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There and Back Again: The Miami Dolphins 2021 Offseason

I’m glad you’re here with me. Here at the end of all things.

Happy 2021 Offseason!

At least, I hope.

This is the first time I get to thrust my annual offseason dreck onto the front page. I should probably work twice as hard as I normally do. But, then again, I’m basically a trash bag with googly eyes.

EgregiousPhilbin Self Portrait
Exhibit A

If you are one of the unfortunate few (i.e., hundreds of millions) who haven’t read any of my previous installments, please: ignore your family and dive down the rabbit hole.

2017: Volume 1
2018: Wow, there are more
2019: Is this guy serious?
2020: I guess I’ve made it this far

You back? And divorced? Great. You really shouldn’t have wasted all that time reading a pile of junk from a dude who’d struggle to write a stop sign.

So what is this nonsense, no one asks? This is my weird little corner of the multiverse where I cosplay as an NFL General Manager and pretend I’m not just a cat tracking the sinking sun across a keyboard. I don’t suggest what the Dolphins should do, and I most definitely don’t predict what they’re going to do. This is just my own special way of distracting you while I sneak into your house and eat all your snacks. Don’t check the pantry. I filled it with bees.

An Unexpected Journey

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

The most overused word of the past year is ‘unprecedented,’ so allow me to make it worse: what an unprecedented year it was for the Miami Dolphins. If you can remember back into the ancient past, the 2019 Fins were, let’s just say, unpleasant. Sure, they finished strong, but think waaaay back to the first few weeks of the 2019 season when things were so bad that people were actually saying, with sincerity, that the Dolphins were tanking so hard motherf***ers shoulda fined them. Fast forward to 2020. The Fins decided to win 10 games while swapping QBs every other drive and almost stumbled backwards into a first-round playoff loss. It was an incredible departure from the year prior. Unprecedented, you might say if you were the worst.

Prior to the Season of Unprecedention (TM), Miami went out and spent big in free agency, then followed it up by drafting eleven (11!) new players. As is tradition, let’s see how reality played out compared to my fever dream.

Author’s Note: Obviously, the Winner column of this chart is wildly subjective and up for raging, borderline litigious debate. But it’s my article, so if I say I pretend drafted better than Chris Grier real drafted, he doesn’t have my phone number to call and yell at me.

2020 Pretend Draft Comparison Table

Round Me Success Dolphins Success Winner
Round Me Success Dolphins Success Winner
Round 1 Jeff Okudah CB (DET) 41 tks, 1 INT,2 PD Tua Tagovailoa QB 1814 yds, 11 TD, 5 INT Draw
Round 1 Josh Jones T (ARI) Backup LT Austin Jackson T Starting LT MIA
Round 1 Yetur Gross-Matos DE (CAR) 24 tks, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF Noah Igbinoghene CB 13 tks, 2 PD Me
Round 2 Jake Fromm QB (BUF) 3rd string Robert Hunt G Starting RT MIA
Round 2 D'Andre Swift RB (DET) 521 yds, 8 TD|46 rec, 257 yds, 2 TD Raekwon Davis DT 40 tks, 1 TFL, PFF All Rookie Team Draw
Round 3 John Simpson G (OAK) Backup G Brandon Jones S 41 tks, 1 PD, 1 FF MIA
Round 4 Antoine Brooks Jr. S (PIT) 2 tks Solomon Kindley G Starting RG MIA
Round 5 Antonio Gandy Golden WR (WAS) 1 rec 7 yds Jason Strowbridge DE 3 tks Draw
Round 5 Cam Brown LB (NYG) 8 tks, 1 FF Curtis Weaver DE Cut; signed by CLE; put on IR Me
Round 6 J.R. Reed S (STL) 5 tks Blake Ferguson LS 2 tks and snaps the ball Me (RIP John Denney)
Round 7 Isaiah Wright WR (WAS) 27 rec, 197 yds Malcolm Perry RB 9 rec, 92 yds, 1 TD Me
4-4-3 tie

Huh. Tie game.

I know, I know. iF yOu ThInK JEff oKuDAh Is THe SamE aS TuA, etc., etc. About that.

The Desolation of Tua

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”

How’s that for a section header to scare everyone away? I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because everyone else on the planet already has. For the sake of the rest of this article, I’m choosing to ignore the DeShaun Watson noise (as much as I’d like to see him a little more aqua and orange-ish, the price will make that a non-starter re: long term success). Instead, I elect to build around Tua. Is he the left hand of God? No. Alanis Morissette is God, and I’m pretty sure she’s right-handed. But 9 games after a significant injury following a non-existent offseason with a smattering of virtual in-season work does not a career make. He seems like a good guy, and he deserves a meaningful chance to prove he was worth the fifth overall pick.

Besides, there are already so many variables to consider when playing make-believe GM that complicating it further with speculative trade compensation is a nightmare. If you really want my opinion on Watson v. Tua, you should take up crocheting.

Why then the ‘desolation’? I think that the surrounding pieces Tua was given in his rookie season qualify as desolation.

There are three primary areas that will help take the offense from offensive to offensive, and they all revolve (predictably) around Tua.

  • Improved QB play: Obviously, Tua himself needs to show improvement across the board. A full offseason (ideally) and another year removed from hip surgery will give us a better idea of his real ceiling.
  • Better offensive weapons: Gilmiaspr has done the heavy lifting repeatedly to point out the statistical reasons why the receiving corps was, shall we say, pedestrian. And our running game did little to strike fear into the hearts of defenses. These position groups need a major infusion of talent.
  • More consistent offensive line: The O Line is extremely young (~24 yr average age), so they have every opportunity to grow together and get better.

The Two Towers (of Defense and Special Teams)

“Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”

While the offense struggled, the defense showed periods of dominance. Byron Jones was a little Radagast the Brown throughout the year, with some ups and downs. Meanwhile, Sern-highlighted-DPOY-snubtacular Xavien Howard was Gandalf the White all day every day. Check him out busting through the hordes at Helm’s deep, all glowing and magnificent and sh*t. When I feel the game needs a turning of the tide, I look East, and there’s X pulling down another pick.

At a few points during the year, the Dolphins were the top scoring defense in the NFL, and they currently have an active turnover streak of 22 straight games. At the same time, Miami finished 16th in total rushing yards allowed (1862) and 21st in total passing yards allowed (4024). So, on one hand, the ‘bend don’t break’ mentality of allowing yards but not points seems to have worked, given they were 6th in points surrendered (338). On the other, those numbers all feel too reliant on luck for my tastes.

I believe the following are the defensive keys to taking the Dolphins from playoff adjacent to consistent playoff threat.

  • More consistent pass rush: It feels like the defense schemes a lot of sacks, but being able to generate pressure with a four-man rush would free things up.
  • Better linebackers: It’s been a lifetime since HOF’er-in-our-hearts-for-now Zach Thomas was roaming around the field, taking no prisoners. Miami needs his successor and maybe some of that guy’s friends.
  • Improved secondary depth: This is the strongest defensive unit. Hopefully, young players like Brandon Jones and Nik Needham can continue growing and backfill the young money millionaires leading the group.

Special teams is a simpler story to me. Colonel Jason Sanders should keep on keepin’ on. Matt Haack is good at pinning teams inside the 20 but could use a little more power in his leg, so if the team wanted to bring in some competition for him (someone like Corey Bojorquez, assuming Buffalo doesn’t re-sign him), that wouldn’t break my heart (nor would it Francesco’s). Given they spent a draft pick last year on Blake Ferguson and I know nothing and refuse to learn anything about any non-Denney longsnapper, he seems fine.

The Fellowship of the Fin

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

It’d be nice if we could fill our team's needs with food and cheer. Alas, I’m pretty sure any new additions are more interested in the gold part.

So how do we go about filling these needs? Is it by asking rhetorical questions to no one? Is he going to keep doing this? This is terrible. I should stop reading this and get my wife back. This guy’s cost me so much already.

WR x 2 - We need a true #1 that can run the full route tree, create meaningful separation, and actually stay healthy. Typically I advocate only spending free agent dollars on positions that are inexpensive while drafting the positions that require huge second contracts to keep the cap under control. In this rare case, I’m making an exception to get a high priced pass catcher. I’m even doubling down in free agency because it was such a glaring weakness. Plus, even if it turns out that Tua’s not the guy and Miami decides to move on someday, his replacement isn’t going to be too upset about having potent weapons.

Tier 1 Options: Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kenny Golladay
Tier 2 Options: T.Y. Hilton, Sammy Watkins, Corey Davis
Katy Perry’s Dark Horses: Keelan Cole, Cam Sims, Greg Ward
EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Chris Godwin, Keelan Cole

RB - Last year saw two whiffs in free agency with Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. But I’m not afraid to go back to that well to get another back to pair with Myles Gaskin.

Tier 1 Options: Aaron Jones, Phillip Lindsay, Chris Carson
Tier 2 Options: Leonard Fournette, Carlos Hyde, Tevin Coleman, Mike Davis
EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Mike Davis

C - Ted Karras will likely command more on the open market than we should pay. Assuming they’re pushing Michael Deiter to take on the role, he should definitely have the stiffest competition.

EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Draft one

T - Robert Hunt gave it his all coming in as a rookie and going from guard to tackle. If we’re able to bring in another true tackle and kick Hunt inside, it likely improves the line right away.

EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Draft one

LB x 2 - I searched for the string ‘Luke Kuechly college stats’, and within the top 7 results was a headline about Micah Parsons. That’s all I needed to prove my point to myself (the stats check out fairly comparably too). As I’m sure I’ve told you too many times before, I’m a Penn State guy, so I’d blindly draft him at 3rd overall and say to hell with value charts. But I will attempt to contain myself. Not only do I think we need a force like Parsons, I think it’d help to bring in another linebacker on top of that to fill out the group further. I think they’re the biggest weakness on defense, and it’s not that close.

Tier 1 options: Bud Dupree, Melvin Ingram, Shaq Barrett
Tier 2 options: Jarrad Davis, Reggie Ragland
EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Draft one, Jarrad Davis

DE - The Dolphins’ defense is malleable enough that DE probably isn’t even the right term anymore. Edge? Rush specialist? Hunter gatherer? Just a guy who can get after the quarterback is all. They usually cost a boatload as free agents, so I’ll pass on that approach.

EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Draft one

Author’s Note: I thought getting a big fatty mcfat fat nose tackle would be critical to improving our run defense. But seeing Raekwon Davis turn it on toward the end of the year allowed me to pull that off the list. I think getting game-changing linebackers behind him, and his buddies is the real ticket.

FS - I don’t think Bobby McCain’s best fit is at FS, and I’ll probably feel that way forever. Unfortunately, the free agent list for FS’s is light. The Marcuses (Maye and Williams) have a market value of ~$9m/year and will probably be re-signed by their current teams. This feels like the one area that will become a 2022 problem for me.

EgregiousPhilbin’s Infallible Choice: Keep Bobby McCain at FS and be a little sad about it.

Miami 2021 Free Agents

“All we have to decide is what to do with the contract opportunity that is given us.”

We don’t have many difficult in-house free-agent decisions, in my opinion. Most players we should re-sign fill rotational or backup roles. The rest should be replaced by outside options.

Go ahead. Tell this guy you don’t want him back.

Ryan Fitzpatrick QB - Re-sign; invaluable as a mentor and the best backup in the league who Tua should be able to decisively beat for QB1; top-notch beard; so many kids to feed
Jake Rudock QB - Walk
Matt Breida RB - Walk
DeAndre Washington RB - Walk
Isaiah Ford WR - Walk
Mack Hollins WR - Walk
Julie’n Davenport T - Re-sign; cheap, young, versatile-ish
Adam Pankey T - Walk
Ted Karras C - Walk
Davon Godchaux DT - Re-sign; solid player who can help the line’s run defense
Calvin Munson ILB - Walk
Elandon Roberts ILB - Re-sign; great run stopper; assuming a full recovery from his knee injury
Kamu Grugier-Hill OLB - Walk
Vince Biegel OLB - Re-sign; showed promise as a pass rusher before injury.
Nik Needham CB - ERFA Tender; should be in a battle with Igbinoghene at slot CB.
Jamal Perry CB - ERFA Tender; solid depth corner
Kavon Frazier S - Walk
Matt Haack - P Re-sign, unless Bojorquez is available

Cuts

“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

Patrick Laird RB
Jakeem Grant WR
Albert Wilson WR
Allen Hurns WR
Malcolm Perry WR
Sam Eguavon OLB
Benito Jones DT
Nate Holley S

NFL Free Agents

“All that is gold does not glitter.” (But for the price we’ll have to pay, Chris Godwin is gonna glitter like Mariah Carey.)

Mike Davis RB - Davis should come cheap and can play the role of bruising back to complement Myles Gaskin while a rookie RB eventually usurps him (or them both).

Chris Godwin WR - Spotrac has Godwin’s market value at $17.1m/year. That’s a lot. But he’d instantly be the best receiver Miami’s had since probably Chris Chambers.

Keelan Cole WR - Duke, posted a comment (that either Coral or I am too stupid to find) pointing out that Cole has the best rate of separation in the NFL. He should be cheap, and that skill set can only help Tua.

Jarrad Davis LB - Former first-rounder and University of Florida alum who could try to breathe new life into his career in Miami.

Battle of the Thirty-Two Armies

“Courage is found in unlikely places.”

Before displaying the mock to end all mocks, I’d just like to break from tradition and posit what I would do if I were actually the Dolphins and what I said mattered. I’m allowed to dream. This is America. I’d try my damndest to trade from #3 into the lower single digits, accrue some future picks and another 2021 pick in the top 3 rounds, and still nab the guys on my board. I think it’s doable, but I don’t like speculating about trade compensation for my purposes because it’s useless. IRL, I’m really hoping Grier can pull something like that off. (I’d use the extra pick on a FS and move McCain back to corner, but since I don’t have that extra pick here, I left dear Robert alone).

As always, I use a combination of draft simulators, don’t leverage trades due to their wild unpredictability, and only draft players that at least one sim thinks will be available when I pick. As if robots know anything about anything in February. After all of the pre-draft machinations, I know none of these guys will be available where this shows, but I find joy in the chaos.

2021 Dolphins Mock Draft

1.3 - Penei Sewell T Oregon
1.18 - Micah Parsons LB Penn State
2.36 - Najee Harris RB Alabama
2.50 - Tylan Wallace WR Oklahoma State
3.81 - Creed Humphrey C Oklahoma
4.119 - Hamilcar Rashed Jr. DE Oregon State
6.197 - Shemar Jean-Charles CB Appalachian State

The Return of the Kings

“Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars.”

* - denotes free agent signings
^ - denotes draft picks

Your 2021 Miami Dolphins Totally Real Depth Chart

Position Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4
Position Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4
Offense
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa Ryan Fitzpatrick
Running Back *Mike Davis Miles Gaskin ^Najee Harris Salvon Ahmed
Wide Receiver *Chris Godwin DeVante Parker ^Tylan Wallace Preston Williams
Slot Receiver *Keelan Cole Lynn Bowden
Tight End Mike Gesicki Durham Smythe Adam Shaheen
Left Tackle Austin Jackson Julie'n Davenport
Left Guard Ereck Flowers Solomon Kindley
Center ^Creed Humphrey Michael Deiter
Right Guard Robert Hunt
Right Tackle ^Penei Sewell Jesse Davis
Defense
Defensive End Emmanuel Ogbah Shaq Lawson Jason Strowbridge ^Hamilcar Rashed Jr.
Defensive Tackle Raekwon Davis Christian Wilkins Zach Seiler Davon Godchaux
Inside Linebacker ^Micah Parsons Elandon Roberts *Jarrad Davis
Outside Linebacker Kyle Van Noy Jerome Baker Andrew Van Ginkel Vince Biegel
Cornerback Byron Jones Xavien Howard Jamal Perry ^Shemar Jean-Charles
Slot Cornerback Noah Igbinoghene Nik Needham
Strong Safety Eric Rowe Brandon Jones
Free Safety Bobby McCain Clayton Fejedelem
Special Teams
Kicker Colonel Jason Sanders
Punter Matt Haack
Long Snapper Blake Denney

2020 was a much better season than a lot of fans likely predicted (and if we’re all being honest, better than 99% of people felt it’d go, deep in their plums). What Brian Flores and Co. have to fight against hardest is the backslide we’ve seen following previous ‘almost there’ years like 2016 and 2008. For the first time in a long time, I actually trust the coaches to develop the players they bring in. We’ve got a ton of youth, and if they can be coached to reach their full potential, the sky’s the limit. If not, we’ll be right back here next year, but with more holes to fill and fewer Lord of the Rings quotes to choose from.

Until then, go Fins!

“The Road goes ever on and on.
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”