Dolphins Game Changing Offseason Moves: Replacing a legendary pass-rusher

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We've talked a lot about some of the very big moves that the Miami Dolphins have made this past offseason - perhaps the most active offseason in terms of big names on the move in the franchise's history. Just think about the investments made. The Dolphins bring in Mike Nolan to run the defense, reportedly making him one of the highest paid coordinators in the NFL. They sign Karlos Dansby to one of the most lucrative contracts ever for a linebacker. Then they trade two draft picks for Brandon Marshall and hand him a shiny new $50 million contract.

But we can't forget about the big name player who went in the other direction and left Miami, heading to a hated rival (of all places). More importantly, we can't forget about perhaps the biggest question mark this team faces heading into training camp in six weeks - the void left by this legendary player's departure.

I'm of course talking about Jason Taylor. Yes, I'm aware we've really beaten this topic into the ground already. But when you get told that the theme for these Sprint posts is "game changing offseason moves," it's kind of impossible not to bring up the departure of the greatest pass-rusher in franchise history.

I'm also not here to talk about who was right or who was wrong. I'm not in the mood to point fingers and get back into the blame game. What's done is done.

What I am saying today - and have said a number of times this offseason - is that I refuse to believe Taylor wouldn't have been of any value if he remained in Miami. I'm talking about on-the-field production here, too - not veteran leadership (though he was a great leader in that locker room).

The Dolphins have a huge hole at outside linebacker. Cameron Wake might eventually become a dominant pass-rusher. But as of now, he's struggling to beat out Charlie Anderson for a starting job. Koa Misi, Miami's second round draft pick, has the makings of a very good all-around outside linebacker. His versatility to rush the passer or drop into coverage make him a great fit on the strong side. But a dynamic pass-rusher he is not.

So where will the sacks come from this season?

That's perhaps the single biggest question facing this team right now. Charlie Anderson and Quentin Moses have combined for 10 sacks in their careers. Koa Misi had just 11 sacks in three seasons at Utah. Cameron Wake had 5.5 sacks last year and possesses the most upside of all the potential pass-rushers.

According to ProFootballFocus, Wake participated in just 167 defensive snaps. So his 5.5 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures are impressive. But most of those snaps came with Wake's hand in the ground when the Dolphins went with four down linemen in nickel and dime packages. That means Wake remains relatively inexperienced as a stand-up outside linebacker.

Anderson, meanwhile, had 2 sacks and 6 pressures in 150 defensive snaps. And Moses saw just 43 defensive snaps, tallying one sack and one pressure. Taylor, meanwhile, picked up 7 sacks and 20 pressures on 828 snaps - though many of those snaps did not have Taylor rushing the quarterback.

Strictly based on numbers, Anderson and Wake do project to make up for the sacks and pressures lost from JT's departure. But there are two problems here. One - the Dolphins also lost Joey Porter, meaning they have to make up for his sack production. And two - projecting numbers means nothing. The fact of the matter is I have not seen anything on the field to make me think Anderson or Moses can become legitimate pass-rushers.

And that brings me to Wake and Misi. I mentioned yesterday how I was excited to see those two paired as the starting outside linebackers at Wednesday's OTA. But an OTA in June means nothing. I firmly believe that a lot of this team's defensive success will come down to how quickly those two can establish themselves as starters and produce on the field.

But if we're sitting here in October or November and we're still talking about a lack of pressure being put on the opposing quarterback, I guarantee I won't be the only one thinking back to this front office's decision to let Jason Taylor walk.

For better or for worse, that decision was very much a "game changer."

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