By: Shawn Williams
I spent nearly the entire month of January reflecting on Miami’s season, gaining weight, and trying to erase the disappointment of Week 17. The Bills AFC Championship loss to Kansas City served as a milestone of sorts, allowing me to shift my focus to what comes next; get back to writing, and most importantly, hit the gym. For the past month and a half, I’ve been slowly formulating a hypothetical plan to take Miami to the next level. We’re now approaching the start of the new league year and free agency, and it’s time to share the plan, speculate, and ready the fingers for a whole bunch of tweeting (finger curls anyone?). Moving into year three of the rebuild, this offseason will likely define the Miami Dolphins for the next 3-5 years and beyond. Will Miami fight for a Week 17 (18 now) shot at the Wild Card, or garner consideration as a true Super Bowl contender?
Brain Flores has done a remarkable job in a short two years; each exceeding expectations. The team has built a formidable defense with one of the best secondaries in the NFL, drafted solid contributing players, scooped some nice free agents, and may have found a franchise quarterback.
General Manager Chris Grier, Coach Flores, me, you and your mother all know the Dolphins’ biggest priority over the next few months is to search all four corners of this earth (or the draft and free agency) for big-time talent on offense. The key is to not waste the resources provided, (sorry Deshaun Watson hopefuls) and to not destroy the salary cap. So with the cards dealt, how do the Dolphins find playmaking receivers and running backs, solidify the offensive line, and find the last piece or two on defense? They consult with me, GM Shawn Williams. My credentials? Dominant Madden Franchise builder, obsessive fan, and amateur Dynasty FF participant.
Provided here is the offseason I believe Miami NEEDS to have to compete with the Buffalo Jills and Patrick Mahomes’s Cheat Squad.
STEP ONE (was): The Reese’s Senior Bowl
It was a Godsend that Miami was offered the opportunity to actually coach the players in the Senior Bowl, considering they were not one of the bottom teams in the league last season. This was a huge chance to really get to know these players, build a rapport, and get a head start on 30 other teams. There were key draft prospects participating in the week-long event, including Alabama’s RB Najee Harris and Heisman winner Devonta Smith to name an obvious two. The benefit that came from this week was the potential to find a diamond in the rough, or a proverbial needle in a haystack.
STEP TWO: To Re-sign or...
Unfortunately, this year I really don’t see many guys that the Dolphins MUST bring back. To make it simple, I will break this down in tiers....
Nik Needham - blossoming slot corner and his exclusive rights tender was picked up so at least one more year for #40 in Miami.
Matt Haack - Miami has signed former Panther Michael Palardy
Elandon Roberts - despite injury, he’s a leader and solid run stopper
The Shoulds if the Money is Right:
Davon Godchaux - solid, no more, no less
Vince Biegel - showed promise before his season-ending injury
Ted Karras - see Davon Godchaux
Kamu Grugier Hill - can cover, and solid special teamer
Ryan Fitzpatrick - gotta kick the crutch, but we love and appreciate you
Matt Breida - just didn’t work out
Isaiah Ford - the maximum time of evaluation has been invested and Miami announced they will not tender him.
Any player not listed could and would likely come back on minimal contracts.
STEP THREE: Keep or Cut
Jakeem Grant - All Pro Returner, yet a lot to be desired as a receiver. Great locker room guy. KEEP
Allen Hurns - decent receiver who had minimal production prior to sitting out due to the pandemic. CUT
Albert Wilson - shifty receiver that has big-play potential, but hasn’t played a lot of football over the past three years (injury/pandemic). His contract isn’t overly impactful. KEEP FOR CAMP
Other players have been speculated as keep/cut. I don’t think they should be under that consideration, so assume they’re staying.
Edit: Miami has released LB Kyle Van Noy
STEP THREE: Free Agency
Miami did well here last year. Let’s try to run it back with money in mind. Chris Grier is a believer in filling as many of the “needs” as possible before the draft; GM Shawn agrees. That being said, we should address priority one and go down the list.
Priority 1: Wide Receiver
Everyone is aware of the big money possibilities here (Juju Smith-Schuster, Kenny Golladay). While any of those names are welcome to sign on in South Beach, I prefer to get two less costly WR’s than one big name. My guys are...drumroll please... Marvin Jones Jr. and Curtis Samuel. Jones Jr. isn’t young anymore, but he’s still productive (78 receptions, 978 yards, 9 TD). He can spread the field and is a reliable pass catcher. Grab him on a two-year deal.
Curtis Samuel has, by some, been labeled a gadget player. I think that’s unfair. I believe Samuel can be a dangerous slot option (77 rec, 851 yds, 3 TD) and a threat to take a handoff for a big gain (41 carries for 200 yards and 2 TD). Samuel is only 24 and can continue to grow with Tua and the offense.
Keeping Track: DeVante Parker, Marvin Jones Jr., Curtis Samuel, Preston Williams, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Lynn Bowden
Priority 2: Offensive Line
This can be costly. I’m going to pass until the draft unless someone comes cheap.
Keeping Track: Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Solomon Kindley, Robert Hunt, Jessie Davis, Michael Dieter, (Ted Karras*)
Edit: Miami has traded for 2020 1st Rd. Pick OT Isaiah Wilson
Priority 3: Running Back
I’m a big fan of the job Myles Gaskin did. His surprising emergence was a training camp delight. Ditto for Salvon Ahmed. I expect Miami to keep them, and maybe Patrick Laird, but you usually need about five running backs to make it through the season. Let’s pick one up now and take the pressure of the draft (remember Miami scrambling and trading for Matt Breida after watching the RBs fly off the board last year). My recommendation is Jamaal Williams.
Williams plays his role in a RBBC (running back by committee) with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones and Williams are both free agents (Williams being far less costly) barring re-signing in Green Bay. I love the way Williams plays with high energy; he runs with purpose, has a nice blend of power and speed, and can catch the ball out of the backfield. Williams may not be an RB1, but Miami seems content with a “by committee” approach.
KEEPING TRACK: Jamaal Williams, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird
Priority 4: Stopping the Run/Rushing the Passer
I’m banking on Raekwon Davis to take a big jump in 2021 in the middle of the defensive line. Ogbah, Wilkins, Sieler and Strowbridge remain as well, with Godchaux possibly returning. My opinion is to maybe go get a guy in the draft, and sign someone established. Free Agency will boast Bud Dupree, Yannick Ngakoue, Matt Judon and Shaq Barrett. It’s hard to trust Dupree, with him coming off an ACL injury and having the benefit of playing next to TJ Watt. Ngakoue is consistent (at least 8 sacks in each of his first 5 seasons), and having a less than great season may lower his price tag. Shaq Barrett is a one-year wonder from a very good defense. I’d be very hesitant to pay his big price tag. My guy is Matt Judon. I love anyone that comes from the Ravens’ “Hit you in the Mouth” defense. With tight constraints on the salary cap for most teams, Judon should be “gettable”.
KEEPING TRACK: Matt Judon, Jerome Baker, Andrew Van Ginkel, Elandon Roberts, (Vince Beigel, Kamu Grugier-Hill*)
STEP FOUR: The 2021 NFL Draft
Obviously, free agency largely dictates the direction Miami takes in the draft, but in this scenario we’ve filled most of our pressing needs. Now we can sit back, have some fun, and go hunt for future super studs.
Miami owns the Houston Texans’ first two picks (3rd and 36th overall). I don’t like doing fake trades in mocks, so here we keep ours as-is. In real life, I would ask Chris Grier and Brian Flores to strongly consider trading back with a QB starved team. I suspect Miami would get a massive haul.
1.03 - TE/Slot Kyle Pitts
Kyle Pitts could very easily be the most talented player in the entire draft. He’s less a TE and more a weapon you can stick anywhere (like Mike Gesicki). I know some may say “well we already have Mike,” but I say “Mike’s great, let’s get another one of him.” Pitts should be a major red zone target, and a mismatch for any defense. He’s too fast for linebackers, and too big for corners and safeties. Adding Pitts could really open the offense up. Other options are OT Rashawn Slater, OT Penei Sewell, WR Ja’marr Chase, WR Devonta Smith
1.18 - RB Najee Harris
For all the people who swear by the rule of not drafting certain positions (like running back) early in the draft, or the first round, I don’t follow such rules. I am of the belief you take the elite talent before someone else does. Najee doesn’t have a ton of miles on him, and has the potential to be a top 5 running back in the NFL. Miami hasn’t had a scary running game since Jay Ajayi’s one big season. Miami runs a RPO style offense, and that’s hard to do if your opponent doesn’t fear your ground game. Pairing Najee with Gaskin, Ahmed, and in this scenario, Jamaal Williams, gives Miami one of the most versatile ground games in the NFL. Other options are OL Christian Darrisaw, OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, WR Rashod Bateman, LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
2.4 - S Trevon Moehrig or LB Zaven Collins
Trevon could blossom into an elite safety. Collins has reminded some of Brian Urlacher. Sold, and send it in on either. = One of the two should be there when Miami picks, but if they’re not, my other options are OG Wyatt Davis, EDGE Carlos Basham Jr, C Creed Humphrey, OG Trey Smith
2.18 - LB Dylan Moses
Moses comes from the heralded Alabama program, and he brings speed to get from one side to the other, burst, and a knack for finding the ball carrier sooner than later. Other options include S Jevon Holland, EDGE Jaelan Phillips, OT Dillon Radunz, LB Pete Werner
3.17 - IOL Quinn Meinerz
Meinerz is a developmental interior lineman with a lot of “bully” potential. Excels as a run blocker. Other options are OT Walker Little, OT Jackson Carmen, EDGE Quincy Roche, WR Tutu Atwell
4.18 - WR Jaelon Darden
Darden has sleeper written all over him. He’s fast, can get the YAC, and make defenders miss. He can even take over in the return game if Miami decides to move on from Jakeem Grant. Other options are CB Ambry Thomas, G Ben Cleveland, S Jamien Sherwood, LB Monty Rice
6.22 QB Sam Ehlinger
Tua needs a backup, and Sam Ehlinger is an intriguing prospect. Other options are OG Jack Anderson, OT Alaric Jackson, LB Erroll Thompson, WR Anthony Schwartz
STEP FIVE: Depth Chart
GM Shawn Williams 2021 Miami Dolphins loosely looks like this:
QB - Tua Tagovailoa, Sam Ehlinger, (FA)
RB - Najee Harris, Jamaal Williams, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Patrick Laird
WR - DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, Curtis Samuel, Marvin Jones, Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant, Lynn Bowden, Jaelon Darden
TE - Mike Gesicki, Kyle Pitts, Adam Shaheen, Durham Smythe, Chris Myarick
OL - Austin Jackson, Ereck Flowers, Ted Karras, Solomon Kindley, Robert Hunt, Jessie Davis, Isaiah Wilson, Michael Deiter, Tyler Gauthier, Quinn Meinerz
DL - Christian Wilkins, Emmanuel Ogbah, Zach Sieler, Raekwon Davis, Jason Strowbridge
LB - *Add in Benardrick McKinney following the deal with the Texans shipping out Shaq Lawson to- Jerome Baker, Matt Judon, Andrew Van Ginkel, Elandon Roberts, Dylan Moses, Vince Biegel, Sam Eguavoen, and Calvin Munson (Zaven Collins*)
CB - Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Nik Needham, Noah Igbinoghene, Jamal Perry
S - Bobby McCain, Eric Rowe, Brandon Jones, Clayton Fejedelem, (Trevon Moehrig*)
K - Jason Sanders
P - Michael Palardy
This team is playoff-bound and then some. You’re welcome.
Now where’s my million dollars?