PHOENIX -- The 2016 Miami Dolphins were something of a surprise.
We knew that when an organization that hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2008 and started last season with a 1-4 record, won nine of 10 games and made the playoffs.
But now -- months after 2016’s final game was played -- the opinion of the 2016 Miami Dolphins by some NFL movers and shakers is coming into focus.
With general managers, personnel executive, coaches and owners gathered in Arizona for the NFL annual meeting, a cursory survey of some of these folks shows exactly how surprised the rest of the NFL was by last year’s Dolphins.
“The work done down there was amazing because they went on that win streak and it seemed they actually believed in themselves,” one NFL general manager said. “That was a great job because the results spoke for themselves. But if we’re being honest that was not a team that anyone feared based on their talent.”
The common theme among these people who spoke on condition of anonymity is that the Dolphins were basically a flawed team that somehow convinced themselves they were winners. These NFL people gave the credit for that primarily to the coaching staff.
“They did it with smoke and mirrors,” one club executive said. “Good for them. But if they think that’s the formula for extended success, that won’t work, I can tell you that.”
For the record, the Dolphins have been open about the idea that they have much improvement this offseason. No one within the organization has taken a victory lap since the 2016 season ended. Club executive vice president Mike Tannenbaum said after the season that the team had many areas that it wanted to improve and no one in the organization was satisfied with what had already been accomplished.
That’s good because two coaches, discussing the 2016 Dolphins defense, didn’t seem like they were big fans.
“They couldn’t stop the run because they had small [defensive] ends, their linebacker corps was injured, [middle linebacker] Kiko [Alonso] was playing with one arm at the end of the year, and the secondary without Reshad Jones had trouble tackling,” one said.
The secondary was of particular interest to another coach:
“The corners couldn’t tackle in space,” he said. “They had trouble with quick passes in space. Tony Lippett is alright if he’s your No. 3 corner but he’s not a No. 2. Xavien Howard should be better if he gets an entire training camp but they’ll have to see about that.”
Not surprisingly, the Dolphins have tried to address their defense this offseason.
Aside from re-signing Andre Branch and extending Cameron Wake -- the “small” defensive ends -- the Dolphins traded for Williams Hayes, who is considered more a run-stopping specialist and is 280 pounds, may play a lot of early downs. Wake and Branch are both in the 260-pound range.
The club added Lawrence Timmons, who has been a tough and durable player at inside linebacker for Pittsburgh. He adds size, playoff experience and attitude to the defense.
The team is hoping Jones returning from a shoulder injury that made him miss all but six games, will improve the tackling in the secondary.
And the looming draft will be all about the defense.
The Dolphins want to add a defensive end, perhaps a defensive tackle, perhaps a linebacker, and coach Adam Gase has said the club is always looking for cornerbacks.
That doesn’t even account for the idea that free agency is not over and the Dolphins still might add another linebacker and defensive tackle.
If a majority of those things happen, perhaps the Dolphins won’t have to win with “smoke and mirrors” in 2017 as some believe they did last season.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero