Last night, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport indicated the Buffalo Bills are close to finalizing a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire four-time First-Team All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown. Now the Miami Dolphins will be forced to face Brown twice a year. But, what does it really mean for the Dolphins?
The Bills were 31st in the league in passing offense in 2018. Brown’s presence should immediately upgrade that as Buffalo adds a dynamic receiver for second-year quarterback Josh Allen. And, the Dolphins are going to have to counter that upgrade.
The best way to do that is going to be to lock up cornerback Xavien Howard in a long-term contract. Drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Howard enters his final year under his rookie contract coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. After leading the league in interceptions last season, Howard is expected to demand a salary paying him among the elite cornerbacks in the league. With Brown in the division now, having a player like Howard on Miami’s roster is now even more important. The Dolphins have to trust someone to blanket Brown and keep him from destroying them twice a year - Howard gives Miami that blanket.
It also means the Dolphins have to immediately upgrade the rest of their secondary, as well as ensure they are able to better pressure - and sack - Allen in 2019. The Dolphins were 21st in the league against the pass last year, and were 29th in sacks. They have to get better in general, and now specifically when facing the Bills. Add in Allen rushing for 135 yards and 95 yards in the two meetings with the Dolphins last year, and Miami needs to address a lot when it comes to facing Buffalo.
The Dolphins are in need of a second cornerback. Something happened to Cordrea Tankersley last year and he became a non-factor. Can the new coaching staff fix Tankersley and get him back on the field as an impact cornerback? That could allow the team to use Minkah Fitzpatrick as a free safety and Bobby McCain as the nickel cornerback - all of which could immediately shore up the secondary. If the coaches do not feel Tankersley can be righted, the Dolphins could need to look to the Draft to add a player capable of holding down the opposite side of the field from Howard.
The Miami pass rush was often able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks last year, but they struggled in recording sacks. The transformation of the position began on Thursday with the release of Andre Branch. The Dolphins are said to be shopping Robert Quinn on the trade market and could release him if no trade partner materializes. Cameron Wake is headed toward free agency, and could end up being allowed to walk away from the club, ending an era. That leaves 2017 first-round pick Charles Harris, who has disappointed thus far, as the leading pass rusher on the roster, and makes defensive end a priority this offseason.
Maybe none of these priorities or moves actually change for the Dolphins with the addition of Brown in the division, but the wide receiver’s move to the Bills definitely shines a light on needs for Miami. It probably ends any speculation that Miami should consider trading away Howard, strengthening the need to sign him to a contract extension, instead. It shows that Miami’s secondary needs some adjustment, and that the pass rush needs a huge overhaul this offseason.
The Bills just fired the first salvo of the offseason in the AFC East. Now the Dolphins need to react and make sure they are ready to face a top receiver twice a season.