With the Miami Dolphins' season drawing to a close with a 19-17 victory over the rival New York Jets, it is time to look ahead to next season. This season was a disappointment for many fans who expected the Dolphins to be competitive, and the players surely expected more from themselves. If the team played as well during the first half of the season as the second half, we could be looking ahead to playing in Houston in the AFC Wildcard Playoff round. Instead, we're going to look at resolutions- promises the Dolphins should keep to themselves as they build for next year.
Resolution Number 1: Draft a franchise quarterback
The key word in this resolution is draft. There are a few quarterbacks who will be free agents after the season (Kyle Orton, Alex Smith, and Matt Flynn), but none of them are a sure upgrade over incumbent QB Matt Moore (Flynn's Week 17 480 yard, 6 touchdown "Pay Me Kevin Kolb Money" performance aside). The Dolphins need to upgrade this position through the draft and should pay whatever price necessary to do so.
There are three quarterbacks projected to go in the first round of the draft: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Landry Jones. All three are likely to be selected early in the first round, with Luck almost a sure thing to go number one overall. All three should be selected early, because the rookie salary scale allows teams to take more chances in the draft. The financial ramifications of making a risky selection early aren't as severe as they used to be. If you'll remember, the main reason T Jake Long was selected instead of QB Matt Ryan was because Long was a safer bet for the cost. The Dolphins hold the ninth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and they need to be willing to trade future picks to move up in the draft to secure their franchise quarterback, whether it is Luck, Griffin III, or Jones. This isn't the time to discuss the relative trade value of the three quarterbacks, but the Dolphins need to do their homework on all three, because drafting a franchise quarterback is the top priority for the offseason.
Resolution Number 2: Hire the right head coach, regardless of experience
I know, I know. This resolution begs the response of, "duh." But it may not be as obvious as it seems. Owner Stephen Ross seems bent on hiring a big name coach, with Bill Cowher, Brian Billick, Jon Gruden, and Jeff Fisher all being connected to the Dolphins head coaching job at some point. Ross seems scared of hiring an unproven coach. And while there is more risk in hiring the unknown, it is not always the wrong decision. Plenty of first time head coaches have led their teams back to the playoffs or to the Super Bowl within a couple of years of taking the job (Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin, New Orleans' Sean Payton, and the Harbaugh brothers come to mind).
The Dolphins past three head coaching hires (Nick Saban, Cam Cameron, and Tony Sparano) had never been head coaches in the NFL before the Dolphins hired them and they combined to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs once. This should not deter Ross or Jeff Ireland (assuming he keeps the general manager job). Whoever hires the next head coach needs to make a list of what kind of traits it wants from that coach and hire the man that best fits the profile, regardless of previous head coaching experience.
Resolution Number 3: Acquire a pass rusher to replace Jason Taylor
LB Jason Taylor retires as perhaps the best defensive player in Miami Dolphins history and was productive until the very end: Taylor recorded seven sacks this year, second on the team to LB Cameron Wake. DL Jared Odrick showed an ability to get penetration as the season progressed, but no other player besides Wake, Odrick, and perhaps Randy Starks has the ability to get to the quarterback. LB Koa Misi seemed to regress this year and the Dolphins will have to find a way to replace the pressure that Taylor brought.
Resolution Number 4: Get a playmaking tight end
I never thought TE Anthony Fasano was a bad player. He makes some pretty nice catches through the course of the season and does well in the blocking game. The problem is, he possesses a limited skill set. And while he performs well within his abilities, those abilities are not enough. A playmaking tight end adds a whole different dimension to an offense (ask the New Orleans Saints if they think Jimmy Graham brings something to the table that Jeremy Shockey didn't).
In 2010, the Dolphins lacked an explosive player out of the backfield, and their offense was severely hindered because of it. So, they went out and got RB Reggie Bush, who has been nothing short of excellent during the second half of the year. His skills forced defenses to account for him at all times, and his presence had a positive domino effect on the entire offense. Adding a playmaking tight end will open up the sidelines for WRs Brandon Marshall and Brian Hartline and will add another player defenses will need to account for while game planning.
Resolution Number 5: Add a right tackle
This shouldn't even need much explanation. RT Marc Colombo was beyond disappointing this year in pass protection and should not be back next year. The decision to add him during preseason was questionable since ProFootballFocus.com rated him 76th out of 78 offensive tackles during the 2010 season. He was a revolving door once more in 2011. The truth is, I grappled with the fifth resolution to be adding depth to the offensive line, but if part of the starting unit needs to be upgraded, that takes precedent.
Are these the only keys for the Dolphins going into next year?
Absolutely not. The Dolphins also need some offensive line depth with G Vernon Carey also a free agent and will need to shore up their defensive line with DE Kendall Langford and NT Paul Soliai becoming free agents. Carey has shown a willingness to be financially flexible in order to stay in Miami, but Soliai will be looking to get paid big money, something the Dolphins may not be willing to do. But if the Dolphins can accomplish all of their resolutions, they will certainly be in contention for a playoff spot next season.