The NFL is transitioning from the offseason signing of free agents and drafting rookies to beginning preparations for next season. Teams are starting their organized team activities, with minicamps soon to follow. After OTAs and minicamps, teams will take a month away from football before opening training camp and the 2015 season officially begins. While the clubs are all looking forward to the season, ESPN's Mike Sando enlisted some help this week in taking a look back at exactly what each franchise did this offseason, and how well each team addressed their needs.
Sando was joined by Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson, and Field Yates in building his 2015 NFL offseason grades, as well as including Mel Kiper's draft grades in the consideration. We will take a look at the Miami Dolphins' grade, but first a quick tour around the AFC East.
Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, the top team in the grades were the New York Jets, who get the only A for the 32 franchises. The explanation of the Jets' grade focused primarily on adding Todd Bowles as head coach, Darrelle Revis at cornerback, and trading for Brandon Marshall at wide receiver. The analysts do admit that the question surrounding the Jets will still be how well Geno Smith can play at quarterback.
The Buffalo Bills received a B-plus from Sando and the group, mostly because of the addition of coach Rex Ryan. Like the Jets, the questions around the Bills all focus on the quarterback position, with Yates explaining, "They will be a butt-kicking front seven with an athletic secondary, and on offense they have very intriguing weapons. But this is a team full of shooters with no point guard."
The New England Patriots received a C, with the loss of Revis to the Jets and running back Shane Vereen to the New York Giants highlighting the reasons for the middle-of-the-road grade. The anlysts did point out, these are the Patriots, so they will likely adapt to overcome the losses.
As for the Dolphins, they cam in with a B grade. The full explaination from Sando and company:
Re-signed: QB Ryan Tannehill, OL Jason Fox, OL Mike Pouncey, P Brandon Fields, QB Matt Moore, S Louis Delmas
Veteran additions: CB Brice McCain, WR Greg Jennings, C J.D. Walton, OG Jacques McClendon, OT Jeffrey Linkenbach, TE Jordan Cameron, DT Ndamukong Suh, OLB Spencer Paysinger, CB Zack Bowman, WR Kenny Stills, QB Josh Freeman
Veteran subtractions: WR Brandon Gibson, WR Brian Hartline, TE Charles Clay, CB Cortland Finnegan, RB Daniel Thomas, OG Daryn Colledge, CB James Wilson, DT Jared Odrick, OLB Jason Trusnik, SS Jimmy Wilson, OLB Jonathan Freeny, RB Knowshon Moreno, OG Nate Garner, LB Philip Wheeler, CB R.J. Stanford, DT Randy Starks, C Samson Satele, G Shelley Smith, WR Mike Wallace, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB T.J. Heath, CB Lowell Rose
Draft picks: 1-DeVante Parker (WR), 2-Jordan Phillips (DT), 4-Jamil Douglas (G), 5a-Bobby McCain (DB), 5b-Jay Ajayi (RB), 5c-Cedric Thompson (DB), 5d-Tony Lippett (WR)
Analysis: Williamson was highest on the Dolphins' offseason, giving them an A-minus for adding Suh and making moves to strengthen a promising offense. They were a solid B even before reaching agreement with Tannehill on a deal that seemed to work well for both parties.
"It feels weird not going higher than a B-plus after landing Suh and extending Tannehill and Pouncey," Yates said of his Dolphins grade. "You land the pre-eminent free agent available at a huge price. Those deals have not proven to be foolproof in the past. I have a little reservation about roster construction. They have a lot of cooks in the kitchen in the front office after adding Mike Tannenbaum and I'm not sure that is a great thing. Wallace, Clay and Hartline are out. Do they have a better cast of weapons now? Let's not mistake activity for achievement, to quote John Wooden."
Riddick questioned whether Suh could ever live up to his contract. He loved Parker's selection in the first round and thinks Jarvis Landry is one of the NFL's better young receivers, but he wasn't sure about Stills' career trajectory or how much Jennings has left.
"The best way to attack New England is up the middle and Suh gives them that ability," Polian said. "They really need to run the ball effectively. If they do that and protect Tannehill better, then throw it in fourth gear and let's go."
The Dolphins did a lot this offseason to address needs, as well as to aggressively rebuild the wide receiver corps. Yes, Wallace, Clay, and Hartline are gone and Jennings is nearing the end of his career, but Miami got rid of a receiver that never developed chemistry with Tannehill or the rest of the offense, a tight end who the Bills specificly overpaid to make sure Miami could not re-sign him - and a tight end they replaced with a Pro Bowl tight end in Cameron - and a solid wide receiver who disappeared from the offense last year. They now have a young receiving corps headlined by Landry and Parker, with Jennings the veteran who can come in and teach. Stills' "career trajectory" may be a question mark, but the Dolphins do not need him to be a number one receiver in this offense. They need a solid player who can take the top off a defense - and actually adjust to the ball in air, something Wallace did not do in his two years with the club.
Obviously, the biggest move of the offseason for Miami - and maybe the rest of the league - was to sign Suh, who immediately upgrades a defensive line that includes perennial Pro Bowl selection Cameron Wake. The team cut Randy Starks and allowed Jare Odrick to leave in free agency, knowing Suh would plug the hole left by the departures.
There are still questions around the Dolphins (who is starting at guard? strong-side linebacker?) but this was a really good offseason for the team. It seems like some of the explanation from the ESPN analysts recognized the strength of the offseason for Miami, but for whatever reason, downgraded Miami. Yates' questions about having "a lot of cooks in the kitched in the front office after adding Mike Tannenbaum" just seems silly. Did Tannenbaum's presence somehow hurt the moves Miami made this offseason?
I think Miami's offseason is better than a B based on questions about the front office and the loss of Wallace. It may not be the best offseason in the league this year, but it should be close. The Dolphins did a lot to answer questions, fill holes, and work to close the gap on the Patriots at the top of the AFC East. With the improvements from the Bills and Jets, the division should be a lot more competitive this year.