The final whistle of the Super Bowl marks the end of the 2021 season. That solidifies all draft positions and gets us looking to free agency as the next chance for teams to make significant changes to their rosters. In this series, I’ll break down the needs and goals of every team as it relates to the 2022 offseason. Included will be cap space, cut candidates, positions of need, and plenty of other useful stats and notes as we prepare for free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Special thanks to Over the Cap, Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, and Ben Baldwin’s RBSDM.com for all of the useful stats they track and house.
Dolphins 2021 Recap
The Dolphins are now at the stage of their rebuilding when all of the losing pays off but the 2021 season left much to be desired as they fell short of making the playoffs. Miami was on the edge of a mid-season implosion after losing seven straight but salvaged things with as many wins in a row. They are the only team in NFL history with streaks of seven wins and losses in the same season. A Week 18 victory over New England gave them a sweep of the Pats for the first time in over 20 years but that was a small consolation prize for a squad with postseason aspirations. Aided by an offense designed around his strengths, Tua Tagovailoa improved immensely in his second season. The defense pulled its weight as well, leaving the Dolphins with a balanced roster that just needs a slight nudge to cross the playoff threshold. After an emotional roller coaster of a year, the Dolphins parted ways with head coach Brian Flores.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.1 (22nd)
- Dropback EPA: .03 (20th)
- Passing yards per game: 215 (17th)
- Rush EPA: -.18 (31st)
- Rushing yards per game: 92 (30th)
The Dolphins were disoriented in Tagovailoa’s first season. He was rotated with Ryan Fitzpatrick and neither passer benefitted from the juggling act. Tua got the normal starter’s treatment this year and his play immediately took a turn for the better. His yards per attempt jumped half a yard while his completion rate was boosted by 3.7 percent. The downside to this was he also made more mistakes, turning the ball over on 2.6 percent of his throws. The biggest beneficiary of Tua's miniature breakout was rookie wideout Jaylen Waddle. The speedy receiver from Alabama set the record for receptions by a rookie after reeling in his 104th pass in Week 18. Unlike the passing attack, Miami's game was completely toothless. The Dolphins finished 18th in rush attempts but 30th in rushing yards.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 21.9 (16th)
- Dropback EPA: -.02 (7th)
- Passing yards per game: 228 (16th)
- Rush EPA: -.05 (22nd)
- Rushing yards per game: 110 (14th)
Backed by a star-studded secondary, the defense provided a backstop for Miami when the offense was unable to get things going. Pro Football Focus graded Miami’s starting outside corners and slot corner as top-50 cornerbacks. Nik Needham and Xavien Howard both returned an interception for a touchdown. Howard logged four more interceptions while also taking a fumble to the house. Only the Cowboys found the end zone more on defense. Not to be outdone by the secondary, Miami’s front-seven propelled them to the third-highest pressure rate and the seventh-most sacks.
Dolphins 2022 Offseason
Total Draft Value
Notable Free Agents
Notes: Miami's total draft value is the sum of the value of every pick they own using the Fitzgerald-Spielberger NFL Draft Trade Value Chart. The values are only estimates until the NFL announces compensatory picks. Cap savings are listed assuming the player is cut before June 1st.
The Dolphins gave their first-round pick in the upcoming draft to the Eagles to move up and eventually select Waddle. They offset this through a previous trade with the 49ers that gave them San Francisco's first-round selections in the next two drafts. This knocks their draft value slightly but no team entered the offseason with more cap space than the Dolphins.
PFF ranked Miami’s starting tackles 80th and 81st among 83 qualified players. Second-round pick Liam Eichenberg struggled as a rookie, allowing nine sacks while mostly playing left tackle. Former first-round pick Austin Jackson had to be moved inside because he couldn’t hack it as a tackle. That forced veteran Jesse Davis to move back to right tackle. Like Eichenberg, Davis was not a player you would want protecting your young quarterback. Unlike him, Davis doesn’t have the upside of progressing beyond his current, middling state.
Bringing back Ogbah would solve this problem quickly as he has notched nine sacks in back-to-back years with the Dolphins. Even if he is re-signed, it wouldn't be surprising for the Dolphins to add more depth to their pass-rush through free agency or the later rounds of the draft.
The answer to the Dolphin's running back vacancy is affordable and staring them right in the face. Duke Johnson, an alum of The U, was brought in to Miami in the middle of the year as a COVID-based replacement. Doing more than just filling in, Johnson posted a 67/312/3 rushing line in the final four games of the season. It still makes sense to pair Johnson with a younger back but if the Phins are willing to give him the reins, the investment in a second back can be as minimal as a Day 3 draft pick.
The Dolphins moved on from Flores and his staff after falling short of a playoff appearance for the third straight season. Flores was succeeded by 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who brought in Chargers run game coordinator Frank Smith as his new OC. McDaniel has been Kyle Shanahan’s right-hand man seemingly forever, following him around the league for the past decade. Miami will be the ultimate proving ground for the Shanahan Tree and its lauded rushing scheme as no team looked more incapable of running the ball than the Dolphins last year.
McDaniel’s adaptability will also be put in the spotlight. His team ran at the fourth-highest rate last year. Even if he improves Miami's rushing efficiency drastically, they won't become capable of running at such a high clip over the course of a single offseason. The Dolphins also ran RPOs at a rate four times higher than the 49ers did in 2021. The increase in deception was wildly advantageous in Tua’s progression as a passer. Though plenty of aspects of Miami’s previous offense can be left behind, the use of RPO needs to be adopted by the next regime.
The Dolphins have plenty of holes to fill this offseason but hold all the resources necessary to make improve their roster. The wealth of cap space will make it easy to keep key players like Gesicki and Ogbah while leaving plenty of money and draft picks on the table. Their most obvious weakness is the entirety of the offensive line. If the Dolphins want Tua to take another step forward, giving him a capable offensive line is non-negotiable.
After that, their offseason will revolve around meshing McDaniel’s scheme with the team’s pool of talent. McDaniel operated a run-heavy offense with a pocket passer under center. Now he joins a team with talent that's almost antithetical to the unit he had in San Francisco. McDaniel will need to find a happy medium between his scheme and what works best for this team. If he can do that, Miami has a shot at making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.