In 2012, it was another rebuilding year for the Miami Dolphins, who finished below .500 once again. Before the start of the season, the organization hired former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin as the new head coach and architect of this franchise.
Like most new head coaches, their first move is to identity and acquire the team's next quarterback.
Philbin selected Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Round 1 -- perhaps too high for some people's liking. And even with limited experience (20 NCAA starts at QB), Tannehill won the starting job in camp and played 16 games for the Dolphins this past season. Philbin's philosophy was to allow Tannehill to learn by doing, believing he needed to experience the NFL to grow within it.
Tannehill made his rookie mistakes but showed some signs of development. He revealed flashes of strong quarterback play in spurts, managing seven wins in his rookie campaign. He also did all of this with a supbar surrounding cast.
Moving forward into 2013, this team should continue to build around Tannehill.
Biggest Need: Wide Receiver
The Dolphins biggest need in 2012 will carry over into 2013, and that is the wide receiver position. Their first season was about bringing in the franchise's next passer and getting him acclimated to the speed of the game. Philbin was very particular about the pieces that would be surrounding his QB and employed a no-tolerance policy.
This organization dropped Brandon Marshall and Chad Johnson without batting an eye. And despite the lack of dynamism at the position, the Dolphins continued to roll with Brian Hartline and company. While Hartline was given an extension by the team, the Dolphins should still look to solve this problem during the 2013 offseason, as there are plenty of good prospects in free agency and the draft.
Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Wes Welker and Dwayne Bowe are all expected to be available. Miami could also look to the draft for someone like Keenan Allen or Cordarrelle Patterson. And with draft picks and spending money, Percy Harvin is not out of the question.
Over at The Phinsider, Kevin Nogle agrees with this sentiment, suggesting that a wide receiver is the most important need:
Personally, I think it comes down to one thing - scoring points. Look at last weekend. In the Divisional round of the playoffs, teams scored 35, 31, 28, and 28 - and those were the four losig teams' scores. The NFL is an offensive league. The rules make it easier to put up points, and the Dolphins have to get back in the race to the endzone. Which brings us to the most important area to address this offseason - wide receiver.
I don't like putting that, because it seems like the easy answer. But, in the end, it's the only answer that makes sense to me. If this team could only address one position this offseason, wide receiver is the one.
Other Needs: OL, S, TE
It is well noted that the Dolphins are in a rebuilding phase. And during said period, they have washed their hands of a lot of underperforming players. This team is taking on a completely new identity, for better or for worse. This offseason will bring about another change in the landscape.
Jake Long and Anthony Fasano are two household names that might not be around in 2013. But this could be an opportunity for the Dolphins to upgrade. After sustaining injuries and enduring years of losing seasons, Long has been declining. He will seek big money elsewhere, and this will create a need on the offensive line.
The team's do-it-all tight end, Fasano, is also at the end of his contract. With the freakish all-world pass-catchers out there, the Dolphins can surely find a bigger, faster weapon for Tannehill at TE.
Moreover, the Dolphins need to upgrade their secondary. They compete in a division where Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will always be their biggest obstacle. They must get better on the backend, adding big physical corners and hawking safeties.
They need to completely remodel that part of their defense to give themselves a strategic advantage in the AFC East.
NFL Draft Outlook: Plenty of picks and favorable position
After finishing with a 7-9 record, the Dolphins are selecting just outside the top-10. Miami possesses the 12th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, and they could do a number of things. The good news is that they won't be in the market for a quarterback. The even better news is that this draft class is loaded with defensive linemen and wide receivers. If they nail their scouting reports and are aggressive in the war room, Miami is in a position to come out winners in this year's draft. They are in a position where they can select the best player available, whether it be on offense or defense.
Ideally, the Dolphins would select one of the top-ranked receivers in Allen or Patterson, but a pass-rusher or big-bodied defensive lineman would not be bad ideas either.
Salary Cap Situation: Dolphins to be big spenders in free agency
In this rebuilding era under Joe Philbin and Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins have been fine with letting guys go. In his first order of business, Philbin shipped out Brandon Marshall and Vontae Davis; arguably the team's two best players. This offseason, Miami appears content to let Jake Long and Reggie Bush seek deals elsewhere.
The fact of the matter is that the Dolphins are not paying anyone big money at this point in time. They are flush with spending money this offseason.
The Dolphins have between $82 and $84 million committed to the 2013 NFL salary cap. Assuming the cap is around $122 million, the Dolphins will have upwards of nearly $45 million in salary cap space as the team looks to improve in 2013.
There is only one team in the NFL that has more coin to spend this offseason, and that's the Cincinnati Bengals.
There are no free agents out of their reach, but that has never been the team's issue. Miami has had difficulty convincing players to come play for them because they have failed to cultivate a winning environment.
Now, they have the funds to be big players, so they need to make it count. Like Tampa Bay did this past offseason, Miami would be wise to sign a couple big-name free agents to their roster. With guys like Darrelle Revis on the trading block, and Dwayne Bowe as an unrestricted free agent, the Dolphins would be fools not to make a play.