The Miami Dolphins were the first team since the NFL merger to start a season 1-7 and finish with a winning record, and it was the first time the franchise experienced back-to-back winning seasons since Dave Wannstedt was head coach (2002 and 2003). There once was a time the Dolphins were a perennial AFC contender. Brian Flores appeared to be leading Miami on a path back to that status.
Miami made the surprising decision to fire Flores after three seasons, despite the coach going 24-18 in his final 42 games (19-14 in has last two seasons). The Dolphins are searching for another head coach -- the fourth head coaching search general manager Chris Grier will oversee -- adding another leak in the pipe they have to fix this offseason.
The Dolphins just needed to fix a few holes to make the playoffs in 2022 and compete with the Buffalo Bills for the AFC East title. After the Flores firing, the Dolphins created more problems heading into the offseason -- a sign of a franchise that doesn't seem to have a clear sense of direction.
With all the uncertainty going on in Miami, the Dolphins can still contend for a playoff berth in 2022. The franchise just has to make sure it gets the following three steps right in the coming months (although one of them was completely unnecessary prior to this week).
Hire an offensive coach with coordinator stability
Since the Dolphins thought firing Flores was a step toward contention, the next step is to hire a coach with an offensive background who can run a staff better than the one they just let go. The Dolphins always had a revolving door of coaches under Flores, including four offensive coordinators, two defensive coordinators, and four offensive line coaches in his three seasons on the job. Flores could never seem to find the right coach to lead an inconsistent offense, which likely led to his fractured relationship with ownership and general manager Chris Grier.
Since Flores is gone and Grier stays, the Dolphins have to find an offensive-minded head coach -- one that can actually develop Tua Tagovailoa and bring some continuity on that side of the ball. Miami owner Stephen Ross already said he won't be the one to poach Jim Harbaugh away from Michigan, but Harbaugh's experience with quarterbacks (he was a NFL quarterback himself) is an ideal fit.
There are other options for the Dolphins to find that offensive guru to enhance this unit. If Miami wants an experienced coach, Doug Pederson fits that profile. For first-time head coaches, Green Bay's Nathaniel Hackett, Buffalo's Brian Daboll, Dallas's Kellen Moore, and Kansas City's Eric Bieniemy would be ideal candidates to develop Tagovailoa.
There are options in Miami, so all hope is not lost after the departure of Flores.
Develop Tua Tagovailoa and stop entertaining QB trades
Perhaps the Dolphins should start committing to the quarterback they actually drafted instead of pondering how the franchise would have been different if they drafted Justin Herbert instead. Tagovailoa isn't Herbert or Joe Burrow, but he has completed 66.22% of his passes in his first two seasons (the fifth-highest mark in NFL history). While Burrow and Herbert are higher on that list, they have been able to have the offensive weapons that Tagovailoa has yet to possess outside of Jaylen Waddle and a healthy Devante Parker.
Tagovailoa had not one, but two offensive coordinators this year as a result of Flores hiring co-offensive coordinators in George Godsey and Eric Studesville. Tagovailoa completed 67.8% of his passes for 2,653 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions despite the offensive coordinator inconsistency. He's gone 13-8 as a starter in two seasons, despite having three offensive coordinators coach him. That's not a recipe for success, yet Tagovailoa was able to find some despite all the coaching changes going on around him.
If the Dolphins actually commit to Tagovailoa with their new head coach and get rid of the outside noise (Deshaun Watson), perhaps Tagovailoa can develop into the quarterback the Dolphins thought they were getting at No. 5 overall. With Flores gone, there might be no more chatter of bringing Watson in anyway.
Improve the offensive line
The Dolphins' offensive line has been the source of their offensive inconsistency. Miami was 30th in the league in rushing (92.2 yards per game) and 31st in yards per carry (3.5 yards per carry). The Dolphins had three offensive linemen allow over 45 pressures this year in Liam Eichenberg (62), Jesse Davis (57), and Austin Jackson (49) -- all ranked amongst the top 10 in most pressures allowed in the league.
The result was an inconsistent offense that finished 22nd in scoring and 25th in yards per game. While the Dolphins' offensive line wasn't good in 2021, Eichenberg was a second-round pick in 2021 and Jackson was a first-round pick in 2020. The Dolphins need to develop these guys and give them the opportunity to succeed with a stable offensive line coach. They've invested too much in Jackson and Eichenberg to give up on them this early in the game.
Signing a good veteran offensive lineman to start at tackle and moving Eichenberg to guard would solve a lot of problems as well. Terron Armstead would be the ultimate prize here, but even taking a shot on Eric Fisher (coming off an injury-plagued season) or Morgan Moses would improve this unit. The next head coach has to hire a good offensive line coach that can coach these young players, which is the biggest challenge for any team in the league.
The goal is to protect Tua Tagovailoa in Year 3. A solid offensive line is the foundation for that.