The Miami Dolphins started playing football in 1966, but it didn’t take them long to become a championship winner. In 1971 they went 10-3-1 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl before losing to the Dallas Cowboys. In 1972 they came back with a vengeance and completed the only perfect season in NFL history, going 14-0 in the regular season and lifting the Lombardi Trophy. They defended their title the next year as well. In just four seasons head coach Don Shula take been to three Super Bowls, won two, and forever etched his name into the history books. Shula would go on to make two more Super Bowls with the Dolphins, in 1982 and 1984, but would lose both and eventually leave the Dolphins after the 1995 season, ending his remarkable 26-year spell with the franchise.
Since Shula retired the Dolphins have struggled to have any real relevance in the NFL. They have just three playoff wins in that span, with their last coming in December 2000. They’ve managed just three winning seasons since 2004, but they did take the AFC East when Tom Brady was injured and struck gold with the wildcat formation in 2008.
Most of their struggles have come as a result of failing to replace quarterback Dan Marino, who retired in 1999 with most NFL records in his back pocket. Since then they have rolled through starters, before finally drafting Ryan Tannehill in the first round of the 2012 draft. Tannehill has been unimpressive as the starter for Miami, mostly producing league average numbers. Coming into the 2018 season he had a 37-40 record as a starter in the NFL.
Tannehill’s struggles along with the difficulty Miami have had in creating a stable defense or finding a steadying hand at head coach means they have floated around the middle of the NFL for the last few seasons, rarely posing a threat to the top teams but dispatching the struggling ones with ease. Miami have been one of the most forgettable franchises in the NFL for a while now, but you have the chance to turn that around in Madden 19’s Franchise Mode.
The Dolphins start Franchise Mode with a poor 76 overall rating, putting them ahead of just three teams. That overall rating is made up of a 79 rated offense and a 79 rated defense. This shows you just how poor a state the Dolphins are in right now and how much work it will be to bring them back the peak of the NFL. So how can you improve things? Let’s start by looking at the Dolphins cap situation.
Miami Dolphins Salary Cap
The Dolphins start Franchise Mode with 66 players on the roster and $40.3 million in cap space. That’s a relatively healthy position to start the rebuilding process from. You will need to cut 13 players in order to get down to the regular season roster limit of 53. Thankfully there are 28 players who can be cut from the roster without incurring a cap penalty.
While you don’t need to cut anyone for strictly financial reasons, you can cut defensive ends Cameron Wake & William Hayes to save over $10 million, though you will be left with two big gaps in your defensive line. Still, just cutting the bottom of the roster to get to the 53-man limit should open up another $3-4 million that only strengthens your hand going into contract negotiations with impending free agents.
Miami Dolphins Impending Free Agents
The Dolphins have 31 players entering the final year of their contract when you start Franchise Mode. Most of these players will either be cut in pre-season or can be allowed to leave without issue after the season. However, there are a couple of players that you will need to make an effort to retain or else have a carefully thought-out plan to replace them.
It starts with the two defensive ends I mentioned earlier. Cameron Wake and William Hayes are the two best players on Miami’s roster by OVR, but both are reaching the end of their career and are in the final year of their contracts. Wake has been an amazing player for Miami but at 36 he shouldn’t be getting a new contract from you. Hayes is 33 and could maybe have one more year in him, but even that could be unlikely. You should try to hold onto Hayes just because completely rebuilding a position group in one offseason is impossible, so if you can sign him to another one-year deal then do it, but you should have a plan for finding more pass rushing talent.
Starting running back Frank gore is another aging veteran at the end of his contract. This is a much easier proposition though. Running backs are easy to obtain in Madden, especially in the draft, and keeping a 35 year old makes no sense. You also have Kenyan Drake who is a very capable back in his own right. You can let gore walk away without a problem.
Right tackle Ja’Wuan James is the next player to consider. At 79 OVR he isn’t amazing, but he’s just 26 and is a good pass protector. The Dolphins offensive line as a whole is pretty solid but the weak point is at right guard, losing James would only worsen your situation on that side of the line and mean dedicating a lot of resources to fixing it. The best thing to do is to keep James and find a mid-round guard to plug in next to him.
Other key impending free agents: AJ Derby (TE), Nick O’Leary (TE), Sylvester Williams (DT), Stephone Anthony (OLB)
Miami Dolphins Roster Needs
Even though he has three years left on his contract, you should start to think about replacing Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. He is 30 years old with an OVR of just 77. While his contract is relatively team-friendly, his lack of quality as a passer limits the success the team can have. Finding a replacement for him won’t be easy, but you do have time. If you scout the quarterbacks in your season 1 draft and don’t like them you can wait a year before you invest and spend your top draft pick somewhere else.
After you have your plan for the quarterback set you should aim to get him a new receiver. Miami have several ok pass catchers but no one that stands out as a star that can win one-on-one battles consistently. There is also that right guard spot to consider.
The biggest needs are on defense though. There are several star pass rushers that could hit free agency and if they do you should go after one. Jadeveon Clowney, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Brandon graham would all be very good additions to the team, but if none of them make it to free agency or they don’t sign with you be prepared to spend a top pick in the draft to find someone that can get to the quarterback consistently.
The Dolphins could also use an infusion of talent at defensive tackle and linebacker. They are pretty set in the secondary thanks to recent hits with Xavien Howard and Minkah Fitzpatrick, while their starting safeties both have at least 4 years left on their contracts. This means you can focus your efforts to finding that all-important quarterback and adding to the front seven.
Miami are not as far away from competing as their overall rating might suggest. If you can find that quarterback then the improvements will come quickly. The offense is mostly set up already, apart from lacking that star wide receiver, and while the defense isn’t amazing you can create turnovers with the secondary, and if you can find an athletic linebacker and a pass rusher it will be a formidable unit. Miami’s history is one of Super Bowl contender, but their present is far from that. You can get them back to the top of the NFL with some smart scouting and wise investments.