Asked directly on Monday if this 4-7 Dolphins team needs a bunch of new players this offseason barring a turnaround during the final five weeks, coach Adam Gase gave a predictable answer:
“No,” Gase said. “I like the guys we have on the roster right now. There’s a lot of things we can do better. These guys have done a good job sticking together through adversity.”
In truth, the Dolphins — barring a dramatic turn of events — will enter this offseason with at least a half dozen major personnel needs.
Miami believed it had fixed its defense last spring with the drafting of three defensive linemen, a middle linebacker and a cornerback; the signing of safety T.J. McDonald, linebacker Lawrence Timmons and defensive end William Hayes; and new contracts for linebacker Kiko Alonso, safety Reshad Jones and defensive end Andre Branch.
But everything on defense will be evaluated on a team that is 30th in the league in points allowed and is 26th in yards per play. Same for the offense, which is 30th in points and yards.
A quick look at each position and what must be sorted out in the final five weeks:
▪ Quarterback: The Dolphins plan for Ryan Tannehill to be their 2018 starter — he’s due $17.5 million next season — and are likely to try to resign Matt Moore as his backup.
▪ Receiver: Though nothing is certain with impending free agent Jarvis Landry, coach Adam Gase said at the trade deadline he values Landry and likes the receiver room. And Landry’s value to Miami is even higher because of DeVante Parker’s inability to grow into the No. 1 receiver role. But another cheap veteran could be added if the team isn’t satisfied with Leonte Carroo as its fourth receiver.
▪ Running back: This wasn’t a need last spring but is now. The Dolphins will assuredly add a running back, likely through the draft. They likely will try to re-sign Damien Williams, who’s an impending free agent. They like Kenyan Drake, but Gase made clear the fumbles must be eliminated.
“We need to clean some things up with ball security,” Gase said of Drake. “I look at the fumble [Sunday], and it was completely avoidable and he knows it. The whole reason we drafted him is he came from a program where a lot of us in our building know who he was coached by [Alabama’s Nick Saban] and know the kind of work ethic he had and we liked it. We felt it would fit our culture. We just have to keep pushing him to get better.”
▪ Tight end: At least one new player likely will be added, if not two. Julius Thomas’ cap hit goes from $6.6 million to nothing if he’s cut, and Anthony Fasano is an impending free agent.
▪ Offensive line: Figure on at least one new starter if not two. The Dolphins can completely erase Ja’Wuan James’ $9.3 million cap hit by cutting him and giving the right tackle job to Jesse Davis, who’s due $555,000 next season.
Laremy Tunsil will be back at left tackle, and it would be very surprising if the Dolphins move on from center Mike Pouncey, though a restructuring to lessen his $9 million cap hit is possible.
Miami likely will replace right guard Jermon Bushrod (who remains sidelined with a foot injury). Ted Larsen is cheap — $1.5 million salary, $1.9 million cap hit for 2018 — and figures to get another chance at left guard.
▪ Defensive line: With Miami falling to 24th against the rush, the Dolphins might revisit the notion of making Cam Wake a pass-rush specialist, which would create a need for another starting defensive end if they do not believe rookie Charles Harris is ready for the job. Harris has 11 tackles and one sack in 247 snaps.
In run-stopping only, Pro Football Focus rates Andre Branch 87th, Wake 90th and Harris 99th among 107 qualifying defensive ends. William Hayes, who is third against the run, is an impending free agent and likely out for the year, Gase said.
The Dolphins could stick another year with their defensive tackle group of Ndamukong Suh (due $17 million next season), Jordan Phillips (due $1 million) and rookies Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor, who are each due to make $555,000.
▪ Linebacker: Miami will count on Raekwon McMillan to come back from knee surgery to be their middle linebacker, and cutting Kiko Alonso would carry a much bigger cap hit than keeping him. Timmons ($8.2 million cap hit if on the team, $2.5 million if not) stands at risk without a strong close to the season.
▪ Defensive backfield: This group could return largely intact, with Miami giving more time to its cheap young cornerback troika of Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley (neither of those two has an interception) and Bobby McCain, with Tony Lippett (four interceptions in 2016) expected back from an Achilles injury. Safety seems set with Jones and McDonald signed longterm.
Gase gave his team an endorsement on Monday, saying: “Our guys have done a good job” and “are trying to do things right” despite being outscored by 115 points and losing five in a row, with Denver visiting on Sunday.