Armando Salguero

Jay Ajayi trade first step in major overhaul of Miami Dolphins offense

Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas has an uncertain future with the team beyond this season.
Dolphins tight end Julius Thomas has an uncertain future with the team beyond this season.

There’s so much we don’t know.

We don’t know whether the trade that sent Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles will help or hinder the Dolphins. You may have an opinion but you truly do not know. Neither does the media that screams the season is over. Neither do fans who buy everything Adam Gase and Mike Tannenbaum and Chris Grier do.

And neither do I.

We don’t know.

But let me share with you what we absolutely do know about Tuesday’s trade of Ajayi for a fourth-round draft pick: It signaled the beginning of what will be a significant remake of the Dolphins offense -- a process so thorough that it will last into 2018 free agency and the draft.

That is certain. We know this.

Look, this offense that the Dolphins are fielding is 32nd in the NFL in points. It is 32nd in the NFL in total yards per game. It is near the bottom in passing and further near the bottom in rushing. This offense admittedly has players who are not fully invested. This offense has players not living up to their reputation or their salary.

So, yeah, change is coming my friends.

The Ajayi trade -- love it or hate it -- has to be accepted as a grand sign of what is to come.

The Dolphins know this internally. They understand that the exercise they went through with the defense last offseason -- using five of seven draft picks to select defensive players, trading for a defensive player, signing three new defensive players in free agency and re-signing or extending the contracts of five other defensive players -- is the template for what is about to happen to the other side of the ball next offseason.

This is a certainty.

This 2017 Dolphins offense might recover. It might rally. It might surprise everyone.

But it is on its last legs.

So what changes should you expect?

This might take a while ...

The Dolphins will add offensive linemen. About time, right? The interior offensive line is problematic and begs addressing. Veteran Jermon Bushrod is on a one-year deal and he’s 33 years old. No, he’s not playing poorly. He’s not the problem. But next year the Dolphins will be looking to get younger and upgrade.

Another lineman? I’d recommend it. The Dolphins would probably be thinking backup depth at the very least.

The entire backfield will be different.

The quarterback will be Ryan Tannehill per the current plans. (Yeah, you folks who ripped him for years have had time to see what things look like without Tannehill repeatedly taking hits and getting back up and playing as if nothing happened).

Obviously the running back room needs help. Yes, the Dolphins are hoping Kenyan Drake or Damien Williams or maybe Senorise Perry will offer a spark now that Ajayi is gone. But the actual chances of that being the long-term answer are not great.

So a running back is coming. Maybe two.

Tight ends?

Absolutely. Anthony Fasano is solid. He’s been better than advertised because his pass-catching has improved from the days he was with the team before. But he’s on a one-year contract. And he’s also 33 years old. He is not the future.

Neither is Julius Thomas. He was supposed to be a big red zone threat with limited blocking ability. Well, his blocking has been better than expected but he’s posed very little if any red zone threat. Indeed, he’s frustrating because his size would suggest he could be a mismatch against corners or safeties. His speed suggests he could be a mismatch against linebackers.

He hasn’t been a mismatch against anyone so far.

And this: Thomas is scheduled to count $6.6 million on the salary cap next year. But if the team cuts him after the season, he’ll not count for even a penny. No cap charge. No dead money. Nothing.

Unless Thomas suddenly reverts to his 2013 or 2014 self -- something he hasn’t been in three seasons -- he’ll be cut.

So what do we have so far?

A couple of new offensive linemen, including at least one starter. A couple of new tight ends, including a new starter, a couple of new running backs, likely including a new starter, a different quarterback.

Wide receivers? This one is intriguing.

So the Dolphins are committed to Kenny Stills. He’s not one of the players who doesn’t know his assignments or hasn’t bought in. Indeed, Stills has tutored Leonte Carroo and Jakeem Grant on their assignments and how to be professionals and how to treat their bodies. In other words, he stays.

DeVante Parker? He is under the team’s contract control for two more years, pending the use of a fifth-year option, so it makes sense to keep him for that time. No, he still hasn’t played up to his enormous potential. But one does not find 6-3 and 212 pound receivers who run like deer just anywhere. He stays.

Jarvis Landry? Interesting. The Dolphins are not committed to keeping him. The Dolphins are not committed to moving on from him.

He has value. He’s a very good player. He’s passionate. He’s a baller.

But is he bought in? Not always.

Does he freelance? Absolutely.

Is he hard for coaches to manage sometimes? Yup.

So the course is uncertain here. It will be interesting to see if the Dolphins think the positives outweigh the negatives so much that they should pay $12-$15 million per season for Landry starting next season. I don’t know.

But this is certain:

Even if the Dolphins keep all three of their wide outs, they need to find cheaper playmakers to push the starters and possibly eventually replace them for less money. And this is typically done in the draft.

Indeed the Dolphins wanted to draft Cooper Kupp in the fourth round last spring. He went earlier to the Los Angeles Rams and Miami eventually added Isaiah Ford much later. But next draft, this team is likely going to be searching for a wide receiver or two.

That’s a lot of adding and subtracting and remaking of Miami’s offensive unit coming around the bend.

Did I mention the unit is 32nd in the NFL in points scored?

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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