The Miami Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and have seemingly shrunk the gap between themselves and the Buffalo Bills. Things are looking up for Mike McDaniel and company, but there is still a ways to go before this franchise can truly be considered a Super Bowl contender.
A lot of franchises have been praised for building a winner. The Patriots, Eagles, 49ers, Bucs, Rams, and Bills have all been crowned as the standard over the past five years, but none of them have been to the Super Bowl as often or won as many of those games as the Chiefs in that time frame.
While they are clearly the league standard, the Chiefs organization seems to be overlooked for their team building process. The credit for their success typically goes to Patrick Mahomes or Andy Reid, with the rest of the roster (besides maybe Travis Kelce) an after-thought.
Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid are obviously key to the Chief’s success, but on this Sunday (one week after the Super Bowl), I want to point out three reasons why this team is a perennial contender. Let’s start with how they’ve faired in the NFL draft.
Let me share a trivia question: what do Willie Gay Jr., L’Jarius Sneed, Michael Danna, Trey Smith, Noah Gray, Creed Humphrey, Nick Bolton, Isiah Pacheco, Jaylen Watson, Leo Chenal, Skyy Moore, George Karlaftis, and Trent McDuffie have in common?
They were all drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs outside the top-20 picks of the last three drafts and each contributed a minimum of 18 snaps or scored a touchdown in last weeks Super Bowl.
They’ve filled out their championship roster through the draft and they did it without a single top-20 selection. That is a testament to their scouting department as well as the coaching staff that has been able to develop them into contributing members of the team early in their careers.
I’m sure many of you remember the last time the Chiefs made it to the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2020 season and faced off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They got dominated up front by a strong Tampa Pass rush and Patrick Mahomes was running for his life most of the game.
What have the Chiefs done since that game? Well, they added Joe Thuney the following free agency period, traded for Orlando Brown Jr., then drafted Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith. They were aggressive in addressing an issue and turned it into a strength just two years later.
Being able to consistently win in the NFL comes down to problem solving. The Chiefs knew they were in their contending window and did everything they could to address their most glaring weakness after that difficult defeat.
This one might seem out of place considering they sent the most dangerous wide receiver in the NFL to Miami last year, but they have managed to keep the majority of their super star players. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Chris Jones are all top-3 players at their respective positions are all locked down.
Though retaining talent doesn’t just refer to the players on the team, it refers to the coaching staff as well. Steve Spagnuolo (DC) and Matt Nagy (QB Coach) both have a wealth of experience including head coaching in the NFL and Eric Bieniemy (who recently left for the Commanders) is one of the most respected coordinators in the league.
Oh, and they still have one of the best head coaches and offensive minds in league history (Andy Reid) running the show. Part of drafting well and building up young players, is having the right coaches in place to teach them. It also helps to have the same schemes in place year over year for continuity.
How does Miami Stack-Up?
Better than you might think. Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel, Brandon Jones, Raekwon Davis, Robert Hunt, Tua Tagovailoa, Jaylen Waddle, Jaelan Phillips, and Jevon Holland have been added over the last four drafts. That is a huge infusion of talent to the organization.
Their biggest problem with drafting has been the constant turnover from the coaching staff. Now that Miami has brought back the majority of their offensive staff and added Vic Fangio to head up the defense, hopefully they can keep both schemes in place and draft better role/depth players going forward.
Their biggest need going into last off season was offensive line. They added Terron Armstead and Connor Williams in free agency to help shore it up. Things improved, but they still have a ways to go. They still have holes at guard and right tackle, how they handle those positions this offseason could dictate how far this team will go.
After adding Vic Fangio, the Miami Dolphins have one of the strongest coaching staffs in the NFL. It will be important to their sustained success to keep it together for as long as possible. The problem with having success is that you tend to lose coaches to opportunities around the league (like the Eagles). Keeping Fangio and McDaniel at the top should help mitigate the effect of that.
The last thing Miami will need to contend with is keeping their star players. It’s easier to build a roster when your quarterback is on their cheap rookie deal. The Dolphins will have to either pay Tua Tagovailoa soon or find his replacement (good luck). Either way, it wont be cheap. They also will have several star players with expiring rookie contracts over the next few years. Building a winner is difficult, keeping one together can be almost impossible.
Can Miami take the final step?
Even without a first round pick this year, it will be important for the Dolphins to draft well this offseason. If they want to follow in the Chief’s footsteps, they also need to address the weaker areas of the team and find a way to retain the strong core of players and coaches that they’ve managed to put together.
It’s not impossible, but it has to start now. If this regime will be the one to take Miami back to the promised land, they’d do well to emulate our latest Super Bowl Champion.