The Miami Dolphins have answered the first question of their 2016 offseason, naming Adam Gase as the head coach. The team identified their number one target, and they went and got him, a change from past coaching searches where the Dolphins were routinely used as leverage for candidates to get more money from other teams. Now, while teams like the Tennessee Titans, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and San Francisco 49ers are all looking for a head coach still, Miami can move on to the rest of their offseason plans. What needs to happen this offseason? We bring you five steps the team needs to take before the 2016 season begins:
1. Decide on free agents to re-sign.
The Dolphins have some difficult decisions to make this offseason. Key starters like running back Lamar Miller and defensive end Olivier Vernon are the biggest names on the list, but there are others who need to be re-signed as well, like defensive end Derrick Shelby, safety Michael Thomas, wide receiver Rishard Matthews, and wide receiver Matt Hazel. The team may not be able to re-sign all of their free agents this year, and some of them they may decide should be allowed to walk, but the need to make the decision and get to negotiating soon.
2. Fill out the coaching staff.
Filling out the coaching staff will likely come before the free agent decisions, and maybe that is how it should be annotated on this list. They can be mutually exclusive, however, especially on the offensive side of the ball where head coach Adam Gase is going to be calling the plays and will be able to know which players he wants to return. Making players feel like they are loved by approaching them early this offseason could help keep asking prices down, especially if Miami re-signs players before other teams can make offers, which is why filling out the coaching staff falls to number two on my list. Reverse them, and I will not argue. The team needs to find its identity and adding a defensive coordinator who will establish the defense in an image - and by "an" I mean any image that is not a "hybrid" that does not effectively play to anyone's strengths - will be critical.
3. Create salary cap space.
Miami heads into this offseason over the salary cap. They are likely only about $1 million over the cap, but they still have to create space for any free agent signings, as well as the team's draft picks this year. While the cap has not officially be set for this year, there are ways for Miami to easily make some space this year. There is a clause in defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's contract that can turn part of his salary into a bonus, giving Miami relief this year. They can also look to players like Cameron Wake ($9.8 million against the cap) and Reshad Jones ($8.2 million against the cap) to restructure their contracts. They can either restructure or salary cap cut players like tight end Jordan Cameron ($9.5 million against the cap), cornerback Brent Grimes ($9.5 million against the cap), defensive end Quinton Coples ($7.75 million against the cap), and wide receiver Greg Jennings ($5.5 million against the cap). The team also has the unusual situation with suspended defensive end Dion Jordan ($6.2 million against the cap) to finalize. There is space available this year, Miami just has to make it.
4. Find a guard in free agency.
There are going to be veteran guards available in free agency this year, and Miami probably should grab one. They can look at players like Evan Mathis, Alex Boone, or even Richie Incognito, all of whom could be available this offseason. Addressing one guard position with a free agent gives the Dolphins just one offensive line position that needs to be filled with a young player, which should help the line. Everyone hitting free agency has some issue, otherwise they would be locked up by their current team, and a veteran free agent guard should be seen as a rental, rather than a final solution, but it at least should help the line for 2016.
5. Add a middle linebacker, cornerback, and guard/tackle in the Draft.
The rest of the needs for Miami should be addressed in the Draft. The Dolphins do not have a lot of money to spend in free agency this year, so going after a big name free agent seems to be out of the question. Picking up a field general middle linebacker, a cornerback to play opposite Brent Grimes, and the other guard (or a tackle who can play guard until Branden Albert retires) will have to be the main goals from the Draft. The rest of the picks should be depth, particularly along the defensive line, the secondary, and at wide receiver.