Monday, December 31, 2012

Miami Dolphins end-of-season news and notes

The Miami Dolphins' 2012 season is officially in the books, and amazingly the team remained in playoff contention heading into Week 16 despite finishing with a record of 7-9 for their fourth consecutive losing season.

It certainly wasn't always pretty and the team's lack of talent at key positions—namely wide receiver and defensive end—combined with a rookie quarterback ended up dooming the Dolphins to their sixth losing season in the last seven years.

While all fans whose teams don't earn a trip to the postseason tend to focus on the offseason, the stakes for the Dolphins probably could not be higher than they are in 2013. Widely-disliked general manager Jeff Ireland appears to be safe and heads into the offseason with over $40 million in cap space and a handful of high draft picks, making this a make-or-break offseason for the franchise's future.

On Wednesday, I'll look at the Dolphins' upcoming free agents in detail. Until then, here are some other items of note as the team's offseason begins...

Personnel changes coming?

Unlike the 2012 offseason when the team was searching for a head coach and subsequently a large portion of new assistants, the Dolphins' coaching staff seems unlikely to undergo major changes in 2013. Joe Philbin's job is safe and I don't expect him to part ways with many members of his staff, is any at all.

I don't see either offensive coordinator Mike Sherman or defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle generating interest in head coaching searches, while the Dolphins have a fairly young and inexperienced position coaching staff that probably won't garner NFL coordinator interest either.

Exceptions to this could be defensive line coach Kacy Rodgers and linebackers coach George Edwards. Rodgers has consistently gotten great production out of his players in Miami and Dallas, while Edwards has previously been a defensive coordinator with the Redskins and Bills.

Perhaps the best bet on the coaching staff to depart (and this is purely based on past trends) is assistant offensive line coach Chris Mosley. While perusing bios the other day, I noticed that Mosley has never had a coaching stint last more than one season.  In nine years as a football coach at the pro and college levels, Mosley has been with eight different franchises/programs and has never worked under the same title for the same team in back-to-back years.

I'm curious (and a bit worried) about whether or not Brian Gaine will be departing Miami in the near future. Gaine was promoted to assistant general manager in the offseason after 13 seasons in the NFL. He is highly-regarded in NFL ranks and interviewed for the Rams' vacant general manager job in 2012 that ultimately went to Les Snead.

It appears general manager Jeff Ireland is indeed safe for another year, if Monday's reports are to be believed. This is obviously concerning to some given the bevvy of cap room and draft picks he will have at his disposal, but I guess we'll just have to hope for the best.

2013 NFL Draft order updated

The draft order of April's first round has been locked in for non-playoff teams, and the Dolphins have landed the No. 12 pick. Below is the full order of the draft's first 20 picks:
  1. Kansas City
  2. Jacksonville
  3. Oakland
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Detroit
  6. Cleveland
  7. Arizona
  8. Buffalo
  9. NY Jets
  10. Tennessee
  11. San Diego
  12. Miami
  13. Tampa Bay
  14. Carolina
  15. New Orleans
  16. St. Louis
  17. Pittsburgh
  18. Dallas
  19. NY Giants
  20. Chicago
At this pick, the Dolphins will have plenty of options in either drafting a player, trading up using their two second-round and two third-round picks, or trading down to stockpile even more picks. (We all know they have plenty of needs to fill.) The loss to the Patriots actually moved this pick up from No. 15 to No. 12, if you're looking for a silver lining to the 28-0 blowout.

Assuming they to stand pat at No. 12, one has to assume they'll focus on a few key areas like wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback. A playmaking receiver is a huge need for the Dolphins, making Cal's Keenan Allen and Tennessee's Justin Turner potential targets. You can also bet the team will look heavily at pass rushers like Georgia's Jarvis Jones, FSU's Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah and LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery.

2013 opponents finalized

Also finalized with the conclusion of their season is the Dolphins' full slate of opponents in 2013. As a refresher, here's how the 16-game scheduling formula breaks down:

  • 6 games inside the division (3 home, 3 away)
  • 4 games against another AFC division (2 home, 2 away)
  • 4 games against an NFC division (2 home, 2 away)
  • 2 games against the same-finishing teams from the remains two AFC divisions (1 home, 1 away)
As always, the Dolphins will have three home games against AFC East rivals the Bills, Jets and Patriots. They'll also have three more games against those teams on the road. That gives you six games.

The Dolphins will face the AFC North this season, hosting the Bengals and Ravens in Miami while playing road games against the Browns and Steelers. They'll also match up against the NFC South, playing at home against the Falcons and Panthers and on the road in New Orleans and Tampa Bay. That brings the total games to 14.

Finally, the Dolphins' second-place finish in 2012 means will play games against the second-place teams from the AFC South and AFC West. That means another matchup with Andrew Luck and the Colts in Indianapolis and a game against the Chargers in Miami. Had the Dolphins lost and the Jets won in Week 17, Miami would have actually fallen to third place and these opponents would have changed to the Titans and Raiders.

Overall, the Dolphins' 2013 opponents had a combined .524 winning percentage in 2012. The schedule will feature six games against 2012 playoff teams, which doesn't include clashes with formidable opponents like the Steelers and Saints.

Practice squad contracts set to expire

The end of the Dolphins' season also means that the contracts of their eight practice squad players will expire this week, making them all free agents.

A large majority of practice squad players in the NFL sign future contracts with their same teams in the offseason. Such was the case for six of the Dolphins' eight practice squad players after the 2011 season, and two of those players—linebacker Jonathan Freeny and safety Anderson Russell—ended up seeing regular season game action for the Dolphins in 2012.

Here's a list of the Dolphins' eight practice squad players to conclude the 2012 season, many of whom will likely return for training camp in Miami in 2013:
  • OT Jeff Adams — An All-American left tackle from Columbia, Adams spent the last six weeks of the season on the practice squad. He could have a future as a reserve tackle.
  • DT Chas Alecxih — Undrafted out of Pitt in 2012, Alecxih went to camp with the Dolphins and began the regular season as a free agent before joining the practice squad on Sept. 13. He's a likable guy but he seems like more of a camp body than anything else.
  • OG Chandler Burden — A former college defensive lineman that converted to tackle at Kentucky, Burden began camp with the Titans before joining the Dolphins in August. He spent the entire season on the practice squad and I expect him to push for a backup spot in 2013 (see below).
  • WR Jeff Fuller — Once regarded as a very draftable prospect, Fuller went undrafted in 2012 due to drop problems in college. He has size and experience with the Dolphins' offensive coordinator and quarterback at Texas A&M, but it's quite telling he didn't earn a promotion in 2012 given how weak the team was at receiver. Still, I expect him back to  compete in 2013.
  • OT Andrew McDonald — McDonald seemed like an unlikely bet to even make the practice squad, as he wasn't signed with the team's initial batch of rookie free agents and didn't sign util mid-May. Nevertheless, he's worked as a backup right tackle all 17 weeks in practice and seems likely to return.
  • CB De'Andre Presley — Presley went to camp with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent from Appalachian State, converting to a full-time cornerback after also playing quarterback and receiver in college. The lone new face on the Dolphins' initial practice squad, he surprisingly earned a promotion to the practice squad in October and played in four games before being waived and re-added to the practice squad on Nov. 6. Presley is a good athlete with a bit of upside, so expect him in camp if another team doesn't sign him.
  • CB Dion Turner — Turner went undrafted out of Southern Utah in 2012 and went to camp with the Packers. He failed to make an NFL practice squad until joining the Dolphins' in the last month of the season.
  • WR Brian Tyms — Tyms was signed to the Dolphns' practice squad after Week 1, having spent training camp with the 49ers. He played just one year of high school football and wasn't overly-productive at Florida A&M, but he has raw tools and could come back in 2013.
Of those players, I would assume most, if not all, will re-sign with the Dolphins shortly after their contracts expire. Turner may be the most unlikely, since he was the last addition to the practice squad on Dec. 19 and didn't have nearly as much time to impress the staff as the others.

The best bet, in my view, is guard Chandler Burden, who saw a significant raise from the practice squad minimum salary ($96,900) to just under $273,000 during the season to keep him from being poached by another franchise. Burden was a late camp addition on Aug. 1 but the team clearly wants to keep him around.