With a proactive approach in free agency and three first-round picks, the Miami Dolphins are set to be the NFL’s most improved team in 2020.
It was easy to put the Miami Dolphins on the “Tank for Tua” plan heading into the 2019 season, with a new head coach in Brian Flores and a fairly bare cupboard as some bad contracts or looming contract costs were shed. But an 0-7 start became a 5-11 finish, with back-to-back wins in Week 16 and 17 to give them the No. 5 pick in the 2020 draft. Tanking clearly was a bad word in Miami.
The Dolphins entered the new league year with the most available space under the salary cap, and they wasted no time in being aggressive. Cornerback Byron Jones (five years, $82.5 million), offensive lineman Ereck Flowers (three years, $30 million), running back Jordan Howard (two years, $10 million), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (four years, $51 million) and defensive end Shaq Lawson (three years, $30 million) headlined the contracts doled out, with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, guard/center Ted Karras and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill also added to the mix.
In addition to their own pick at No. 5, the Dolphins also have the 18th and 26th overall picks in April’s draft via trades last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. They also have two second-round picks (No. 39 and No. 56). Owning five of the first 60 picks is a nice position to be in, as a nice group of young, cheaper talent is set to join the group of veterans coming in via free agency.
Owing in part to a hip injury that clouds his evaluation, a lot of mock drafts have Miami getting former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 pick. So they might get the guy they were supposed to tank for a year ago without having to actually tank to get him.
Of course, if they want to be aggressive and go up to get Tagovailoa, the Dolphins have the extra draft capital to do it quite easily. If there are any lingering questions about his health, they can sit Tagovailoa as a rookie with Ryan Fitzpatrick or another quarterback they might bring in (Cam Newton, Jameis Winston) in place as a bridge.
With Tom Brady leaving the Patriots, the other teams in the AFC East could see an opportunity to strike this year. The Buffalo Bills are easy to tab as the new favorite in the division.
But don’t sleep on the Dolphins as a team ready to make a quick rise. Their aggression in free agency was as surprising as it was noteworthy. They have the realistic ability to add five very good players in the first two rounds of the draft or consolidate that draft capital to move up. Doubling last year’s win total suddenly feels possible, which would be a huge step in Year 2 of what was supposed to be a multi-year rebuild.