ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Now that this is over, and really, really over, even if not officially over, there is really no reason not to conduct the exit interviews on the Miami Dolphins season now.
Oh sure, there are two games to play, but y’all may be doing something else on Christmas Eve Day (Kansas City Chiefs) and New Year’s Eve Day (Buffalo Bills) than watching to see how the Jay Cutler era ends or if Jesse Davis proves further that, yes, he deserves to start in 2018.
The next year always looks so strange just before it arrives, doesn’t it? 2018. It seems so far away. And this season went so quickly.
Miami lost to Buffalo, 24-16, on Sunday, and really that’s not all that surprising. I mean, if you’ve paid any attention to Miami’s ridiculous inconsistencies this season.
And so the Dolphins are 6-8 and may very well finish 7-9, which, frankly, is what I picked before the season began, and even before Ryan Tannehill went down. We said then that 7-9 would not be disastrous, as long as signs of organizational progress were shown.
So, where do things stand? Without any further ado, here are 10 things I learned this season, a season nearly over, but, well, over.
- Even Adam Gase cannot withstand Ryan Tannehill, Raekwon McMillan, Hurricane Irma, Chris Foerster, Lawrence Timmons, etc., etc. etc. It will not be raised until the post-season press conferences commence. I asked Cam Wake about the season and what he has found most surprising and most disappointing about the season, and it was really not surprising that he declined to talk about that now. I’ll tell you what was surprising: all of the stuff listed above. And really, Don Shula wouldn’t have been able to overcome all these things.
- Oh how pretty, so pretty, Ryan Tannehill seems now. They called him Alex Smith. They said he was vanilla. They said he was robotic. Well, how Dolphins fans feel about Tannehill now has pretty well evolved with each Jay Cutler interception. Look, Cutler tried his best. I mean, surely he did, right? And it was totally as predicted. Ups and downs. And all around. But next year Tannehill will regain his rightful place as Miami Dolphins starting quarterback. And until he throws an interception, the roses and love letters will continue to flow his way.
- In Kenyan Drake, Miami has an explosive piece to build around. Kenyan Drake has now pretty much caught Jay Ajayi in season carries, and he’s topped 100 carries, which means he’s eligible to be ranked among the league leaders. He’ll qualify with 4.8 yards per carry, which is much better than Ajayi’s 3.4. Oh sure, it would be nice to compliment Drake with another back who is either similar or different, it doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s worthy of easing the burden of the former Alabama speedster.
- Jarvis Landry deserves the money and if DeVante Parker ever gets big money is in question. There is every reason to believe Jarvis Landry wants to remain with the Dolphins. And every reason to believe the Dolphins are going to find a way to get this done. Landry is averaging only 8.6 yards per catch, but we think that will increase with Tannehill’s return. Landry has answered any and all questions the Dolphins may have had about him. While Parker is still an enigma.
- Miami needs an injection on its offensive line. Would the Dolphins spend money for a decent free agent-guard, or spend a top three round draft choice on a guard? It may be worthy of consideration. Or, would the Dolphins consider leaving Jesse Davis at guard, not re-signing Ja’Wuan James, and drafting or signing a different free-agent tackle? Laremy Tunsil must take the offseason to do some self-evaluation so he can play up to his potential. And is it time to draft or sign Mike Pouncey’s successor, even if he is brought back for another season?
- Adam Gase needs to stay committed to what he wants Miami’s offense to be. Jay Ajayi was shipped away, in part because the way Ajayi preferred to run, and his strengths, didn’t really align with what Gase wants to do on offense. So it’s important that Gase establishes the style of offense he wants to run, relative to run-pass ratio, tempo and scheme. And that Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier make sure the players they’re signing and drafting fit into exactly what Gase plans to do.
- Miami still needs to add another quality cornerback. Byron Maxwell was cut quicker than anyone could have expected. And Cordrea Tankersley was starting quicker than anyone could have expected. Xavien Howard has really shown progress over the last three weeks, and it is possible Tankersley or Tony Lippett develops into an adequate starter, but it would behoove Miami to add a top-line solid starter, either through the draft or free agency. In fact, Howard would be an outstanding number two corner.
- Miami has to hope Raekwon McMillan is ready to be a leader. Once again, here we are, saying the Dolphins need help at linebacker. Kiko Alonso has not seemed as comfortable outside as he did in the middle last season. Lawrence Timmons slowed down after a quick start and may not be back. The Dolphins need linebackers who have youth and speed and toughness, and the sure-tackling McMillan fits the bill. He is one of Miami’s greatest reasons for optimism in 2018.
- Hey, at least the Dolphins have a kicker and a punter. Jupiter’s Cody Parkey may be one of the best kickers in the AFC next season. And the Dolphins have a really talented prospect in punter Matt Haack. Miami’s special teams have always been a strength and should continue to be a strength. One key question is if core special teamers Michael Thomas and Damien Williams return as free agents.
- Another year and Miami’s no closer to New England and no further away from Buffalo and the Jets. The idea was that Buffalo and the Jets were entering a pure rebuild, shipping away talent in a look toward the future. (Who said tanking?) Of course, Josh McCown and the Jets beat Miami. And Tyrod Taylor and the Bills beat Miami (at least once already). And we know about the Patriots. At what point is there radical change in the AFC East? There is more time needed. And more work, a lot more, work to be done.