The Miami Dolphins emerged in 2016 much like the 2015 New York Jets in 2015 with a breakout season under a new head coach. Miami went 4-0 against the Jets and Bills adding wins against the weak NFC West including the Rams, Cardinals, and 49ers. Their other wins were against AFC bottom-feeders Cleveland and San Diego.
The only team with a winning record who Miami beat was the Steelers in week six. The Dolphins lost twice to the Patriots and fell to the Ravens, Titans, Bengals and Seahawks before falling to the Steelers in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs after starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill was lost due to injury.
Last season, the Dolphins upgraded their defense with a key trade netting them linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell. It was enough against a weak schedule but the young secondary crumbled against Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. To keep the secondary from taking a step back the team coughed up big money to keep safety Reshad Jones.
Veteran safety Nate Allen was signed as veteran Isa Abdul-Quddus was released to free up cap space. Michael Thomas is back as a depth safety but the secondary is still counting on a big step-up from their young cornerbacks Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain, and Xavien Howard.
To keep the pressure off the secondary, the Dolphins need to improve the defense. Cameron Wake is back at age 35 while washout Mario Williams was pushed out the door. Miami oddly re-upped middling pass rusher Andre Branch (who did little in Jacksonville for four years prior to joining the Dolphins) did little to show he was worth $8 million per season. Defensive end William Hayes is an intriguing player who Miami got for nothing from the Rams via a trade and could be their best pickup on defense.
With the oft-injured Alonso back the Dolphins added Pittsburgh cast-off and past-his-prime veteran Lawrence Timmons to their linebacking group. Koa Misi–a continuing disappointment–restructured his deal to stay. Miami desperately needs to poach linebacker Zach Brown from Buffalo just to get their linebacker group from “terrible” to “barely adequate if all stay healthy”. The defense also lost coordinator Vance Joseph who was credited with covering defensive deficiencies.
On offense the Dolphins vastly overpaid for wide receiver Kenny Stills–a one-trick pony who drops too many passes. At less than $2 million in salary last year Stills was a good deal, $20 million guaranteed seems excessive. With the whole unit back, the most intriguing player–Leonte Carroo–remains buried behind DeVante Parker, Jarvis Landry, and Stills.
On the offensive line pricey veteran Branden Albert was traded to Jacksonville and the Dolphins brought in depth guard Ted Larsen and re-signed veteran guard Jermon Bushrod to a reasonable deal. Second-year player Laremy Tunsil takes over at left tackle while Larsen should take over at left guard. Bushrod is on his last legs, Tunsil underwhelmed at guard as a rookie, and Larsen is a journeyman. Add in oft-injured Mike Pouncey at center and the entire left side of the offensive line is a question mark.
At tight end the Jordan Cameron experiment ended and the Dolphins turned over the position letting valuable blocking tight end Dion Sims go. In their place the Dolphins traded for tight end Julius Thomas–who was a colossal disappointment in Jacksonville–and brought back former Dolphin Anthony Fasano.
Miami re-signed a number of players and made a number of moves in free agency, but the question remains if they improved compared to their 2016 team. Remember, the Dolphins were actually outscored by their opponents last year and like the 2015 Jets may be primed for a step backwards with little improvement in the secondary and at linebacker. Their offensive line seemed to take a step backwards and Miami seems primed for a regression to a seven or eight win season in 2017.