The Miami Dolphins embarked on a rebuilding effort in the spring of 2019, taking on a massive challenge in their bid to strip down the roster, clear away inefficient spending, and formally build the roster back better with a collective vision in mind. Three years, three offseasons, and two head coaches later, Miami appears to be ready to put all the pieces together in 2022.
The Dolphins made the decision to part ways with head coach Brian Flores this offseason, shuttling away the man initially pegged as the leader of the franchise’s rebuilding effort amid concerns about cohesiveness with the rest of the team’s hierarchy. Miami’s apparent ambition to level up the quarterback position and philosophical differences there *and elsewhere* appeared to play a role in that decision as well—although the Dolphins are now undoubtedly rowing in the same direction on that front for 2022. This is Tua Tagovailoa’s show.
But amid the changes made to Miami’s roster and coaching staff this offseason, one major layer should not be overlooked. The Dolphins have entered the last few seasons as one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, boasting selective veteran leadership but largely scorning older players in the name and sake of a youth movement. That is no longer the case.
Yes, the Dolphins’ roster still boasts hoards of young talent that should be centerpieces of the organization for years to come. Those are the fruits Miami hoped to bear when they set out to tear things down and start over in 2019. Players like Jaylen Waddle, Jevon Holland, Robert Hunt, and Jaelan Phillips are looking improved entering their respective 2022 ceilings. The depths of their improvement will ultimately go a long way in determining the ceiling and the floor for the 2022 Dolphins and beyond. But what helps young players continue to grow and evolve? Individual experience helps. Good, insightful coaching is even better.
The most underrated component of Miami’s offseason plan this season may actually be the additions of well-established veterans who can offer perspective gained only by having lived and played years and years in those young players’ respective shoes.
Veteran leadership wasn’t a common theme among Flores’ versions of the Miami Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick was a key player for two seasons and charmed the team with his leadership until a youth movement and a non-committal approach to that quarterback change prompted the team to move on ahead of 2021. Kyle Van Noy was a key offseason addition in 2020 and he lasted one season amid some questionable relationships with survivors that stayed with the team in 2021. Ereck Flowers was a similar story; coming into the fray in 2020 to provide leadership before being shuttled away ahead of 2021—although he lacked the successes that many of Miami’s new additions for 2022 have experienced.
This offseason offers little question that loud voices in the players’ room aren’t cautiously dabbled with but are a welcomed addition to the fray. Consider the veteran added to Miami:
- Teddy Bridgewater
- 2014 first-round draft selection, 2015 Pro Bowl Selection, 33-30 career record as a starter (29-19 across every season minus a stop in Carolina in 2020)
- Tyreek Hill
- 2016 fifth-round draft selection, six-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time All-Pro selection, 6,630 career receiving yards and 67 career touchdowns in six NFL seasons
- Terron Armstead
- 2013 third-round draft selection, three-time Pro Bowl selection, one-time All-Pro selection, frequent contributor and leader in annual offensive line summit ‘OL Masterminds’
- Melvin Ingram III
- 2012 first-round draft selection, three-time Pro Bowl selection
- P Thomas Morstead
- 2009 fifth-round draft selection, one-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time All-Pro selection
This infusion of accomplished, around-the-block talent isn’t just an irresponsible splurge in free agency, either. Morstead, Ingram III, and Bridgewater signed one-year contracts that combine to be less than $12M in cash owed this season. If all three live up to their potential, they’d be worth that value to Miami’s roster for their own respective contributions to the roster. But when you consider what value they, along with Hill and Armstead, can instill on the younger, less experienced talents on the roster? You could be looking at exponential dividends returned.
If Armstead can school Austin Jackson on the ins and outs of trusting his athleticism as an NFL offensive tackle? If Hill can add a few tricks and variations into the route running of Waddle? If Bridgewater can instill some veteran wisdom into Tagovailoa? If Ingram can help Jaelan Phillips continue to build out his pass rush plan?
The return on investment extends beyond just the individual player signed.
Now, it is worth acknowledging that each position group and each individual young player will have their own unique experience with the new veteran in the room—and it is no guarantee that everyone will experience the same growth within their own skill set. But with this many significant veteran additions, the law of averages suggests there will be knowledge exchanged and techniques discussed in every room of the Dolphins’ positional groups that otherwise would not exist.
And when you add in assistant coaches that have been added this offseason that fit the same model for Miami—ex-players who have walked in their shoes and experienced NFL success—Miami’s model for player development under head coach Mike McDaniel is clear as day.
Those coaches in question?
- WR coach Wes Welker
- 903 career receptions, 9,924 receiving yards, 51 career touchdowns, five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro selection in 13 NFL seasons
- CBs coach Sam Madison
- 481 career tackles, 38 career interceptions and 103* credited passes broken up as a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro selection in 12 NFL seasons
- DB coach Patrick Surtain
- 547 career tackles, 37 career interceptions, and 105* credited passes broken up as a three-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time All-Pro selection in 11 NFL seasons
(*Passes Broken Up (PBUs) became a tracked statistic in 1999)
The Dolphins’ player and coaching infrastructure added a total of 27 Pro Bowls and 10 All-Pro seasons of experience into their ranks from the individuals mentioned above. It’s a big deal for a team that boasts as many physically gifted but inexperienced players as the Dolphins do. And again, this isn’t to guarantee that their playing wisdom is going to transfer to the rest of the young talent by osmosis automatically. But the 2021 Miami Dolphins were woefully understaffed and under-experienced from both a coaching and player perspective.
Flores’ New England-themed pipeline of networking had run dry to the point where the team supposedly tapped a coach with three years of collegiate coaching experience to serve as the quarterbacks coach in 2021 (Charlie Frye). Frye allegedly called plays for the first month of the season as Miami faltered out the blocks to a 1-3 start with zero games with 300 yards of offense in regulation across those games. Those same 2021 Dolphins flushed out Fitzpatrick, Van Noy, Flowers, Shaq Lawson, Ted Karras, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, and OL DJ Fluker and replaced it with a career “almost there” player in wide receiver Will Fuller (who played in just a handful of snaps on the season), defensive back Jason McCourty, and defensive tackle John Jenkins.
At the very least, the 2022 Dolphins have given themselves a chance to reap the benefits of a ton of NFL accolades across their young talent. And that’s something that, amid the rebuild that began in 2019, we’re really able to say for the first time.