Nearly a year ago, 11 months to be precise, I wrote this piece for Locked On Dolphins: “Small, Important Steps in the Right Direction”. It was me opining on what I felt like were a series of small steps Miami, specifically Chris Grier and the front office had taken in the right direction just after the Draft. At the time, Miami had accumulated a Draft Pick haul of a: 1st rounder, two 2nd rounders, a 3rd, two 4ths, a 5th, two 6ths, and two 7ths. We know war chest has expanded, and Miami’s sure to put that to effective use in just over a month at the 2020 NFL Draft.
So, where are Miami now?
Well, that’s an interesting question, but I’ll attempt to answer it. With a haul of 11 free agents, counting TE Michael Roberts who was signed before the new League Year, Miami’s managed to fill some of the holes the exited 2019 with. Perhaps most important, despite shelling out big money deals, all of them are structured in smart, team-friendly ways. Kudos to Chris Grier and Brandon Shore for that. It’ll pay dividends down the road.
With the Draft still a month away, at least as things stand with the COVID-19 outbreak right now, Miami’s needs have become clearer. Quarterback was always and still is the top priority for the Draft. Running Back is a need still, and there’s a plethora of top notch backs in this year’s class. Offensive Line, obviously. Miami can use help across the board there. With the defensive free agent signings, I’m not sure edge defenders are a need anymore, but I think Miami will still bargain shop there. Safety, specifically free safety, and a true nose tackle round out the needs list. At lest in my mind.
With 14 picks, and Miami probably won’t use all of them to make actual picks – I think some get used in trade ups and some get pushed to 2021 – Miami will likely be able to fill that remaining chunk of needs, which is a great place to be in. Perhaps Miami still shops around a bit in free agency, maybe for O-line depth or a cheap running back, but I think the focus now narrows to the Draft. Since that’s next month, let’s review the free agent crop.
Free Agent Fits
Our pal Travis Wingfield has done plenty of in-depth reporting on all of Miami’s free agent signings, so I’m going to give you my broad stroke takes on what Miami’s added this past week.
Miami added defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Emmanuel Ogbah to help set the edge against the run. Kyle Van Noy is an outside linebacker with a sneaky amount of strength and ability to play with heavy hands and good leverage who can help set the edge too. What this means for Miami’s defense is that we’ll likely see more 4-man defensive fronts. Remember, when Brian Flores called the Patriots defense in 2018 his most used for formations were:
4-2-5 (307 snaps)
3-3-5 (226 snaps)*
3-2-6 (132 snaps)
4-3 (97 snaps)
* With the 3-3-5 package, there’s really two versions: The Bear front and the slide front. The Bear front typically included bigger defensive lineman to cover the opponents G-C-G with Hightower and Trey Flowers or Kyle Van Noy on edges, with Van Noy or Elandon Roberts off-ball. Think of the slide front as really a 4-2 front, but you have an OLB playing as a stand-up DE.
A potential hidden bonus here is that both Lawson and Ogbah have some experience playing in stand-up OLB/DE roles. Shaq Lawson did it some at Clemson and Ogbah had some limited experience in doing so last year with the Chiefs. I think Ogbah was used primarily as a rusher as I haven’t seen snaps of him dropping into coverage from that spot. But he’s been aligned there.
With the additions of Lawson, Ogbah and Van Noy, Miami’s going to try and be able to find analogs similar to Van Noy himself, more on that in a minute; Ogbah compares pretty well in play style to how the Pats used Adrian Clayborn and Deatrich Wise that year; and Lawson’s versatility might lend him to be used in some, and I stress some, of the capacities in which they used Trey Flowers. With Van Noy, in 2019 he was almost an exclusive on-the-LOS edge LB. In 2018, his duties between being an edge player and off-ball linebacker were about 50-50. I don’t know that we’ll see that, but I think Van Noy’s snaps won’t be as an exclusive edge – he’s so versatile in how he can be used.
As much as I love Khalid Kareem and really like guys like K’Lavon Chaisson, Curtis Weaver, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marlon Davidson I have a difficult time picturing Miami spending a top-level resource on an edge defender. I think they’ll take a stab on a guy that falls or try and find value later on like Trevis Gipson, Jason Strowbridge, Chauncey Rivers, James Smith-Williams, etc.
No Fly Zone Southeast
I’ll admit, I in no way shape or form saw Miami going after someone like Byron Jones. In fact, I wonder if the Patriots franchise tagging Joe Thuney meant that money Miami might’ve offered to him was “freed up” to pursue other options. And man, did Miami get a nice player in Jones. Yes, he doesn’t have a ton of interceptions, but he does have 20 PBUs the past two years, and 44 for his career – nearly nine a year.
I’m a little dumbfounded that so many Dolfans think this signing means that Xavien Howard is on the trade block. Why would he be? Why would you dismantle a CB tandem this good? I get that X had the legal issue, but that was dismissed. I feel like if Miami wanted him gone, he’d have been gone by now.
What it means having a tandem like Byron and X is that you have a pair of corners that excel at press, can play off man, can both play on either side of the formation, and both can travel to the slot. That gives them some really nice flexibility and the opportunity to get creative with coverages. I’ll be really intrigued if they add a FS that allows Bobby McCain to play in the slot more, like he did in 2015-17. Miami could disguise a lot if that becomes an option.
When you combine Jones with the additions of Lawson and Ogbah up front, and Van Noy as someone who can play on the LOS or off-ball, you have to tip your cap to Miami for adding help at all three levels of the defense.
Depth and Special Teams
Miami apparently isn’t bringing back Walt Aikens, who was their best special teamer the past few seasons. Instead, Miami opted to bring in a trio of damn good special teamers, two of whom were captains. The one that wasn’t, Elandon Roberts, figures to get a chance to play in some packages on defense, just as he did with New England, and is a core special teams guy. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ate some of Chandler Cox’s reps as a fullback either. He’ll be fun to watch on whichever unit he’s getting snaps at.
Kamu Grugier-Hill, a fellow 6th round pick mate of the 2016 Patriots Class with Ted Karras and Elandon Roberts, is an intriguing player. While he might have been a better fit for Miami’s previous staff under Gase and Burke, he’s a fantastic special teamer and has shown well as a blitzer and coverage linebacker. His presence probably means guys like Sam Eguavoen and Calvin Munson are in the danger zone.
Clayton Fejedelem is more a like-for-like replacement for Aikens. A hard-hitting safety who’s a demon on special teams. Fejedelem probably won’t get a lot of looks on defense, especially if Miami ends up drafting another safety, but the bonus with Fejedelem, as compared to Aikens, is if you have to call on him to play on defense, he’s going to be better equipped to handle it.
Improving the Ground Game
I’ll admit, with Ereck Flowers being the first reported signing of free agency, I was a little worried the ghosts of Jeff Ireland and Mike Tannenbaum were summoned by the Tequesta. Flowers reputation carries stains, but he played well the second half of 2019 as LG for the Redskins. I hope Miami leaves him there. Ted Karras comes over after playing as center for the Patriots in 2019. He’s a bigger guy than Daniel Kilgore. He’s smart. He’s tough. He struggles a little in space and with power. I do wonder if Michael Deiter gets a shot to compete with him at the C spot with Flowers at LG, where Deiter played last year.
Both Flowers and Karras will get the opportunity to block for newly signed running back Jordan Howard (a favorite of my wife’s as he’s a fellow Indiana Hoosier). Howard’s a bigger back at 225lbs, but he’s more well rounded than he is a power back. He can catch and be a weapon in the pass game. He’s also pretty savvy with inside and outside zone runs. With Chan Gailey and Eric Studesville working on the ground game, Howard’s sure to get plenty of use.
Tight end Michael Roberts has played just 12 games over the past three seasons due to injuries and poor play. He was traded to the Patriots last year but failed a physical cancelling the trade. Detroit waived him and he was claimed by Green Bay but failed a physical there. He battled weight gain, depression and had his left shoulder surgically repaired. More of a blocking TE, he roasted the Dolphins in 2018, naturally, when Detroit came to Miami. If Roberts plays up to his potential, I think he’s got the ability to challenge Durham Smythe for that #2 TE role – being an inline TE.
Prepping for April
While the Draft won’t have the party that Vegas would’ve offered, that’s the next major step for Chris Grier. Miami needs to get the Draft right. We’re talking 2017 Saints right. We’re talking 2019 Raiders right. Miami has the opportunity to inject a lot of talent, in addition to the quarterback, into this team.
Go figure that the year Miami as FINALLY loaded up on picks, the COVID-19 breakout has forced Pro Days and 30 Visits to mostly be cancelled. And unless something drastically changes in the next few weeks, Miami and the rest of the league aren’t going to have as much operating information as they normally do. Miami will have to rely more on scouting than in the past.
The outbreak also likely puts a dent into each team’s offseason program. Teams will have to head into their offseason programs storming to get ready for the season. Let’s hope Miami doesn’t have a truncated offseason like they did in 2011 under Tony Sparano, which lead to an 0-7 start.
For now, with quarantines in place, there’s likely not going to be a lot happening for the Dolphins between now and the Draft. Hunker down. Watch tape (Game Pass is free). Familiarize yourself with Flores’s scheme. Watch “Humble and Hungry” – I highly recommend it! But above all, stay safe. We can get through this together.
You may recall Travis and I made a trip to Miami last year for the Bengals-Dolphins game. We were credentialed for it, meaning we were members of the media for that day. I think one of the most lasting impressions I have from that trip is just how many pieces work to create the “machine” that is each NFL team. Miami have a lot of great people in place.
I’d only ever been to one other Dolphins game in Miami. That was back in 2010. I don’t remember what Hard Rock Stadium was called at the time; it’s had many different iterations since it was Joe Robbie Stadium. But I remember walking around that stadium thinking it was dumpy. And I’d been to some dumpy stadiums – Old RFK Stadium for a Washington Nationals Game, whatever they call the Coliseum where the Raiders played, and the A’s still call home. Riverfront Stadium – the stadium of my youth. These were the stadiums that Hard Rock rivaled in 2010.
What Mr. Ross and Tom Garfinkel have done to the place is INCREDIBLE! I’ve been to Lucas Oil Stadium and the renovated version of Lambeau Field (2010 and 2016). Those two places are crown jewels. Hard Rock Stadium as it stands right now is nicer than both!
Miami’s building a fantastic new team headquarters and training complex. Travis and I stopped by Team HQ in Davie on our trip to pick up a parking pass for the game. The current HQ is nice (I live in Cincinnati and drive by Paul Brown Stadium daily on my way to work – that’s my comparison, but Miami’s is nicer), but it’s small. This new place is going to be world-class.
Brian Flores the Head Coach. While it’s only been a year with him at the helm, just by being in his presence, hearing him speak and listening to what the players said about him – there’s not a man in that building that wouldn’t run to the TNT Wall for him. Miami’s finally got the Head Coach they’ve longed for since Don Shula strode the sidelines.
The Dolphins have added 11 pieces so far, and the have the opportunity to select a new franchise quarterback in a month. If Chris Grier, Marvin Allen, Reggie McKenzie, Brian Flores, the staff, and the scouts get this right Miami’s going to have built one hell of a machine. Just in time for the post-Tom Brady Era in the AFC East.
It’s a wonderful time to be a Dolfan! All is certainly not right in the world. Not by a longshot. But in these trying times where we all need to cling to some form of solace, the Dolphins are providing one. It’s a small part of my everyday life, but it’s one of my favorite parts. Always has been. Always will be. FinsUp!
Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts
As the doors of the Dolphins’ training facility open to the newly signed rookie class, they close for another former Miami-hopeful after an active weekend of roster moves.
The Miami Dolphins have today waived TE Michael Roberts.
We have been awarded CB Javaris Davis from Kansas City and have waived/non-football injury TE Michael Roberts. We have also placed the following players on the reserve/COVID-19 list: LS Blake Ferguson, DT Benito Jones and CB Cordrea Tankersley. pic.twitter.com/0l3CD2H4Rv
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) July 27, 2020
Roberts began his NFL career in 2017 out of Toledo as a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions, possessing ideal measurements (6’5”, 265lb) for a playmaking TE.
A shoulder injury in December 2018 cut short Roberts’ time in Detroit and he was waived by the Lions following a failed physical as part of an attempted trade with the New England Patriots and subsequently waived quickly again after being picked up by the Green Bay Packers.
Roberts underwent reconstruction of the injured left shoulder in August 2019, having struggled both physically and mentally as his career path veered away from his dreams. Signed by the Dolphins in February 2020, it was hoped that Roberts could revive his NFL career in Miami’s TE room, competing with Durham Smythe for the TE2 spot behind Mike Gesicki.
At only 26 years old, it remains to be seen whether the young TE will be able to regain full health and return to the game, but the craziness of 2020 only puts further hurdles in his path as training camp rosters are reduced across the league to 80 players in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t expect Brian Flores and his staff to sit on their hands when it comes to competition – 2019 highlighted on a regularly churning roster of names being given a chance to succeed – and this approach is expected to continue at certain positions. As such, Saturday’s news that former Chicago Bears’ TE Adam Shaheen had been acquired by the Dolphins ensures that healthy competition can continue to spread through the roster, and proves the willingness of the front office to give chances to promising players who may not have achieved during their first NFL stop.
In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game
If everything goes right, Tua Tagovailoa isn’t going to start a single game for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
Nope, you didn’t misread that last sentence. Tua Tagovailoa riding the bench is the best thing that could happen to the Miami Dolphins this season, and if you think otherwise, then you haven’t been paying attention to what Brian Flores has been preaching since his arrival.
The obvious factor everyone is taking into consideration is the health of Tua’s hip. And while that definitely plays a part, it has minimal affect on his playing time. You see, barring a trade, Tua is the third-best quarterback on the roster right now.
Combine his inexperience, a COVID-restricted offseason, and that pesky hip injury, and it’s safe to say our questions have already been answered.
The Better Player Plays
With this team, it’s no secret that playing time is awarded based on a player’s performance both in games and during practice. It doesn’t matter where you were drafted or how much money you’re making, if you aren’t better than the athlete next to you, you aren’t playing.
In fact, didn’t we just go through a very similar situation last year when the Dolphins acquired Josh Rosen from the Arizona Cardinals for a 2nd-round draft pick?
We all assumed that Ryan Fitzpatrick was keeping the seat warm until Rosen – a top-10 draft pick one season prior – was ready, but when Flores had the opportunity to simultaneously give a young quarterback experience and tank for Tua, he did neither. Instead, opting to (nearly) sabotage the opportunity to draft Tagovailoa and win as many games as possible with Fitzpatrick.
Not only did Brian Flores refuse to do anything he felt would not give his team the best chance to win, and not only were free agents impressed, but they got their QB. They got Tua. A new era for the Miami Dolphins.
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) April 24, 2020
Rosen has much more upside than Fitzpatrick, but he couldn’t muster more than 197 snaps under center last season.
Just like that, the culture was set. Flores wasn’t fucking around – it was win at all costs, and the players bought in. One season later, that mantra certainly hasn’t changed.
Tua has more talent and better quarterback traits than Fitzpatrick and Rosen (probably combined), so there’s no arguing which quarterback we want to build a franchise around, but who is going to win the team more games this season?
I don’t doubt that Tua is a football genius that will pick up a playbook quickly, but knowing your plays and executing against an NFL defense are two completely different things.
Fitzpatrick has been in the league for 15 years while Tua has been in the league for 14 weeks; there is A LOT Tua has to learn before he can make the kind of reads Fitzpatrick can instinctively make after 139 starts in the NFL.
Josh Rosen may not evolve into an elite, franchise-saving quarterback, but he’s not terrible either. Two years of experience and a season-worth of starts (16) under his belt gives him an instant edge over Tua. The only thing that levels Rosen with Tagovailoa is they’re both learning Chan Gailey‘s offense for the first time – and for Rosen, this would be his 4th different offense in the past 4 years.
Otherwise, Rosen already has a rapport with the coaching staff, the medical staff, all of the workers in the building, and the receivers on this roster. In other words, he’s comfortable in his surroundings while Tua is trying to get acclimated to a brand new life.
There are going to be growing pains and a learning curve – two things we admittedly need Tua to experience in order to evolve. But the question becomes, when can Miami afford to experience those “opportunities”? Certainly not if they believe they are…
The Miami Dolphins – and most importantly, Brian Flores – believe they are in a position to make a legitimate playoff run.
Scoff however much you’d like at the notion that this team, one year removed from being “the worst team in the NFL”, is on a cusp of making a playoff appearance, but don’t tell anyone in the Dolphins’ organization that you think that.
A remastered secondary, a veteran presence among the front-7, an entirely new offensive line, and real, productive running backs means the Dolphins are all-but-guaranteed to improve on their 5-11 record.
Yards & TDs Given Up Over The Past 2 Seasons
Richard Sherman 713 / 3
Byron Jones 981 / 5
Joe Haden 1,068 / 9
Tre White 1,087 / 2
Stephon Gilmore 1,117 / 5
Darius Slay 1,214 / 9
Marcus Peters 1,376 / 12
Jalen Ramsey 1,405 / 4
Marshon Lattimore 1,492 / 6
Jaire Alexander 1,649 / 8
— A Fan’s Edition (@AFansEdition) July 23, 2020
In fact, the only thing holding them back from a legitimate playoff run is the quarterback position.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has won more than 6 games as a starter just once in his career, and Rosen only has 3 wins to his name (none as a Dolphin). If the team falters, it’s because these two quarterbacks couldn’t carry a well-built football team to the playoffs.
And that’s where the disappointment of another lost season is met with hope for the future. It won’t be until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs that the team will trot Tua Tagovailoa out onto the field.
Waiting until so late in the season checks off every single box you need. It gives him time to:
- Learn his way around the NFL
- Understand the playbook better
- Observe the game from the sideline
- Gain chemistry with his receivers
Oh, and it also helps ensure that his hip is healthy, because…
I’m Sure He’s Healthy…
Being stuck inside during an international pandemic may have made it seem like a lifetime ago, but it’s only been three short months since we all clamored to a 14 minute video of Tua Tagovailoa throwing scripted passes; our eyes inexplicably glued to a man’s hips, unscientifically judging whether or not he was healthy. Try explaining that one to your significant other.
While we are all thrilled with recent medical reports and first-hand accounts from the quarterback himself, it would be downright idiotic to mess around with a hip injury.
The only reason Tua Tagovailoa was available at the 5th-overall pick was because of the uncertainty surrounding his hip, those concerns don’t suddenly disappear just because he’s on your roster and we’re excited to see our prized possession play.
Let his hip heal and let him practice against a secondary that includes Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Bobby McCain, Brandon Jones, Noah Igbinoghene, and Eric Rowe. He’s going to learn just how quickly throwing lanes close and how tight they are to begin with.
Don’t convince yourself that Tua has to start games this rookie season to be the elite quarterback he’s projected to be. Patrick Mahomes started one game his rookie year. Aaron Rodgers didn’t start until his forth season in the NFL. If all of the hype is real, then his career will be just fine.
The plan isn’t to count moral victories, but to win football games – and Tua Tagovailoa gives the Miami Dolphins the best chance to do that for the foreseeable future. But for now, Ryan Fitzpatrick is your starting quarterback, and until Josh Rosen relinquishes the job as backup, it won’t be Tua’s until 2021. Mission Accomplished.
Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen
After a breakout 2019 campaign, it looks like Mike Gesicki will have some competition.
According to Pro Football Talk, the Miami Dolphins have traded a 2021 6th-round pick to the Chicago Bears for tight end Adam Shaheen.
Bears are trading TE Adam Shaheen to the Dolphins for a conditional 2021 sixth-round draft pick, per source with knowledge of the transaction.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 25, 2020
A former 2nd-round pick (2017) out of Ashland University (Division II), Shaheen excelled during the combine, which led to an increase in his draft stock. The Bears jumped at the opportunity of molding a raw prospect, and selected Shaheen with the 45th pick in the draft. He was the 5th tight end taken in the draft that year, well above where he was originally projected when he declared for the NFL.
Though the Bears were optimistic, it seems Shaheen hasn’t lived up to his draft status. After three seasons, Shaheen has 26 receptions for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns. His playtime has diminished from 239 offensive snaps in 2017, to 160 in 2018 and 174 in 2019; with injuries playing a part the past two seasons. For comparisons sake, Durham Smythe had 482 offensive snaps last season alone (Shaheen has 573 for his career).
Shaheen became expendable after the Bears drafted Cole Kmet in the 2nd-round of the 2020 draft and signed Jimmy Graham to a 2-year contract earlier this offseason. With 8 tight ends on the Chicago Bears roster, you know something had to give. And from the perspective of a Bears’ fan, receiving any compensation for a likely roster cut is rewarding enough.
Trading a 6th-round pick means Shaheen is a favorite to win one of the backup tight end spots, should the Dolphins keep 3 on their roster.
It’s unlikely that Shaheen is a possible replacement for Smythe, as Shaheen is meant to be a receiving threat more than an in-line blocker, but there is so much untapped potential with Shaheen that it’s hard to guess what the Dolphins will receive from him.
We assume Mike Gesicki will continue to grow, but behind him, the cupboard is pretty barren. Shaheen adds much-needed depth to a tight end room that currently includes Smythe, Michael Roberts, Chris Myarick and undrafted rookie Bryce Sterk.
These Adam Shaheen receptions are all from the same drive. Wouldn’t be a surprise to see him more comfortable in year two coming from Ashland.
— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 12, 2018
- Dolphins Waive TE Michael Roberts July 27, 2020
- In A Perfect World, Tua Tagovailoa Doesn’t Start a Single Game July 27, 2020
- Miami Dolphins Trade for Tight End Adam Shaheen July 25, 2020
- Miami Dolphins’ Jones and Howard land in top 10 CB rankings June 24, 2020
- Are the Dolphins Done Reshaping the Roster for 2020? May 19, 2020