The 2018 NFL regular season has been a roller coaster for the Miami Dolphins. They have had amazing moments and they have been embarrassed. They have looked formidable, and they have looked trivial. They have high-fived on their way to the endzone, pulled off a miracle, allowed nine sacks in a game, and seen a 17-3 lead turn into a 27-17 loss in one quarter. They have excited new fans and frustrated long-time fans. It has been a tough year to be a Dolphins fan.
And, despite the fact that they are 7-7 on the year, could finish with a winning record, and, although they are slim, still have playoff chances in mid-December, it feels like things have to chance this offseason for the Dolphins. Do they need a new quarterback? Do they need a new defensive coordinator? Do they need to blow up the entire coaching staff and front office? Are the Dolphins closer to being a first-overall pick team than they are a threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC East divisional title race - despite being the only team that has prevented the Patriots from clinching a tenth-straight division title through the first 15 weeks of the season? Do they have to continue to pour assets into an offensive line that is constantly in a state of rebuild?
All of those are questions that have to be answered this offseason, and they have to be answered at every level from owner Stephen Ross on down.
And yet, none of them are the top offseason need for the Dolphins this year.
Miami needs to get healthy.
I do not know what has caused this rash of injuries that have plagued the team the last two years, but it has gotten ridiculous. Some of them are freak injuries - like Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury when Calais Campbell crashed into it at the end of the 2016 season or how he had his arm wrenched backward at the same time as it was going full speed forward - but something is odd when it comes to the health of the Dolphins.
The 2017 season ended with safety Nate Allen, linebacker Lamin Barrow, guard Jermon Bushrod, wide receiver Leone Carroo, wide receiver Isaiah Ford, defensive end William Hayes, tackle Ja’Wuan James, cornerback Tony Lippett, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, linebacker Koa Misi, safety Maurice Smith, guard Anthony Steen, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, tight end Julius Thomas, and free safety Michael Thomas all on the injured reserve list.
The 2018 version of the team already has linebacker Chase Allen, center Jake Brendel, tight end A.J. Derby, quarterback Luke Falk, wide receiver Jakeem Grant, tight end MarQueis Gray, defensive end William Hayes, center Daniel Kilgore, guard Josh Sitton, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, and wide receiver Albert Wilson on injured reserve. Running back Frank Gore will likely land there as well as reports indicate his foot injury will cost him the rest of the season. And, that list does not include quarterback Ryan Tannehill, tackle Ja’Wuan James, tackle Laremy Tunsil, wide receiver DeVante Parker, wide receiver Kenny Stills, center Travis Swanson, safety Reshad Jones, cornerback Xavien Howard, and defensive end Charles Harris, all of whom have missed games due to injury.
The Dolphins have a big problem - and it is their health.
There are changes that have to happen this offseason. This is not to excuse those changes. This is not to say the Dolphins would have been a Super Bowl contender this year if they had stayed healthy. This is not to say all teams do not deal with injuries all year. This is just saying that the Dolphins have a healthy issue and need to find a way to fix it.
Rather than just listing the names, you can turn this into a starting lineup for the offense. These players are either on the injured reserve list or missed games (or in Gore’s case, will miss games) this season:
QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Frank Gore
T: Laremy Tunsil
G: Josh Sitton
C: Daniel Kilgore/Travis Swanson
G: Jake Brendel
T: Ja’Wuan James
TE: MarQueis Gray/A.J. Derby
WR: DeVante Parker
WR: Albert Wilson
WR: Kenny Stills/Jakeem Grant
Things have not been great for the Dolphins on the injury front.
The Dolphins have to address a lot of problems this year, but their biggest issue is not going to be fixed by blowing up the team, replacing the coaching staff, drafting a new quarterback, or signing a flashy name in free agency. Their biggest issue is going to be solved by getting - and staying - healthy this offseason and in the 2019 season.