NFL 2014 Preview: Miami Dolphins

Mike Wallace (J Pat Carter/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Miami Dolphins.

Last year’s record: 8-8

Coach: Joe Philbin

2014 is about… Putting the bullying scandal behind them. After being the most active team in free agency last spring, heaps of expectations were piled on the Dolphins heading into the 2013 season. Then the team was rocked by the bullying scandal that centred on Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito and things seemed to collapse as the Dolphins played with wild inconsistency. With both of those players gone—along with two other starting linemen from last season—2014 will be about bringing the focus back to football. Philbin’s job depends on it.

Core players: Ryan Tannehill (QB), Mike Wallace (WR), Branden Albert (OT), Cameron Wake (DE)

But they lost… The majority of last year’s starting offensive line. Every starter from last season is gone, save for centre Mike Pouncey, who isn’t expected back until at least late October. While transitioning into 2014 with an entirely new o-line may be a challenge, it had to happen. To say that group was dysfunctional would be the understatement of the year. Paul Soliai (DT), who left in free agency to join the Falcons, is probably the biggest loss for the Dolphins. Soliai was a monster in the middle of the defence and will be missed against the run. Nolan Carroll (CB), gone to the City of Brotherly Love, is also a player Miami should’ve tried to keep as projected replacement Cortland Finnegan was horrendous last season. Carroll signed with the Eagles on the cheap.

Yeah, but they got… Branden Albert (OT), who filled the Dolphins’ biggest need at left tackle. Albert, a solid yet oft-injured lineman, got big money to make the move to South Beach and will be banked on to make it count—the Dolphins gave up eight more sacks (58) than any other team in 2013. The Fins got Knowshon Moreno (RB) for a good price to help upgrade the 26th-ranked ground game in the league. Miami scored a measly eight running touchdowns last season. Earl Mitchell (DT) will help ease the pain of losing Soliai while Louis Delmas (S) will bring experience and much-needed depth at the safety postion. As for Cortland Finnegan (CB), well… see above.

Growing from within: The Dolphins need a couple of disappointing first-rounders to step it up in 2014. Ryan Tannehill (QB) has shown flashes in two seasons, but for the most part has been just OK with consistency being the driving force behind his mediocre play. Playing in front of the worst offensive line in football certainly didn’t help. Tannehill has to improve for the Dolphins to take the next step. Jarvis Landry (WR), chosen in the second round of May’s draft, could very well help Tannehill over the hump. The LSU product has impressed in camp and pre-season, and there’s already some rookie of the year chatter. Dion Jordan (DE), the third-overall pick in 2013, is on the verge of the “bust” label. Massively hyped coming out of Oregon, Jordan dealt with a shoulder injury and was mostly non-existent last season. Now starting the year with a four-game suspension, Jordan must return ready to prove that trading up to draft him wasn’t a massive gaffe. Ja’Waun James (OT) was drafted by the Dolphins in the first round to help rebuild the offensive line and has shown some promise early on in his NFL career.

Why this team? Because on paper it looks like the Dolphins may finally be on the ups. No team has spent more on big-name free agents than Miami over the last two seasons, and a strategy like that has got to pay off sooner rather than later… right? In all seriousness, Dolphins’ ownership seems hell-bent on making this team relevant again and there are some promising pieces trickled throughout the roster. You might have to be patient though.

Why not? Because after the debacle that was the 2013 Miami Dolphins, a major culture change is needed in South Beach and it may take a while. Joe Philbin lost the room last season and that loss of control made national headlines. It also led to a poor product on the field: The Dolphins needed just one win over the final two weeks of the season to make the playoffs but couldn’t muster a touchdown against the Bills or Jets in their last two games. Finally, throwing around a load of cash to scoop up all the top free agents isn’t the best way to create a coherent team. It’s more likely to result in a bunch of egomaniacs all looking for their share of the glory. Remember that culture change thing I mentioned?

Perfect for fans of… The New York Islanders. Long gone are the days of glory for both of these once heralded franchises. In its place: dysfunctional ruling throughout the ranks and oversized contract after oversized contract weighing them down. Fans are left wondering what happened. There appears to be a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel, however, as both teams may be on the verge of getting back what’s been lost.

How much hope? 5/10. With the Jets and Bills to compete with in the division, there’s always a chance Miami can rack up a pile of wins in the AFC East and squeak into the playoffs. But as of right now, this squad has the feel of a team rebuilding rather than one ready to contend.

Will you be mocked for front-running? The only way I see you getting mocked for jumping on the Dolphins wagon is if you bring up the 1972 Dolphins. You probably weren’t even born, so just don’t go there.

A Meme To Remember: With 32 NFL starts in two seasons with the Dolphins, Ryan Tannehill already has more starts than 16 of the 17 quarterbacks to start for Miami between his tenure and Dan Marino’s retirement. Yikes.

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