Published December 31, 2012
DAVIE, Fla. – The most dramatic difference for the Miami Dolphins this offseason will be what won't change: the coach or quarterback.
The Dolphins courted a new coach in January each of the past two years and have perennially been in the market for an upgrade at QB, but both jobs are settled now.
Coach Joe Philbin and quarterback Ryan Tannehill are certain to be back for a second season with Miami. Other positions are less secure, however, with a significant roster shake-up expected in the wake of the Dolphins' fourth consecutive losing season.
A 28-0 loss Sunday at New England underscored the yawning talent gap between the Dolphins and the AFC East champions. Miami finished 7-9 and is 27-37 since 2009.
"Seven-and-nine is not good enough," Philbin said Monday. "Your goal is to compete for championships. So there should be nobody on our team satisfied with where we're at. We've got a lot of work to do."
General manager Jeff Ireland has stockpiled draft picks and created sufficient salary cap space to provide lots of flexibility this offseason. Philbin prefers to build through the draft, and 10 picks, including five in the first three rounds, will give the Dolphins plenty of chances to address their multitude of needs.
With more than $40 million in cap space, Ireland might be active in free agency, but some of that money will be used to re-sign players whose contracts expire. Among those who could become free agents are running back Reggie Bush, injury-plagued tackle Jake Long, receiver Brian Hartline, tight end Anthony Fasano, defensive tackle Randy Starks, cornerback Sean Smith and safety Chris Clemons.
"We have a good nucleus of guys, building blocks we can build on going into next year," Tannehill said. "It's just going to be a matter of taking advantage of the offseason and making the right moves. I'm excited that the guys upstairs will do a good job of bringing guys in here, and we can plug them in and grow from there."
While the Dolphins managed only one more victory than in 2011, and remain without a postseason win since 2000, the additions of Philbin and Tannehill provided a sense of stability for a change. Both won rave reviews from the locker room.
"I like where this team is headed," Bush said. "What coach Philbin brings to this team is really special."
Tannehill, the first quarterback drafted in the first round by Miami since Dan Marino in 1983, became the first Dolphins rookie QB to start all 16 games. While touchdowns were tough to come by, he threw for 3,294 yards, more than acclaimed rookie classmates Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson.
"Tannehill's great, man," center Mike Pouncey said. "We got lucky when we picked that kid. He's going to be a great player in this league for a long time.
"Obviously we've got to get him some help out there."
That will be the priority. No wide receiver scored more than one touchdown, reflecting the lack of a pass-catching deep threat. If Bush departs, there will be even more need for playmakers to bolster an offense that ranked 27th in yards.
A cornerback, pass rusher and tight end are among the other needs. Most of all, the Dolphins need stars — defensive end Cameron Wake was the only player to make the Pro Bowl.
Pouncey was candid in his postseason assessment.
"This team did a great job this year," he said, "for what we had."
Long finished the year hurt for the second season in a row, and he may be allowed to depart even though he's a four-time Pro Bowl tackle. More likely to return are Hartline, coming off the best year of his career, and Bush, who played in every game for the first time since 2006 and fell just shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
"It has been a pleasure to play here these last two years," Bush said. "I've really enjoyed; I feel like there's some unfinished business left. We'll see what happens when we sit down and contract time comes, but hopefully I'll be back."
For now, the Dolphins will scatter. Tannehill wants to explore the city of Miami — he has spent a total of three hours there — and catch up on TV shows. Pouncey's heading to Hawaii to watch his brother play in the Pro Bowl. Smith looks forward to forgetting about football for a while.
"I'm going to kick back, relax, chill out," Smith said, "and enjoy the beach."
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