The Miami Dolphins lost their fourth straight game on Sunday when they dropped a 30-20 contest to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Dolphins are now 4-6 on the season, a season in which they were expected to challenge for the playoffs and start to show that they are growing under head coach Adam Gase. Instead, the team has regressed, in no small part because of the loss of Ryan Tannehill as the team’s starting quarterback during training camp, but with more questions surrounding the team than answers at this point.
Can this team rebound - either this year, or in 2018? Is this a team that needs to be blown up and an entire rebuild started?
The Dolphins are still in offensive line purgatory, with multiple players either not playing up to their potential, or injuries wrecking any chance they have to find a consistency. The team has to find a way to solve these issues, both for the remaining six games this season and, especially, for next year. Right tackle Ja’Wuan James is slated to be paid $9.3 million in 2018 after the team exercised their fifth-year option on the 2-14 first-round pick. James is on inured reserve now, so the team will have to decide based on his film if they want to pay that much money - the highest cap number for any offensive lineman on the team in 2018 - to their right tackle. James has been solid at times, but he has not been dominant. Is that what the team wants?
Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey is slated to make $9 million, with Miami able to pick up $7 million in cap savings if they release him. Pouncey has made some uncharacteristic mistakes this year, particularly when it comes to penalties, but he has also been available all season, the biggest knock on him over the past several years. When he is healthy and playing to his potential, Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league. When he is off slightly, the entire offensive line struggles.
Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is in his second season, first as an NFL left tackle after playing left guard last year. His natural position is left tackle, but he is still struggling to adjust to the NFL at the spot. He will be fine, but he still needs time to reach the potential that had him considered among the elite players in the 2016 Draft.
The biggest issue for the Dolphins, both this year and heading into next season, is still the guard positions. The team re-signed Jermon Bushrod to be the right guard this season, returning him to the position he played last year. They added Ted Larsen to be the left guard, though he missed the first half of the season on the injured reserve list. Miami has to address the guard positions next year, likely adding a veteran for depth and a rookie starter, with the assumption that 2017 fifth-round pick Isaac Asiata, who is on a redshirt season this year, is ready to play next year.
The offensive line has been an issue for the Dolphins for way too long, and it has continued into this season. Miami has three first-round picks on the line, a fact that should say they are ready to be a dominant offensive line. The five blockers at the head of the offense have to be the primary focus of this offseason, but it is not the only adjustment that has to be made this year.
The team has to find a tight end. Julius Thomas is not getting the job done. Period. End of tight end discussion.
The Dolphins seem to be settled with Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake as a two-headed running back group. If they want to continue with that into 2018, that could be effective, but they need to make sure they add depth to the position. Senorise Perry and De’Veon Smith are currently on the roster as the backups, but they do not see much playing time. If something were to happen to either Williams or Drake, the Dolphins need to be prepared to fill the need.
The wide receiver group is an enigma at this point. They have a ton of talent, but they do not always play up to it. Part of that could be on the offensive line not giving the quarterback time to find an open man. Part of that could be on errant throws from the quarterback. But, a large part of it is also on the players.; The receivers either struggle to find separation, or they drop a good pass when it hits them in the hands. During Sunday’s game, there were three interceptions thrown in the first half - one came on a slip from DeVante Parker (that may have been picked anyway, but the slips clearly was a function of the turnover) and one was on a ball that Parker had in his hands and deflected up into the air to the defender. That cannot happen. Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry also have to make sure they are getting open and catching passes that are accurately thrown to them. Landry made a great adjustment during the game to find a hole and pick up 12 yards, but he also had a couple of drops that should have been caught. Behind those three players, the Dolphins still have question marks, with Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant, and Rashawn Scott still needing to prove themselves.
The quarterback position should settle itself in 2018, with Ryan Tannehill returning and Jay Cutler heading back into retirement. Matt Moore could remain as the backup, or the Dolphins could look to get younger at that spot, adding a player to develop - with Brandon Doughty a possibility for that role - in case Tannehill’s knee does not allow him to return to 100 percent. There have been too many articles about how bad the Dolphins are at quarterback recently from the media, with most of those focusing on “two knee injuries” for Tannehill and that he cannot be trusted moving forward. To be fair to Tannehill, who has been an ironman for the team from his rookie campaign until the knee injury last year, it really is one knee injury - doctors recommended that rest and rehab should be tried for the knee before surgery was considered, and that failed. In the long run, it does not make much of a difference for Tannehill’s timeline - he likely still would not be back from the surgery if he had had it back in December - but it is a concern about his mobility when he gets back. Tannehill should be able to pick up where he left off in 2016, but there could be some rust and there are going to be questions about his ability until he gets on the field and starts proving himself again.
Perhaps the most important upgrade that has to come for the offense this year, and next year, is to the coaching staff. Head coach Adam Gase was hired based on his ability as an offensive coordinator. The Dolphins’ struggles on offense are not inspiring confidence. Losing your starting quarterback in training camp is never a good thing for an offense, but Gase has to start calling plays better and he has to make adjustments. In 2016, one of Gase’s strengths was his ability to adjust the gameplan in the second half of games. In 2017, that has not been happening. The offense is struggling, and Gase has to find an answer. It may end up being in 2018 when that answer is found - after an offseason of adding talent and getting back Ryan Tannehill - but if Gase cannot start to make improvements this year, he will not see much in terms of confidence from the fans and media to start the season.
Miami’s offense is a mess, and everyone needs to make changes. Of course, the questions do not end there. Will Matt Moore or Jay Cutler be the starting quarterback against the New England Patriots? Will Jarvis Landry re-sign with the team in 2018? Will Miami renegotiate Ja’Wuan James’ contract? The Dolphins have so many questions to answer for the final six games of the 2017 season and before the start of the 2018 season - particularly on offense.