Despite having to face the No. 2 seed Buffalo Bills on the road with their third-string quarterback, the No. 7 seed Miami Dolphins were a few plays away from pulling off a major upset. For Miami, sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. After a thrilling 34-31 wildcard loss Sunday, the Bills move on to the divisional round and the Dolphins officially move to the offseason.
To characterize the season as up and down would be an understatement. It was more like the rollercoaster that makes you puke. There was the high of the five-game winning streak where Tua Tagovailoa led the league in passer rating and Pro Bowl votes. For about a month, it felt like the offense was so in sync that averaging 30 points a game felt like a given. Then there were the lows of Tagovailoa’s concussions and ending the regular season losing five of the last six games.
With the season in the books, it’s time to go over the potential moves the Dolphins could or should make before next season. With the salary cap, the exact number won’t be known until March, but projections tend to put the number in the bottom third in the league. As of now, after acquisitions at this year’s trade deadline and the penalties handed down on the Stephen Ross tampering case, the Dolphins only have five draft picks. Despite the lack of cap space and draft equity, there are plenty of moves to be made. Here is the Dolphins’ off-season to-do list.
Make a decision on Tua
The health of Tagovailoa was the number one story coming out of this season. The Dolphins went 9-8 despite him missing four starts and were on the cusp of advancing in the playoffs with their third-string quarterback. When Tagovailoa was healthy and playing, the offense was one of the best in the league. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle made up one of the best wide receiver duos in league history despite inconsistency at quarterback.
It’s not hard to imagine how much better the season could have been if Tagovailoa was available throughout the year, which is why the front office needs to decide on whether or not to move forward with Tagovailoa or move in a different direction. There will be numerous options to replace Tagovailoa if the Dolphins elect to do so. The free agent market includes Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady and San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, while Las Vegas’ Derek Carr could be acquired via trade.
May 3 is the deadline for the Dolphins to pick up Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option. The decision will show whether team executives believe he’s the future or if they will begin planning for the future.
Invest in a reliable backup quarterback
Regardless of the Dolphins’ decision to bring Tagovailoa back or not, priority number two should be to find another backup quarterback. At this point, Teddy Bridgewater is who he is — a quality journeyman who has trouble staying healthy. An NFL-record 66 quarterbacks started a game this season, which shows the importance of backups. Teams that had quality backups — San Francisco and Dallas — were able to stay afloat despite injuries to their starters. In the 49ers’ case, they went down to their third-string quarterback and the offense somehow got better.
One option for the primary backup could be Skylar Thompson, the rookie seventh-round pick who started the playoff game Sunday. His inexperience was evident, particularly with calling plays and working the play clock, but he wasn’t a disaster. Another option could be Tagovailoa himself. If the Dolphins acquire a new starting quarterback, either via trade or free agency, and Tagovailoa decides to play again, he could be shuffled to the backup role.