Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC. The ball gets rolling with a recap of the 2019 season, while previews of the 2020 Draft, training camp, and the 2020 season are to come later on.
We continue with a team in Florida that vastly exceeded its historically low expectations — the Miami Dolphins. Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider was able to answer a few questions regarding Miami’s 2019 campaign.
1. The Dolphins aggressively gutted their roster prior to the season, entering Week 1 with the potential to be one of the worst teams the league has ever seen. For four weeks, the Fins looked every bit as historically awful as they were pegged to be. Then, they came out of the bye week as a substantially more competitive team, putting it all together against the Jets a few weeks later to kickstart a shocking 5-4 finish. What were the biggest reasons for Miami’s incredible turnaround, and what can be said about the job Brian Flores did in his debut season?
I think it was a couple of things, the first being buy-in by the players. After months of hearing how the Dolphins were tanking and looking to not win a single game this season, Brian Flores proved to the team, he was not looking to lose. Moving to Josh Rosen and then back to Ryan Fitzpatrick demonstrated he was committed to winning this year, and the players bought into that and started playing like a professional football team. They may have faced a talent gap - Miami is one of two teams to have no players selected to the Pro Bowl - but they were not going to roll over and wait for 2020.
The second piece is probably just growth. If anything, Flores and the coaching staff showed they can develop players and they can move players into positions where they will shine. The Dolphins played more players during this season than any NFL team had ever played, and they did a good job of finding gems who can develop into contributors in the rebuilt Dolphins of the future. Undrafted free agents, waiver claims, free agents, practice squad poaching, the Dolphins did a good job of looking for talent in the depths of rosters. Players like Preston Williams and Nik Needham grew throughout the summer and into the season - though Williams ended up on injured reserve.
The third thing I will briefly mention is Ryan Fitzpatrick. His attitude and play style spread across the team, and they refused to ever give up. That was impressive all season.
2. DeVante Parker enjoyed a breakout fifth season, smashing his previous career bests across the board and looking like one of the most dominant receivers in football. What were some of the factors (both personal strides and surrounding elements) that led to his emergence?
Health. That really is it. Parker managed to stay healthy all year, and it showed in his production. He has always had the talent, and it has flashed at times in the past, but this year, there was never the nagging injury - hamstring, groin, etc. - that made him a step slow. He seems to have learned what it means to take care of yourself and your body as a professional, and it all came together this year. The biggest part of this is, Parker is the perfect example of a player who needs time to adjust to the NFL and grow as a professional. Miami has too many examples of players they have released or traded early in their rookie contract, then they show up somewhere else and play well. Parker shows a player can develop in Miami as well.
3. What is the future of the quarterback position in Miami? Is it a lock that they will pick a quarterback at No. 5?
It definitely feels like it is a lock, but maybe the key is still in the door? I could see scenarios where Miami throws a curveball, something like a trade back to add extra picks this year or next, but I think they like Tua Tagovailoa and he is probably sitting on the board at pick five. That said, and even if they look to use the 18th or 26th pick on a quarterback and pass on Tagovailoa, I would not be surprised to see the Dolphins keep Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter for 2020, either letting him start the season and then be replaced by the rookie, or giving the rookie a redshirt season - especially if it is a medical redshirt like it could be for Tagovailoa - and then looking to the drafted player to take over for 2021.
4. If there was one position group on the Dolphins roster that failed to surpass its low expectations, that would probably be the offensive line. Miami ranked last by a wide margin in most offensive line metrics. How can the Dolphins begin to retool this unit in the 2020 offseason?
Draft pick, draft pick, draft pick, draft pick. And, maybe, another draft pick. I would not be surprised to see the Dolphins use multiple picks on the offensive line, even pushing up to five or six of their expected 14, rebuilding the unit into a respectable one, and one that can grow together. Names like Jesse Davis, Shaq Calhoun, and Michael Deiter have potential to stick around, maybe growing into the players Miami needs, but I think the coaches and front office will be aggressive when it comes to protecting the quarterback, especially if they have a rookie starter, and it will come with multiple draft picks. There will be some free agents they can target, but the key is going to be the draft.
5. Miami cycled through a lot of running backs in 2019 and failed to get quality production from any of them. Where do you see the Dolphins looking to find their next starting back?
There is talk that Miami could look to chase Derrick Henry this offseason and that would make a lot of sense. They have the salary cap space to be able to grab a big name like that, he is only 26 years old, so he is still young enough to fit into the Dolphins growth and development plan, and he would give them a top running back to replace the long line of players Miami has seen leave the backfield (Kenyan Drake, Jay Ajayi, Lamar Miller, etc., etc.). After that, it becomes a little more difficult to pinpoint targets for Miami. Kenyan Drake could make sense in a general thought, but I do not see him coming back to Miami. Carlos Hyde could be a target, but it does not feel like that would be the guy Miami would try to grab. Players like Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore could be the veteran in the running back group, but I think the Dolphins would rather look for younger players. Would the Dolphins consider restricted free agents like Matt Breida or Austin Ekeler knowing compensation would be required back to their original teams?
I know I am using this answer a lot, but 14 draft picks make it an easy one. I think, if they do not get Henry, they are probably looking to the Draft. I could see Miami looking for a second-round rusher, potentially someone like Travis Etienne, J.K. Dobbins, or Zack Moss if they are still on the board.
The offensive player I will go with is one Miami already added. I will grab Chad Pennington. I know he may not be the most sexy name the Jets have had on offense, where someone like Curtis Martin or Keyshawn Johnson could make a splash in Miami, but I loved the spark Pennington gave to Miami when he arrived. If Pennington had been able to stay healthy, maybe Miami could have built upon that 11-5 2008 season. Give me a few years younger Pennington, and maybe the shoulder holds up longer. Outside of Pennington, my next picks would likely be players like Kevin Mawae or Nick Mangold. As we discussed, Miami needs offensive line support. Give me a stud center to start rebuilding the middle of the offensive line and I would be happy.
I think on defense, there really is only one answer: Darrelle Revis. Pair Revis with Xavien Howard and force teams to become one-dimensional as they are afraid to throw the ball anywhere. Miami’s secondary was decimated by injury this past season, including Howard, so adding an in-his-prime Revis seems like an easy choice.