Miami Dolphins fans had no reason to expect much from this season, and they got exactly what they were expecting.
There was a reason Miami was the home of the only NFL fanbase that held an official organized protest last offseason. The Dolphins season was doomed before training camp even opened, and everyone other than the Dolphins’ inexplicably still-employed GM Jeff Ireland could see it coming.
The Dolphins finished 6-10 in 2011, but they didn’t make a single significant offseason move to upgrade the roster for 2012. If anything, the Dolphins got worse.
The Dolphins’ biggest problem during Ireland’s tenure has been the lack of explosive offensive players. Last offseason, Ireland addressed this concern by trading Brandon Marshall, the best offensive weapon he had.
Miami improved their locker room chemistry by getting rid of Marshall, but they failed to translate the corresponding draft pick or salary cap relief into a playmaker. Instead, the Dolphins used the money to sign the oft-injured David Garrard and the sideshow that is Chad Johnson, who carried equal amounts of baggage as Marshall, but with none of the on-field production. He was cut in the preseason after being involved in a domestic violence incident. Garrard got hurt once again and never played a down.
It got worse from there. The Dolphins also traded their best cornerback, Vontae Davis, and continued their unfortunate trend of stockpiling linemen in the draft.
But 2012 wasn’t all bad news.
New Coach Joe Philbin showed aggressiveness and clock management skills that eluded Tony Sparano. The Dolphins upgraded their offensive scheme in 2012, if not their talent. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill showed occasional promise, and Brian Hartline emerged as a legitimate receiver.
The end of Sparano’s 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offensive mentality in favor of Philbin’s high-paced attack made Dolphins entertaining. Miami’s offense got more production out of Tannehill and a group of no-name receivers than it did the more talented cast that departed after 2011.
The Patriots rolled the rest of the division once again, but the Dolphins played them to the wire once, and bested the Bills and Jets in the final standings.
Miami has $46 million in cap space this offseason, and five draft picks in the draft’s first three rounds. If the Dolphins use that ammunition to obtain just one deep-threat receiver to foster the maturation of Tannehill, there will be reason to hope the offense can finally turn a corner.
The Dolphins’ defense has been slightly better than average for seemingly decades. 2012 was more of the same. It’s just good enough to keep the team in games, but not dominant enough to create turnovers or reliably produce stops at critical moments. Ireland has finally admitted this is an issue, which doesn’t itself fix the problem, but it at least means Dolfans can expect their team to use its significant resources this offseason on upgrading the secondary and pass rush, rather than having the NFL’s best set of third-string defensive tackles.
That’s a start.
Dolphins fans have seen this story before and come away disappointed, as Ireland has previously used his cap space to overpay injured castaways and his own free agents, while squandering his draft picks on redundant, unproductive interior linemen. His words in offseason interviews reveal a desire to build a team in Philbin’s mold–speedy playmakers–rather than Sparano’s vision of plodding physicality. It would be nice to believe him, but he’s burned trusting Dolphins fans so many times before that they might not want to get their hopes up.
But there is, finally, a visible path to success. If Ireland can finally manage to use the Dolphins’ abundant resources to obtain sign productive players at three or four positions of need, and if Tannehill can progress into his first-round promise, the Dolphins might actually be relevent next season.
While that might not sound like much, it’s a world ahead of where the Dolphins were 10 months ago.