cap situation could be solved by restructuring and releasing players.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, linebacker Lawrence Timmons, tight end Julius Thomas, right tackle Ja’Wuan James, and other notable names are involved in the release options.

The contracts of quarterback Ryan Tannehill, wide receiver Kenny Stills, defensive end Andre Branch, and linebacker Kiko Alonso are some names involved in the restructuring options.

It’s a comfort to know the Dolphins can fix this problem. But it’s disheartening to know that just 1 season after some of these 2017 deals, alterations need to be made and each one of those possible releases creates a hole on the roster. And the Dolphins haven’t had those starters on the team long enough to even find suitable replacements for them.

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On the other hand, the Patriots have continually been able to find replacements throughout the years for aging veterans and players about to hit free agency. So instead of creating holes for their team, they have plugs and remain afloat.

How do they do this?

They turn to the draft which is a much cheaper option to finding young longterm starters than free agency. It’s why New England has so many picks every year. They don’t wait until they are on the verge of losing a player before drafting his replacement. More often than not, they already have that player in place because they prepare.

Sure, the Patriots might sprinkle in some pricy players and free agents from time to time if they feel those players can take them over the hump for a Superbowl run. But for the most part, they acquire cheap free agents to be backups or situational players on the team.

The Dolphins don’t make moves in the draft when it comes to foreseeing a starter’s replacement. The Dolphins wait until said starter is gone and then make the appropriate moves, or panic and sign the departing player to an overpaid contract, or lose the player and not make any attempts to find the player’s replacement.

The offensive line?

The Patriots have done a tremendous job of protecting quarterback Tom Brady throughout his career. It’s part of the reason the 40 year old is still playing at a high level and nobody knows when he will retire.

The Dolphins have followed the Colts recipe of not taking the appropriate action to protect their franchise quarterback. Similar to Andrew Luck’s situation, poor offensive line play is why Ryan Tannehill has been one of the most sacked quarterbacks since being drafted to the Dolphins and the unit partly responsible for why the quarterback wasn’t playing in 2018. The sack numbers have lowered for the Dolphins during the 2016-17 seasons, but few holes were created for the running game to gain easy yards for a struggling offense this past season.

How difficult is it to follow the example of a proven winning-franchise like the New England Patriots? A franchise that plays in the same division and has won it 15 times since 2001.

They are right in front of your face, Dolphins. You are watching them when you are sitting home on the couch during the postseason. You are watching them every other year on Superbowl Sunday.

They are giving you the formula to winning. Just follow their example.