As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.

In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Miami Dolphins:

2020 Recap

Credit: Charles Kupra (Associated Press)

The 2020 season was a mixed year for the Miami Dolphins. They lost three of their first four games, before going on a run that saw them win nine of their next 11 games. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get over the line in Week 17 and missed out on a playoff berth.

However, the 2020 season was supposed to be about another step in the rebuild. Therefore, to even be in contention of the playoffs in Week 17 was a bonus for Miami in 2020.

This season was supposed to be about the transition to Tua Tagovailoa as the team’s franchise QB. The Dolphins handed the reigns over to Tua in Week 8, with mixed results. When you look at some of the advanced metrics, Tua performed well. 

However, there were times where his performances did not translate to winning football on the field. Those moments saw Tua replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. This somewhat created a QB controversy that hung over the Dolphins all season. Despite this, there was a lot of promise for the Dolphins. 

The defense was superb, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Xavien Howard. The offensive line gelled well as a unit and saw impressive play from some young players. All of that is promising for the Dolphins heading into the offseason.

Staff Changes

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The Dolphins parted ways with offensive co-ordinator Chan Gailey. Gailey took a lot of criticism last season for what many viewed as a stagnant offensive game plan. The Dolphins ranked 22nd in yards gained, 25th in yards per drive, and just 19th in points per drive. 

The Dolphins are set to head into 2021 with co-offensive co-ordinators. Both co-ordinators were on the staff in 2020. RBs coach Eric Studesville and TEs coach George Godsey will share the duties. 

Godsey spent time in New England, Houston, and Detroit before joining the Dolphins in 2019. Meanwhile, Studesville has spent time with the Bears, Giants, Bills, and Broncos before ending up in Miami. It will be fascinating to see how these two coaches styles blend when it comes to play calling and game script in 2021.

State Of The Roster

The Dolphins defense stepped up in a big way in 2020. They became one of the most fearsome units in the league, with playmakers up front and on the back end. They are set to return many of those pieces in 2021, and will be hoping to get a similar level out of the group next season.

Offensively, the Dolphins are an unknown. Tagovailoa has plenty of potential but there are concerns after his rookie season. However, he was likely still recovering from a tough injury in his final season in Alabama. If Tua can progress in 2021, he could hide a lot of difficulties with this offense.

The progress of the offensive line in 2020 was promising. The Dolphins likely still need to add pieces to the unit, but they have some good foundational pieces in place. Mike Gesicki is a very talented tight end but the rest of the pass catching group leaves a lot to be desired. Equally, the running back group flashed promise but is a unit the Dolphins could look to upgrade this offseason.

Salary Cap & Cut Candidates

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Currently projected to have around $25 million in cap space, the Dolphins have plenty of room for flexibility. They do not need to cut players for the sake of opening up space desperately but can choose wisely when it comes to upgrading positions.

The potential candidates carrying large-cap numbers are Kyle Van Noy ($9.8 million), Emmanuel Ogbah ($7.5 million), Bobby McCain ($5.7 million), and Eric Rowe ($5 million). Of those, Rowe and perhaps McCain could be potential candidates to leave this offseason. However, the Dolphins would need to have a lot of faith in their depth at safety to do so.

Instead, look for the Dolphins to potentially create space through restructures and extensions. They have a number of candidates up and down the roster with which to do so in 2021.

Free Agents

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The Miami Dolphins have just one player who played over 50 percent of the snaps in 2020 set to become an unrestricted free agent. That is center Ted Karras, who I expect the Dolphins look to retain given his experience. The depth behind Karras at the position is not great, and it could be a position the Dolphins look to in the draft.

Outside of that, Ryan Fitzpatrick is the headline. It seems unlikely they bring Fitzpatrick back given the potential controversy it could cause at QB. After Fitzpatrick the majority of players hitting the free-agent markets were bit-part players for the Dolphins in 2020. 

Team Needs

The Miami Dolphins biggest needs in 2021 fall on the offensive side of the ball. They desperately need to upgrade their wide receiver group. Additionally, they could do with a top-tier talent at running back. They will also want to keep building on their progress with the offensive line. With a franchise seemingly in place, now is the time to get those pieces set around him.

Defensively, the Dolphins need to focus on the second level. They are set to lose Elandon Roberts and other depth pieces from the linebacker group. Replacing them and adding depth at safety need to be priorities in the coming offseason.

Bonnie flame jr.

nfl staff writer