Plenty would describe the Miami Dolphins 2014 season as the definition of mediocrity. It would be fair to say, but for me the Dolphins season once again looks very much like failure. Considering the ton of money the organization has spent in the past three years and the fact that again they sat in the win side of the column heading into the home stretch, their paltry end to the season where they lost four of their last six games saw them yet again miss out on the playoffs and even finished behind the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins may have been better than their 2013 selves but that’s not saying much. Implosion was the story of the Dolphins defense which went from one of the best in the country to one of the worst through the second half of the season, finishing as the 20th overall ranked defense after having spent much of the first half of the year inside the top five. The offense enjoyed a more balanced year and quarterback Ryan Tannehill improved inside Bill Lazor’s multiple-option scheme but the offensive line lost it’s star tackle Brandon Albert in week ten and was problematic again all season, allowing Tannehill to be sacked 46 times; an improvement on 2013 but not much of one.
Dennis Hickey replaced the much-criticized Jeff Ireland as general manager after the train-wreck that was the Dolphins 2013 season. Hickey has some tough calls to make regarding the salary cap this upcoming offseason, for a team that went 8-8 they are paying way over the margin to positions where performance has been inconsistent. To be fair to Hickey he has inherited most of this from his predecessor’s constant mishaps, not least of all the fact that a receiver like Mike Wallace is going to pick up just over $15 million in total this summer.
It’s odd to see that the wide receivers and offensive linemen will make up almost 50% of the total spending of the salary cap this season given they have been the weakest positions on the roster by far. Running back Knowshon Moreno was worth the risk of a one-year pick-up but his detoriating health and LaMarr Miller’s emergence makes it easy for him to walk and Hickey is going to have to seriously consider the futures of Dannell Ellerbe, Nate Garner, Randy Starks and Brian Hartline who between them could save up to $16 million in cap space. Given the Dolphins currently sit just over the cap that could be vital money to modify this team, even with the likelihood of the cap rise. It’s hard to judge Hickey too much on the contracts until he’s made some significant plays in that area but Dolphins fans should not be reassured by his decision to keep head coach Joe Philbin who once again oversaw a second-half flop and whose managing of his locker room and players is once again questionable given the lack of commitment and comments leaking out of the organization again across the 2014 season.
The time was ripe for a change, and Hickey has erred on the side of better the devil you know in his first year in charge. To put an organization like the Dolphins back on the map it’s going to take a general manager and head coach who can make the tough decisions and have the instincts to turn things around.
Philbin may have seen two straight years of improved win totals as Dolphins head coach but it’s been another disappointing campaign of inconsistency, indecision and uninspiring leadership. He has a head coaching record of four years that sits below .500 (after Rex Ryan’s departure from New York Jets no other head coach outside of Jacksonville Jaguars Gus Bradley has coached for more than two years with the same team with a worse record) and his dubious game management has again drawn major questions over his ability to run a team in the pressure cooker environment in the NFL.
A wealth of injuries and lack of depth at key skill positions has made things even harder and the defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle (who Philbin appointed) is likely to lose his job this impending offseason after the crushing way his defense gave up 193 total points across the last six games and arguably cost the Dolphins a playoff spot.
Philbin also appears to struggle to motivate his players, with sideline unrest and unnamed sources commenting critically on schemes and strategies. It may not all be on his shoulders but after four straight years where consistency was the target and he’s failed to meet it on every single occasion, it really should have been time for Philbin to go, it’s hard not to feel that Hickey is just letting the final year of his head coach’s contract to play out to avoid any extra expenditure.
Offensive coordinator Lazhor could have had real potential to step up into the role, now Hickey and Philbin may struggle to keep him around in 2015 when head coaching jobs around the country start to hit the market and his offense in Miami continues to improve under his system. Jim Harbaugh was also available at one stage and inexplicably the Michigan Men failed to happen despite Harbaugh’s 71% win record and his apparent coaching birthright to the playoffs.
Team Needs: OL, WR, DC, DL, CB, S
Coyle is likely to pay the price for Miami’s defensive slide and at least one coach is getting fired there after another year of missing out on the post-season, and Philbin is now out of the question. Coyle won’t be helped by the fact that his strongest positional coach role is also defensive backs, the worst area on the Miami defense this past season. Potential replacements are well worth nothing with most likely successor Kacy Rodgers having already departed and the best available defensive coordinator on the market, Dick LeBeau, at the tender age of 76. Raheem Morris, the Washington defensive backs coach, has interviewed for a number of coordinator jobs and he would be able to step in and immediately duplicate the roles Coyle was hired to do whilst also having plenty of Florida connections.
There is likely to be an open spot at both cornerback and safety with injuries and lack of form creating holes there. The offensive line has to continue to be revamped, Maurkice Pouncey should most likely move back to center and if Albert returns to full health then they have their tackles in him and first-round Ja’Wuan James. The revolving door of guards means that the Dolphins have to tackle this position and accept that Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner and Shelley Smith simply haven’t been good enough to warrant occupying both of the spots. If Hartline does depart as receiver that leaves Wallace and Jarvis Landry holding the keys, so a third receiver option is needed with the Dolphins likely to scout the middle rounds of the draft once again. The defensive line is perhaps the Dolphins biggest area of need, they badly need an upgrade from Starks and need an effective, consistent run-stuffer to lead this wilting line.
XFactor Acquisition: Nick Fairley (Free Agent, Detroit Lions)
The Lions are likely to be losing the heart of their defensive line this offseason and the Dolphins are entirely unlikely to be able to afford Ndumakong Suh but with the right cap alterations then Fairley is a serious possibility. He’s an elite athlete for his position who’s run-stuffing abilities the Dolphins badly need. He’s versatile and he’s a game-changer, he checks a lot of boxes that an inconsistent team could really use and only his injury problems leave a black mark against his free agency credentials but it also could mean a lesser fee. The draft isn’t short on defensive linemen either but the Dolphins most likely won’t get a shot at the top three players there so Fairley makes a lot of sense and would be a very attractive leader for a potential new defensive coordinator to work with.