The Miami Dolphins were young in 2015. They started the year as the fourth youngest team in terms of average age in the NFL, coming in with 25.62 years old average. That's after starting the 2015 season with the 15th youngest team. Miami went with youth in 2015, and, unfortunately, they played like a young team, and a young team with questionable coaching, at times. It left them with a 6-10 record despite offseason hype that they were finally ready to challenge the New England Patriots for the AFC East title.
Fast forward to this offseason and the Dolphins appear to be focused on adding some veterans to the locker room. The team saw defensive end Olivier Vernon (25 years old), running back Lamar Miller (who turns 25 years old in April), and wide receiver Rishard Matthews (26 years old) all depart via free agency. In return, the Dolphins added players like defensive end Mario Williams (31 years old) and guard Jermon Bushrod (31 years old). The team is talking to running back Arian Foster (who turns 30 years old before the start of the season) as the potential replacement for Miller.
Even when the team releases a veteran player like Brent Grimes (32 years old), they did not look to find extreme youth as his replacement, instead trading for Byron Maxwell, who is admittedly younger than Grimes by four years, but will still raise the Dolphins' average age in 2016.
Even in places where the Dolphins did get younger, like trading for Kiko Alonso to take over the starting middle linebacker position, the team moved from a 28 year old Kelvin Sheppard to a Alonso, who will turn 26 before the start of the season, or safety (and oft-injured) Louis Delmas who will turn 29 years old next month to Isa Abdul-Quddus, who will turn 27 before the start of the season. Miami clearly is looking to add some established players into a locker room that was very young in 2015.
One of the biggest complaints about the Dolphins the last few years has been the lack of "leaders" in the locker room. Players are ridiculed for not "stepping up" and providing the leadership this team reportedly is missing. This year, Miami seems to be looking to provide more of a veteran presence in the locker room, which is being met with ridicule as fans and analysts struggle to "understand" what the team is doing.
Greg Cote of the Miami Herald described the Dolphins' 2016 offseason as "one of settling, and gambling." He adds "It's an uninspiring reboot that has thus far failed to kindle much optimism."
Cote is not wrong in that the team is gambling some. They are betting that Alonso is the player he was as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills before the injury derailed his career the last few seasons. They are betting that Maxwell is a better cornerback in their system than he was in Philadelphia. They are betting that Williams will come back to being the dominant player he once was, rather than the clearly unhappy player who took plays off like he was last year. There is a risk. If they sign Foster, they are betting that he will be able to stay healthy and that his Achilles tear will allow him to return to 100 percent.
But, is it uninspiring? Do the Dolphins need their offseason to be inspiring?
The 2015 offseason was inspiring, with the addition of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Jordan Cameron.
The 2014 offseason was inspiring, with the addition of tackle Branden Albert, running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, cornerback Cortland Finnegan, and safety Louis Delmas.
The 2013 offseason was inspiring, with the addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, linebacker Philip Wheeler, and wide receiver Brandon Gibson.
Miami does not need to be "inspiring" with their offseason, they need to be right. They need to be solid. And, they need to grow their team out of the Draft, not free agency. They need players like wide receiver DeVante Parker, defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, cornerback Bobby McCain, running back Jay Ajayi, offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, guard Billy Turner, wide receiver Matt Hazel, and defensive end Terrence Fede, all of whom were drafted in 2014 or 2015 to step up. (Note: Yes, wide receiver Jarvis Landry was also in the 2014 Draft class, but he has clearly already "stepped up" so he was not included in this list.)
The Dolphins changed how they do things this offseason. Rather than making a massive splash, they have been conservative, choosing where and when to spend money. They are setting a price for players, and they are sticking to that mark, allowing a player to leave rather than overspending for him. They are taking some chances on injured players, but injured does not mean they will not be contributors this season. In 2013, Grimes was coming off an Achilles tear, three years and three Pro Bowls later, the Dolphins' interest in signing Grimes seems to have paid off (Even if the team did cut him this year). Taking a chance on a player this year, a year when he might be able to be signed for under market value because he is injured could be worthwhile for the Dolphins.
Adding veterans to the fourth-youngest lineup in 2015 makes a lot of sense for the Dolphins. Will it mean an improvement on a 6-10 record? The season will have to be played to determine that. But, just because the Dolphins are "uninspiring" this offseason does not mean they are wrong.