The 2015 offseason is officially upon Miami Dolphin fans. While other teams continue their postseason dreams, the Dolphins are at home watching it all unfold after another year of missed opportunity.
This is typically the time where we start to look at the Dolphins roster and see what they need to add to get better and attempt to strut over the hump of mediocrity that has held them back for so long. Keep in mind that the Dolphins salary cap situation isn't pretty and the Dolphins will likely be cutting ties with more than a few players whose production didn't match their salary in 2014.
This is a reverse chronological list that ranks positions by level of need:
The emergence of Ryan Tannehill in 2014 has assured the Dolphins that they will not head into 2015 with a quarterback controversy. However, in an offseason where the Dolphins have 21 expiring contracts, including back-up QB Matt Moore, quarterback is still a need.
The Dolphins need to find a new back-up for Tannehill. Moore will likely move on to compete as a starter somewhere, so the Dolphins might look to add a late-round quarterback or a lower-tier free agent.
Punter is not a need right now. However, current punter Brandon Fields could be one of many cap casualties this offseason due to the Dolphins' tight money situation, his down year in 2014 and his nearly four million dollar cap hit.
13. Defensive end
Derrick Shelby, one of Miami's most well-rounded defensive ends, is a free agent. The Dolphins still have Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan and Terrence Fede, so defensive end is not a big need. But re-signing Shelby, who can also play defensive end in a 3-4 defense, would work well towards keeping this unit strong and versatile.
12. Running back
The Dolphins end 2014 in a much better spot at the running back position than in 2013, but that doesn't meant the unit is complete. In fact that's what the unit needs, an all-around, complete back.
Lamar Miller took strides towards becoming that in 2014, improving his game tremendously. But Miller is still lacking in certain departments. Damien Williams showed that he was a threat as a pass catcher for the Dolphins, but he is a limited runner. Williams was an undrafted free agent in 2014 though, which means he has room to improve. Williams' upside is intriguing, as we saw in the final two games of 2014.
Knowshon Moreno was an all-around back, but he played only one game for Miami. It's likely the Dolphins, depending on how they view the tandem of Miller and Williams, will look to add another Moreno-type veteran back this offseason such as Frank Gore.
11. Outside linebacker
This really depends on what the Dolphins do with Koa Misi heading forward. Misi played most of his career at outside linebacker but was moved inside in 2014 in an effort to shore up Miami's run defense.
If the Dolphins intend to keep Misi at middle linebacker then outside linebacker becomes more of a need. The Dolphins have Jelani Jenkins as one starter but the other starter is unclear. Miami has Jordan Tripp, who needs to get stronger, Chris McCain, Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler under contract, but the latter two may be cap casualties this offseason.
The Dolphins may be able to find a starter out of Tripp and McCain, but banking on either of those two is a risky proposition. Dion Jordan at OLB has been talked about, and put into action briefly in Week 17, but the future of that experiment is unknown.
Samson Satele, who started all 16 games at center for the Dolphins in 2014, is a free agent. It's likely that the plan is to re-sign Satele to be the back-up center he was originally signed to be, but after a pretty good year in Miami Satele could compete for a starting spot for a center-starved team.
Either way the Dolphins will start Mike Pouncey at center in 2015. But, the Dolphins need a back-up and Pouncey is a free agent after the 2015 season. Drafting one in the middle rounds could give the Dolphins a back-up center for this year and a replacement for Pouncey after 2015 if Pouncey's asking price for a new contract is too steep.
9. Offensive tackle
This could be a big need depending on how well left tackle Branden Albert's ACL and MCL, ligaments torn in a Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions, heal during the offseason. Also, back-up tackle Jason Fox, who started two games for the Dolphins in 2014, is a free agent.
Without those two the Dolphins are left with Ja'Wuan James, Dallas Thomas and Nate Garner as their 2015 tackles.
Garner, who missed the final portion of the 2014 season with migraine issues, could be a cap casualty this offseason due to his large cap number and hit low status on the depth chart. Thomas was a train wreck at right tackle. It's likely the Dolphins will either re-sign Fox or add a veteran free agent similar to Fox for depth.
Caleb Sturgis has been too inconsistent. The Dolphin fan base collectively holds their breath every time he attempts a field goal.
Sturgis struggled in his rookie season, making only 78.4% of his field goal attempts. Sturgis followed that up with an even worse sophomore campaign, making only 76.5% of his attempts.
The Dolphins need to bring in competition for Sturgis and will bring in competition for Sturgis.
7. Tight end
Dion Sims emerged this year, becoming a starting caliber tight end. Despite that, tight end may be a big need depending on what happens with free agent Charles Clay.
Even if the Dolphins do re-sign Clay, they will need to add another tight end. The Dolphins went most of the season playing with only two tight ends on Sunday's, which limited the personnel packages that offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was able to use.
The Dolphins will benefit from the addition of Arthur Lynch, who spent 2014 on the Reserve/Injured list. Lynch isn't a game-breaker but he could be an effective underneath target. If the Dolphins don't re-sign Clay then adding a big tight end in free agency or the draft should be a priority.
6. Wide receiver
The real need here is for a big wide receiver with a large catch radius to make things easier for Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill has a nice receiving corps, but the group doesn't leave Tannehill with much margin for error on his throws.
Not only that, but the future of nearly every member of this group is uncertain after the Mike Wallace incident of Week 17 in which he was benched for the second half of a divisional matchup. The only receivers guaranteed to be on the roster when training camp starts are Jarvis Landry and Matt Hazel, both 2014 draft picks.
No matter what happens with cap casualties, the Dolphins need to add a larger target for Tannehill. The deep ball becomes much easier when throwing to wide receiver who can out-muscle the defensive back for the ball downfield. Just look at all of the highlight reel "high-point" catches that Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has made in his career.
The Dolphins will head into 2015 with Brent Grimes, Cortland Finnegan, Jamar Taylor and Will Davis as the options to hold down the three main cornerback spots (two boundary corners and one nickel corner). Grimes is the only guarantee as Finnegan is a possible cap casualty and both Davis and Taylor ended 2014 on the Reserve/Injured list.
Taylor and Davis have both battled health and inconsistency issues in their time in Miami, but this offseason is their sink or swim moment. These two need to start playing well to have a future with Miami. The Dolphins would be foolish to not hedge their bets on these two, so expect Miami to add at least one cornerback this offseason.
The Dolphins are currently without a starting safety opposite of Reshad Jones. In fact, Jones and special teamer Don Jones are the only two safeties the Dolphins currently have under contract for 2015.
The Dolphins need a playmaker at safety. Preferably the Dolphins end up with another safety similar to Louis Delmas (or Delmas himself if he recovers from his torn ACL in time for training camp), one who can play in the box equally as well as he can play as the single-high safety. This way the Dolphin defense could continue to give opposing quarterbacks confusing looks with their (nearly) interchangeable safeties.
3. Middle linebacker
Koa Misi wasn't bad at middle linebacker when healthy, but Misi couldn't stay healthy in 2014. Not only that, but Misi was bit slow when reading plays and rarely shot gaps to make tackles in the backfield.
Landing a new (and natural) middle linebacker would work wonders for the Dolphins defense, as not only does is plug the hole in the middle of the Dolphins defense but allows Misi to move back to his more natural and effective outside linebacker spot.
The Dolphins need a tough, block-shedding, gap stuffing middle linebacker to help the leaky run defense. My favorite in that department in University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, but I will get more into that in a follow-up article to this one detailing how the Dolphins can fill their top needs.
2. Offensive guards
The Dolphins need to find at least one starting guard next season, under the assumption that 2014 third round pick Billy Turner will be ready to handle one of the guard spots.
Mike Pouncey has stated he will return to his center position in 2015. 2014 free agent signee Shelley Smith couldn't earn a starting spot in 2014, and his salary doesn't match his production, so he could end up a cap casualty. Daryn Colledge, who started 13 games for Miami this year, is a 32-year old free agent who's future is unclear.
The Dolphins will add another guard this offseason, but how is currently unknown. One thing is for sure though-- the Dolphins need to get tougher along the interior of the line.
1. Defensive tackle
Defensive tackle is the biggest need on the Dolphins roster the way things currently stand. The defensive tackle unit wore down to end the season and the result was a combined 992 rushing yards allowed in the final six games of the season (this after allowing only 945 in the first 10 games of the season).
Part of the reason for this was because the unit lacked depth. DE Dion Jordan and DE Derrick Shelby each saw extensive time at DT in 2014 to allow normal rotations to take place. To make things worse the unit is in danger of losing Jared Odrick, arguably the best interior lineman for the Dolphins in 2014, to free agency. Randy Starks, who has been rumored to be in danger of being a cap casualty.
If the Dolphins part ways with both Odrick and Starks this offseason, a 3-technique defensive tackle will become a top need. The Dolphins also desperately need a larger-type 1-technique defensive tackle who demands two blockers at all times to allow the linebackers to deal with less traffic.
Miami will benefit from the returns of A.J. Francis and Kamal Johnson, both 1-techs, and Anthony Johnson, a 3-technique, from injured reserve, but all three are undrafted free agents who are coming off of serious injuries. Relying on these three to be regular contributors is risky and leaves no guarantee that the Dolphins run defense will improve.
The Dolphins will likely need to add a 1-tech DT no matter what happens if the run defense is to improve, but this need could get even heftier if Odrick doesn't return to Miami and Starks is cut.