In honor of the Dolphins winning 10 games this season, here are 10 things that went very right:
Adam Gase arrives
Everything starts at the top. After whiffing on coaching hires for the better part of forever, the Dolphins got this one right. Gase arrived from the Windy City like a breath of fresh air. He’s bold. He’s brash. (Would you rather have somebody timid?) The players both love and respect him. Prediction: This guy is going to be around for a while, and you don’t pull that off in this league by failing.
Jay Ajayi gets untracked
He’s no C.J. Anderson (437 yards, knee surgery). He’s no Chris Johnson (95 yards, injured reserve). He’s no Arian Foster (retired).
He’s nowhere (in the season-opener). And then, just like that, the Jay Train roared to life, posting three 200-yard games en route to 1,272 yards. He runs angry, churning up yards after contact even if the holes aren’t there. The next step for the running game (I’m including the line in this part of the equation) is greater consistency in 2017.
Franchise QB search finally ceases
Gase said a primary reason he came to Miami was Ryan Tannehill. After four years of debating whether Tannehill could be the guy, fans started to get their answer. Guided by the quarterback whisperer, Tannehill posted career-bests in completion percentage (67.1) and passer rating (93.5). Remember the six-game winning streak? Tannehill threw nine TD passes and one interception in that span and led four comeback victories in four games. He even showed he can deliver the deep ball.
Matt Moore rises, then rises again
After five years of inactivity, Moore proved he’s the consummate pro, stepping in after Tannehill injured his knee and keeping the team on course to make the playoffs. He also popped up off the turf after that illegal shot to the chin in the Steelers game. How? We’re still trying to figure that out, too.
Luck in draft (and it’s not the bad kind?)
You know exactly how the Dolphins managed to nab offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil with the 13th pick in the draft. Yup, it was weird. If you’re Tunsil’s accountant, it was unfortunate. If you’re the Dolphins, you’re thinking the last time something this fortuitous happened in the first round, the year was 1983.
The comeback kings
The Dolphins were down 24-21 with 2:57 left in San Diego and won 31-24. The next week, they were down 10-0 against the Rams with 4:02 remaining but won 14-10. At Buffalo, it was a 31-28 hole with six seconds left, which became a 34-31 overtime victory that was critical for the playoff hopes. When was the last time the Dolphins were in those kind of holes and gave you confidence something good might come out of it?
Hard Rock Stadium rocks
You don’t mind if I call it Joe Robbie Stadium in honor of the guy who made it happen, do you? Thirty years later, it doesn’t even resemble the same place. Credit Stephen Ross and his half a billion bucks with transforming it into a beautiful facility that the almighty NFL deems Super Bowl-worthy. How’s Robbie-Ross-Rock Stadium sound? The Triple R to counter the Heat’s Triple A?
There’s talent here?
Word is five teams want to talk to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph about their head coaching vacancy. That’s a good thing, proving there are people here whom others covet. Some wonder how this can be, since V.J.’s defense ranked 29th. They forget the Bears’ offense ranked 21st last season. It didn’t scare off suitors for that coordinator. Some guy named Gase.
J.T. knocking on the door
Jason Taylor, the Dolphins’ all-time sack artist with 131, is among the 15 finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Class of 2017 will be announced Feb. 4, the day before the Super Bowl in Houston. The thought here: It’s a matter of when, not if.
Can’t sit Stills
Receiver Kenny Stills was honored by the team for community service, which during the season is primarily performed on Tuesdays, the players’ day off. This season, Stills participated in a ride-along with police, visited three schools and two hospitals, gave out back-to-school backpacks, distributed toys during the holidays and granted Make-A-Wish requests. If you didn’t know about most of that, it’s by design. Stills does it quietly, saying he gives back for the right reasons, not publicity. Best of all, Stills had stiff competition from teammates for the award. And did we say he had a good season?
DAVIE – Branden Albert was stuffing everything he could into a clear plastic bag.
Clubhouse attendants were taping shut cardboard boxes with sticky notes that included the address where the box should be mailed.
Andre Branch was rushing so he could make the drive across Alligator Alley and up I-75 to Tampa to watch his alma mater, Clemson, play Alabama in Monday’s College Football Playoff championship.
The Miami Dolphins locker room on Monday had all the signs of the end of another season.
“It’s always tough ending the season because you’re going to be sitting at home on the weekend and watching other teams play for championships,” center Mike Pouncey said. “The camaraderie we built on this football team and the togetherness we have on this football team, it sucks seeing everybody having to separate and go their different ways.”
Moving day was bittersweet for the Dolphins. Most acknowledged going from 6-10 to 10-6 and ending the season with a winning record and in the postseason for the first time in eight years was a significant step.
“We truly believed in this room we could make a run, a serious run,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “We truly believed that. We feel like we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.
“I’m sick about the game but I still understand where we’ve come. It’s something you can be proud of but it’s not something to hang your hat on.”
Significant steps were taken under first-year coach Adam Gase, especially considering playoff talk wasn’t even realistic after Miami lost four of its first five games.
But a 30-15 victory over the Steelers in Week 6 was the turning point as the Dolphins won nine of their next 10 games.
And even though that was Miami’s only victory over a team with a .500 record or better (the Dolphins were 1-6 in such games including the playoffs, 9-1 against teams under .500) that wasn’t about diminish what was accomplished during the regular season.
“It was successful,” safety Michael Thomas said about the season, “based upon how this team was performing in the most recent years. We’re resilient and we overcame a lot of adversity, especially when it came to injuries.
“Our goal was to make it to the playoffs, and we got out in the first round. Successful? Yes. But definitely not satisfying.”
Offensive lineman Jerman Bushrod believes the sting will last as long as football still is being played, which means another month as the division playoffs and conference championships lead to the two-week buildup to the Super Bowl.
But after a champion is crowned the 2016 season officially comes to an end.
“It’s going to be tough to deal with, but after the Super Bowl you got to let it go,” Bushrod said. “It’s a new year. It’s definitely tough anytime you get into that dance and you don’t do what you need to do.”
“I feel like it’s coming,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “We’re not all the way there, but we started something under Gase and the staff that he’s brought in that will allow us to do something special here in the future.”
With Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Miami Dolphins began an offseason that will see them forced to make decisions on whether to retain a veritable bunch of free agents.
While Miami will undoubtedly look outside its roster to make some personnel moves to improve upon current weaknesses, they will also need to lock up some of their own free agents in hopes that they will improve upon their 2016 outputs.
Here’s a look at Miami’s 2017 free agents and their chances of re-signing with the team:
Jordan Cameron, TE
It’s hard to envision a scenario that affords Cameron another contract in Miami. The veteran tight end has been plagued by a string a concussions that severely limited his time on the field. Cameron expressed that he would consider retirement at the end of the year, but even if he chooses to continue playing, it will likely be with another franchise.
Dion Jordan, DE
After a series of substance-abuse suspensions, the Dolphins have kept the 26-year-old off of the field and will all but certainly move on from Jordan during the offseason. The former third overall pick was left on the non-football injury list in 2016 and has been mostly a non-factor during his tenure in Miami.
Andre Branch, DE
It is possible that Miami brings back the 27-year-old defensive end, especially considering his 27-tackle, 5.5-sack season. Branch provided solid depth at the defensive end position working opposite of Cam Wake and stepping up amid an underwhelming season from fellow defensive end Mario Williams.
Jermon Bushrod, G
Bushrod’s future with Miami, and the game of football, is uncertain following Sunday’s loss. The 32-year-old guard who dealt with several injuries expressed his uncertainty over whether he will retire, but made it clear that he would like to stay in Miami if he continues playing.
“There ain’t too many places I want to go. I’m not interested in moving, so if it happens it happens,” Bushrod told the Palm Beach Post. “If not, we’ll see what the future holds, but I’m just proud of the way these guys fought.”
John Denney, LS
Denney has been with the Dolphins for 12 seasons and may be their most underrated player — simply because of his job description. Despite the lack of praise, Denney should continue to find a home in South Florida.
Spencer Paysinger, OLB
One of the areas that Miami will likely attack in free agency and/or the draft is the linebacker position, making it harder to predict what happens with Paysinger. The 28-year-old outside linebacker had a respectable 37 tackles this season and could be brought back for depth. If Miami upgrades the position heavily, Paysinger may find himself the odd man out, though he has seemingly done enough to warrant a return.
Donald Butler, ILB
Butler had 17 tackles this season for Miami but is unlikely to return next season. Miami appears willing to move on from the 28-year-old as part of their efforts to improve the linebacker position.
T.J. Yates, QB
Used as an emergency quarterback following starter Ryan Tannehill’s injury, Yates is not expected to return next year. With Tannehill and backup Matt Moore under contract, Brandon Doughty seems poised to grab the third spot on the QB depth chart.
Michael Thomas, FS
Coming off a 27-tackle, one-sack season in 2016, it would appear that Miami will look to keep the safety for at least another season. Thomas saw a decrease in production after 57 tackles the season before, but he was still effective in his eight starts this season. Expect the Dolphins to look to keep Thomas, who won the 2016 “Good Guy Award” from the local media and serves as a special-teams captain.
Dominique Jones, TE
Jones made seven catches this season, including one for a touchdown, but will likely be a roster casualty as Miami looks to add to the tight end position. The signing of a veteran or an incoming rookie from the 2017 draft appear likely to occupy his roster spot.
Bacarri Rambo, SS
Rambo struggled toward the end of the season, but he posted an interception and 25 tackles in his nine games for Miami. His future with the team remains unclear considering fellow defensive backs Byron Maxwell, Reshad Jones, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Tony Lippett, Xavien Howard and Bobby McCain are all under contract for next season.
Jelani Jenkins, OLB
It appears unlikely that Jenkins will remain with the team this offseason. Jenkins told the Palm Beach Post that he “wasn’t sure” whether Miami was interested in bringing him back next season. The former Florida Gator missed seven games due to injury this season, but still managed to finish the year with a respectable 31 tackles.
Dion Sims, TE
Miami will look to keep Sims this offseason, though he may not be the starter upon his return. The 25-year-old caught 26 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns, but if Miami adds a veteran tight end in free agency, he may be relegated to a backup role.
Kenny Stills, WR
All indications are that Miami will do everything it can to retain Stills, who caught a career-high nine touchdowns in 2016. Stills made 42 catches for 726 yards and proved himself to be a reliable and important piece of the Dolphins offense. After a sizable leap in production, Stills would have the attention of several teams on the open market, so Miami will need to be aggressive in its pursuit of the 24-year-old receiver to keep him.
DAVIE – Kenny Stills started every game this season and led the Dolphins with nine touchdowns. He had the third-most catches (42) and receiving yards (726) behind Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker.
And now, with the Dolphins and their 24-year-old receiver entering their first negotiations together as Stills becomes an unrestricted free agent, Stills is saying all the right things.
“I don’t know how to say how much I want to want back here, I want to be back here, yeah,” Stills said. “I mean, I love this team. I love these guys. We did something really special after starting 1-4 we did something very special. We are going to do whatever we can to try to make that happen.”
Stills was acquired from New Orleans two years ago and has caught 69 passes for 1,166 yards and 12 touchdowns since. But 2016 clearly was the better of the two seasons, which was good timing for a player in a contract year.
Now the questions is how much money the Dolphins’ fastest receiver is going to command on the open market and will Miami be willing to pay that?
Stills made $1.671 million in 2016, the final year of a four-year, $2,354,452 contract he signed with the Saints.
“A lot of people say we’re young and we need to mature,” Stills said. “It’s knowing when you get in the playoffs you can’t start slow, you can’t turn the ball over, you can’t have penalties.
“The way we played (Sunday) wasn’t good enough. Sometimes things like this have to happen for you to learn that lesson that needs to be learned. I definitely think the guys understand the way this feels and they don’t want it to happen again.”
Defensive end Andre Branch, also an unrestricted free agent, was more definitive in his desire to return. Branch signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Dolphins last year and finished second in sacks with 5.5. Cameron Wake led the team with 11.5 sacks.
“I love this place,” said Branch, who spent his first four seasons in Jacksonville. “They believed in me when not too many people did. I appreciate them for that. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t know what the future holds but I had an amazing time this year.”
“I’m not even thinking about contracts right now,” Landry said.
Landry, 24, had a game high 11 catches for a team-high 102 yards Sunday. He had 94 catches during the regular season, fourth-most in team history, for 1,136 yards, which was eighth most by a Dolphins receiver in a season.
Though disappointed the way the season ended, Landry believes the Dolphins have set a new standard by making the playoffs.
“We see it that way and we’re going to approach the offseason that way and guys are going to get better,” he said. “Try to start this run over again.”
And what gives him the confidence this is a start and not a one-year blip?
“Just the people that we have top to bottom in this organization,” he said. “The guys that they’ve brought in and the things that we’re trying to do here makes me as confident as anybody in this organization in this team. That’s the best way moving forward.”
PITTSBURGH — The Miami Dolphins cannot and will not be fooled by their unexpected regular-season success. The Dolphins realize they’re not close to a Super Bowl as presently constituted.
As always, there will be change.
But what should be the priorities for Dolphins executives Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier and coach Adam Gase now that Miami’s offseason has arrived?
Here’s our Top 10:
Get Ryan Tannehill healthy. The Dolphins quarterback did not rule out some type of knee surgery involving ACL and MCL knee sprains. Tannehill’s knee injury initially appeared catastrophic, but perhaps because Tannehill is made of Steel (incidentally, his son’s name) he was able to return to limited practice in less than four weeks. So perhaps it is a blessing that Tannehill didn’t return to the field and put himself at any further risk. Tannehill must and will do anything and everything the trainers tell him so he can be as mobile as possible in 2017.
Add two linebackers, at least one terror thumper. Kiko Alonso had a commendable season. By far, Alonso led the Dolphins with 115 tackles and showed he should be a part of Miami’s long-term plans. Alonso has speed and toughness and played through injuries to a hamstring and a thumb. But Neville Hewitt (who is a worthwhile developmental player) was second among Miami linebackers with 64. Miami needs to invest in at least one linebacker, either in free agency or in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Ideally, someone who can frighten an offensive coordinator and quarterback.
Re-sign Andre Branch and/or add youth to defensive end. Cameron Wake is about to 35 and as much as he may believe and fans may hope, he can’t play forever. Branch is an interesting study. He had 5.5 sacks and once he entered the starting lineup opposite Wake, the energy (if not always the results) turned for the better. As always in free agency, it’s going to be about price. Branch improved his consistency but is one of the other 31 franchises sold that he should be paid like a number one defensive end?
Extend wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Jarvis Landry may be Adam Gase’s favorite player and he is the most popular Dolphin. Landry had played only three seasons for Miami and has one year left on his deal, but he’s recently turned 24 years old. Landry has topped 1,100 yards in consecutive seasons and next years has a goal to become the first Miami receiver to top 1,000 in three consecutive seasons. A slot receiver, yes. But the heartbeat of the Dolphins offense. And a player worth extending at a rate of more than $11 million per year.
Re-sign Kenny Stills, but only at a fair price. Stills averaged an outstanding 17.3 yards per catch and scored nine touchdowns this season. Stills likes Gase. Gase likes Stills. Miami would always prefer to re-sign its own. And Stills, 24, is a nice complement to Landry and DeVante Parker. But will someone pay him like a high number two receiver? At that price, Miami may need to pass.
Decide if Laremy Tunsil’s left tackle future begins in 2017. Tunsil can play left tackle. Tunsil may be a Pro Bowl tackle as early as next season, if given the opportunity. Veteran left tackle Branden Albert is a mentor to Tunsil and has groomed him as his potential replacement. Albert is a former Pro Bowler and competent left tackle. He did not have an excellent season and battled through injuries. Does Miami try to re-work Albert’s 2017 contract, which at $10.6 million would be third-highest on the team?
Consider extending Reshad Jones. Jones is an X-Factor on Miami’s defense, the kind of playmaker the team badly missed down the stretch. But Jones has played seven seasons in the NFL and is 28 years old. He might want a contract extension (there is one year left on his current deal at $8 million) that extends beyond what the Dolphins want to do. It would stand to reason Jones’ next deal may be worth about $8 million a year.
Have a plan in case Vance Joseph departs. The statistics for this season don’t look good for Joseph as the Dolphins allowed more yards in 2016 than any defense in franchise history. But there were a ton of key injuries. And Joseph did seem to have good plans and a willingness to vary strategies. If a franchise values his leadership enough to tap him as the head man, I’m sure Gase and Fins leadership have an idea of where they’d turn.
Decide if free agent Dion Sims is your starting tight end. Gase trusted Sims in run blocking and even turned to him on more downfield passing plays as the season progressed. The Dolphins extended backup MarQuies Gray. But the guess here is Miami seeks to add another dynamic, speedy, athletic pass-cathing tight end in the NFL Draft or in free agency.
Draft or sign a rising center and/or guard. Center Mike Pouncey has every intention of returning from hip injuries. And Tunsil is capable of playing guard. But especially if he shifts to tackle, there will be the traditional Dolphins offseason search for guard/s. Veteran Jermon Bushrod may retire. The Dolphins need to add some capable young bodies into the pipeline, even if they’re not forced into the lineup in 2017.