One of the stated reasons Josh Rosen struggled with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018 was because that offensive line was, how to be kind here, putrid.
It didn’t start out that way.
The Cardinals had what promised to be a fair offensive line when training camp opened. And then ...
Center A.Q. Shipley tore an ACL in training camp.
Right guard Justin Pugh tore an ACL in November.
Right tackle Andre Smith was released in November -- and not because he was playing well.
Left guard Mike Iupati injured an MCL on Dec. 3 and missed the remainder.
And then there were none when left tackle D.J. Humphries re-injured a knee on Dec. 5 and missed the remainder of the season.
So the Cardinals allowed 52 sacks last season -- tied for fifth most in the NFL. No wonder the quarterbacks, including Rosen, struggled.
You know what other team gave up 52 sacks last season?
Yeah, the Miami Dolphins.
And the left tackle played all year. And the right tackle played all year. And the right guard played all year.
So we have a situation here because one of the reasons the Dolphins (and fans) believe Rosen is going to be markedly improved this season is because he won’t have to play behind Arizona’s makeshift line that allowed 52 sacks.
Except he’d be playing behind Miami’s line, which right now is arguably worse than the one that allowed 52 sacks.
Miami’s current offensive looks like this:
Left tackle Laremy Tunsil is outstanding. No issue there. But he was there last year, too. So no upgrade.
Right guard Jesse Davis is solid. He wasn’t great last year but he wasn’t the reason the offense struggled. He, too, was a starter for all 16 games. So no upgrade.
Center Daniel Kilgore, who was traded from San Francisco to Miami last offseason, is back healthy and starting. So that’s an upgrade.
The problem is the right tackle and left guard positions. The Dolphins have serious question marks there.
Right tackle Ja’Wuan James moved on to Denver in free agency and the Dolphins have not replaced him. They inserted Zach Sterup into the role and we’ll see what we see. But right now that is clearly a downgrade.
Sterup has started two NFL games in his 12 career games -- one in 2017 and another last year -- and both of those came at left tackle. So he’s learning to play on the other side now.
The team drafted Isaiah Prince out of Ohio State on Saturday but, make no mistake, this cannot be expected to solve the issue immediately. Prince is a sixth-round pick who will need time to learn and develop. To expect him to be a starter is wishful thinking.
(Yes, everyone is wishing, but to expect it is folly).
Last year the Dolphins used three different players at left guard and Ted Larsen, who started 13 games, was not good.
But this offseason the Dolphins have been working Chris Reed with the starters. Reed comes from the Jacksonville Jaguars where he was primarily a backup. He started one game last season and eight over his four-year career.
The team also drafted Michael Deiter in the third round and there’s great hope he’s going to develop quickly and be the starter. To believe that can happen is much more realistic than the hope for Prince.
But even this is not certainty. We’ll call the left guard spot even from a year ago -- at least for now.
So to suggest confidently that Miami’s line now is better than it was at the end of last year is a stretch. That right tackle spot is a serious, serious hole.
So how is Rosen going to avoid a repeat experience where he’s got to worry as much about getting hit as finding a receiver and completing a pass?
A couple of options:
The Miami offense under new offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea is going to attempt to mitigate some of Miami’s current offensive line flaws with a philosophy of getting rid of the football quickly.
Not so much last year but the previous several years, the New England Patriots got the ball out quickly so as to not allow quarterback Tom Brady to be hit very often.
Expect that to show up in Miami. Not the Brady at quarterback part, the other part.
The Dolphins will utilize quick screens of practically every sort. They’ll be throwing plenty of slants and other passes inside the hash marks. They will be trying to give their quarterbacks a chance.
This I know.
Now for the unknown: Are the Dolphins going to try to attend to the glowing offensive line shortcoming at right tackle in what is left of free agency and perhaps with June 1 cuts, assuming a lineman comes available?
Miami has more than enough salary cap space to make a move. The Dolphins had $37.8 million in cap space on Monday, according to the NFL Players Association.
And there are candidates out there:
Jordan Mills is 28 and available after his time in Buffalo came to an end. He has been linked to the Houston Texans, who hosted him on a free agency visit in March. Mills is said to want a sizable contract rather than a bargain deal.
Obviously no team has given him that big deal. Perhaps he’s ready for something more affordable. I’d say he’s the best right tackle on the market right now.
I was going to include Donald Penn, Jermey Parnell and Jared Veldheer on this list and decided against it. Veldheer is 32-years-old and declining. Penn is 36 years old and not good. And Parnell will be 33 years old when camp opens, he’s declining, and he missed three games last year with injuries.
Pretty sure Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said the team wasn’t signing those kind of players anymore.
Mike Remmers is available. He was released from the Vikings and he’s 30 years old. He also recently had back surgery, but that is not supposed to be serious. He’s been linked to the New York Giants. This wouldn’t be the best answer but it feels like a possible answer.
T.J. Clemmings, who like Penn and Veldheer has a Raiders’ link to Dolphins personnel consultant Reggie McKenzie, is available. And for good reason. He’s not been all that good and he suffered a knee injury last October, which ended his season.
It was the second consecutive season the journeyman backup, 27, failed to finish the season because of an injury.
Garry Gilliam, 28, signed a contract extension with San Francisco in 2018. In February of 2019 he was cut. He had a knee injury in 2017 and played only 84 snaps last season because, well, he wasn’t good enough to factor.
Sam Young is available. Hey, um, I added the name just in case.
The Dolphins face a really fascinating situation with their troubling right tackle situation.
No one they sign, outside of Mills, feels like a legitimate answer at the position. (Not certain he’s awesome, either, by the way.)
But Miami needs a good answer to give Rosen a fair chance so the team can get an honest evaluation on him. Otherwise someone will be sitting around next year saying Rosen can still be good behind a good offensive line -- which is known as the Ryan Tannehill cycle of events.
So pay Mills.
Except this team doesn’t want to spend money on afterthought players. So maybe Sterup and Prince are the answer. Except everyone knows they’re really not -- which would make sense if they were tanking.
But the team insists it isn’t tanking.
So what to do?
We’ll soon see.