The Miami Dolphins are tearing down the team in an effort to rebuild the foundation and set the conditions for sustained success rather than trying to continually throw quick fixes at an aging roster. It has lead to players like Ryan Tannehill, Cameron Wake, Frank Gore, Robert Quinn, Danny Amendola, Ja’Wuan James, and Andre Branch being released, traded, or signing with another team in free agency.
Miami is clearing their salary cap issues from years of signing big name, and big money, free agents while setting the stage of a dramatic overhaul of the roster, with younger players growing together and, hopefully, jump starting a franchise mired in mediocrity.
That jump start is going to begin with the NFL Draft. Teams needs to build through the draft, then band-aid with some key free agent signings. Miami is getting younger, and their starting point is not this year’s Draft or the 2020 Draft, but rather, last year’s Draft. If the team can put together three strong drafts, then they will be headed in the right direction.
2018 NFL Draft
1 - Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
2 - Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
3 - Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
4 - Durham Smythe, LB, Notre Dame
4 - Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
6 - Cornell Armstrong, CB, Southern Miss
7 - Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio
7 - Jason Sanders, K, New Mexico
Fitzpatrick is going to be a star in the league, Baker took his place as a starting linebacker, and Sanders is the team’s kicker. That’s three starters right off the bat for the Dolphins in the 2018 Draft. Gesicki and Smythe will develop, and they are playing at a position where few rookies shine. If Gesicki can become a starting tight end, Miami is ahead of the curve when it comes to good draft classes. Ballage is the primary backup - and could be a full platoon option if Miami does not go with a true workhorse running back - to starter Kenyan Drake. Armstrong and Poling are both depth options on the roster right now.
That is a good start to making 2018 a really good Draft for the Dolphins, and could be the first of the three good Drafts in a row that will really set up the franchise. That leaves the 2019 and 2020 Drafts as the key to Miami’s rebuild.
And the Dolphins should have plenty of ammunition to make things happen over the next to years. Here are the team’s picks in 2019 and 2020 as of April 3rd.
2019 NFL Draft
7 (TEN - Tannehill)
7 (PIT via CLE - Landry)
(MIA 6th to TEN in RT17 trade)
(MIA 7th to DET in Spence trade)
2020 NFL Draft
4 (TEN - Tannehill)
6 (DAL - Quinn)
7 (KC - Lucas)
(Plus comp picks for James, Wake)
Miami has 17 picks in the next two years, with James and Wake potentially moving that number to 19. The 2019 Draft is likely going to be the inside work for the team, taking advantage of a deep class of prospects along the line of scrimmage. While there will be temptation to move around and grab a flashy player, this year could be focused primarily on offensive and defensive lines, as well as trading back to add more draft choices in 2020.
If the Dolphins are able to come out of the 2019 Draft with a solid group of contributors, that could set Miami up to crush a three-year span of selections with their 10-plus pick 2020 Draft. While there is talk Miami could look to grab their franchise quarterback this year, it seems more likely that the team could look to select a developmental quarterback on the second- or third-day of the Draft, with the intention of having him as the long-term backup for a first-round quarterback in 2020. With the bounty of picks Miami has in 2020 - especially if they can add a few more with 2019 Draft-day trades - the Dolphins could be in position to make a move up the draft board if they so need to grab the quarterback they want.
The Dolphins currently have an estimated $37.2 million in salary cap space this year, according to OverTheCap.com. In 2020, with an assumed $200 million cap, the Dolphins, without rollover from this season, have around $100 million in space. Some of that could be used in re-signings this year (Xavien Howard’s contract is likely to pay him like an elite cornerback), but the team could be set up to have their three good drafts and a ton of salary cap space - the third most in 2020 according to OTC’s numbers - all at the same time. Miami could be in position to turn 2018, 2019, and 2020 into the three years this team needs to climb out of mediocrity and back into relevance in the NFL.
The next two draft classes hold the key to Miami’s rebuild.