How Dolphins can be a real contender in Year 2 under Mike McDaniel

The Miami Dolphins should feel satisfied with their 2022 season, even with the late season slump. Coach Mike McDaniel had growing pains. But he also faced difficulties at quarterback, amid injuries to Tua Tagovailoa, Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson. It looked like a miracle that the Dolphins could stay within three points of the Buffalo Bills in their postseason matchup with Thompson at quarterback.

Overall, Miami got off to a promising start under McDaniel.

But it’s one thing to start strong and finish 9-8 with a one-and-done postseason appearance. Making a legitimate Super Bowl run is another. My sense is that the expectations for McDaniel, and the expectations around his team, will be higher in 2023.

The Dolphins need to be more consistent, which would make them a contender. They also need to stay healthy at quarterback. So here’s what they’re looking at in 2023 when the new league year begins and free agency opens.

How good is the Dolphins salary cap situation?

Not only are the Dolphins over the cap by $15.3 million in 2023, but they only have $1 million to spend in 2024. So they are likely to go over the cap in 2024 as they build their team this year. No salary gymnastics ever stops. GM Chris Grier will have to juggle contracts. But considering they’re just over $15.3 million, they actually have some room to make some deals, especially if you look at the players who could be on the way.

After seeing cornerback Byron Jones’ frustration with the team over his injury recovery, it’s fair to wonder if Miami could cut him after the June 1 deadline to free up $13.6 million in headspace I also wonder if receiver Cedrick Wilson might be open to a trade. Miami didn’t get the most out of him in their offense last year despite his three-year, $18.3 million deal.

The point is that the dolphins are tight against the cap. But maybe they’ll cut some of their losses from recent free agency.

Should the Dolphins pick up Tua Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option?

Should the Dolphins pick up Tua Tagovailoa's fifth-year option?

The Dolphins have yet to pick up Tagovailoa’s fifth-year option, leaving his future with the team in question. Joy Taylor discusses how Miami should handle the Tua situation.

Who are Miami’s top pending free agents?

Linebacker Elandon Roberts: The Dolphins have 31 pending free agents. That’s an incredibly high number. Most of these players were part-timers, so they will have to wonder which players they can afford to keep. Roberts was one of the main contributors on those part-time basis, with 59% of the team’s defensive snaps through the 17 games. In that time, he had a career-high 107 tackles. He also had career highs in tackles for loss (10) and QB hits (6). I suspect he is the type of player who will be happy to stay at the right price.

Corner Nik Needham: Needham has been the team’s starting cornerback when healthy. He dealt with an ankle injury, which promoted Kader Kohou to the role. But Miami could use Needham in 2023, especially given the uncertainty surrounding Jones. If the Dolphins keep Needham, they only need one CB2 to solidify that position group.

EDGE Andrew Van Ginkel: He is a part-time player who appears to have the potential to be a high-impact player. It’s just that, with the arrival of Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb, the Dolphins don’t seem to have any way to put Van Ginkel on the field. Maybe Miami can keep him. But I wonder if another team could sign him to a surprisingly large deal and elevate him to a more full-time role.

EDGE Melvin Ingram: Ingram’s reputation as a former first-round pick and double-digit sacker has made him a player worth monitoring in the offseason. But he hasn’t posted double-digit catches since 2017, and had just six with the Dolphins in 2022. If he’s happy in Miami, maybe the team can work something out. But as with Van Ginkel, the Dolphins have options off the edge. Perhaps this will be a situation where there is a mutual parting of ways.

TE Mike Gesicki: Speaking of a mutual parting of ways, Gesicki has looked like a player on the verge of walking away from training camp when reports surfaced that he didn’t fit schematically with what McDaniel was doing. Gesicki continued to emerge on the trade market, so it’s easy to imagine the Dolphins letting him go now. It’s a tight end that gets: Miami wants a better blocker at TE1.

RB Jeff Wilson: After a midseason trade from San Francisco, Wilson was clearly the best option the Dolphins put in the RB1 role, ahead of Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert. Wilson was a big contributor late in the year, with a few solid performances. But the truth is that every Dolphins running back struggled to find room behind that offensive line. Wilson told FOX5 in Miami on Monday that he hopes to reach an agreement soon.

Who should the Dolphins target in free agency?

CB Emmanuel Moseley: How much will the Dolphins decide to spend? They are surely looking for free agent options at cornerback, but Moseley will likely cost $16 million per year, per Spotrac. The 26-year-old was a stud for the 49ers in 2022. He’s a classic high-risk, high-reward signing.

CB Marcus Peters: Being 30 years old, Peters is projected to make around $10 million per year, per Spotrac. Maybe that’s nicer for Miami. The Dolphins could sign Peters, or a similarly high-performing veteran cornerback, to a short-term deal. (If they want to go really cheap, they could target a veteran like CB Kyle Fuller.) And then they should probably continue to draft high at the position, even with the recent removal of Noah Igbinoghene.

Safety Jordan Poyer: The Bills Pro Bowler has talked about going to a team that doesn’t have a state income tax. Florida counts there. And Poyer would look absolutely excellent next to fellow Pro Bowler Jevon Holland. Perhaps with Poyer and Holland in the backfield, the Dolphins won’t have to worry as much about who plays cornerback alongside Xavien Howard and potentially Needham.

What trade targets might the Dolphins consider?

QB Aaron Rodgers: I mean…why not, right? Maybe that would mean the Dolphins could give Tua a year to recover from the bruises he suffered in 2022. Maybe that would mean the end of the line for Miami and Tua. Either way, the Dolphins would be built to win a championship with Rodgers. It’s not hard to envision them as a Super Bowl favorite if they acquire him.

Why the Dolphins are a match for Rodgers

Why the Dolphins are a match for Rodgers

After Aaron Rodgers made it clear last month that he didn’t want to be traded to the 49ers, Colin Cowherd made a case for the Dolphins.

CB Jalen Ramsey: If the Dolphins and Byron Jones are destined for a breakout, Ramsey could be an option. He has many of the same qualities as Jones – Ramsey is better. The only problem? He might want a big extension after joining the team. It’s one thing to add his big contract. Another thing is to give it a raise.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as an AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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