The Miami Dolphins may have won 10 games and reached the playoffs for the first time in eight years in 2016, but the defense certainly had its struggles.
Injuries to the likes of safety Reshad Jones, cornerback Byron Maxwell, linebacker Jelani Jenkins and others were a big reason for that, but as a whole, Miami finished just 29th in total defense. The Dolphins however, did finish 18th in scoring defense.
The Dolphins will be replacing defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who left to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos, with Matt Burke. With the offseason in full swing, here’s a position-by-position look at the Miami defensive heading into 2017:
Contracted personnel: Terrence Fede, Cam Wake, Mario Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Mitchell, Jordan Phillips, Dion Jordan (reserve)
Free agents: Andre Branch, Jason Jones, Nick Williams (restricted)
2016 grade: B+
Overview: Defensive end Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh, a defensive tackle, served as the heart and soul of the Miami defense in 2016. Others like Andre Branch, Earl Mitchell, Jason Jones and Jordan Phillips had their moments as well. The problem at the position is the money that Miami was playing those who didn’t contribute like Mario Williams and Dion Jordan — two former top-5 picks. The Dolphins are likely to part ways with both of those players, leaving the team the opportunity to get younger and add depth along the defensive front. Branch and Jones could be worth resigning if the price is right, but with Wake now 35 years old, Miami needs to find a pass-rusher it can rely on for years to come.
Contracted personnel: Neville Hewitt, Mike Hull, Trevor Reilly, Koa Misi
Free agents: Kiko Alonso (restricted), Jelani Jenkins, Donald Butler, Spencer Paysinger
2016 grade: D+
Overview: Resigning leading tackler Kiko Alonso should be a priority for the Dolphins, but the rest of the linebacking unit needs work. Alonso excelled for Miami in his first year, but even he had struggles in pass coverage. After a breakout year in 2014, Jelani Jenkins has spiraled downward ever since and probably shouldn’t be resigned. Aside from the free agents, Miami has no reliable contributors to lean on at linebacker with the exception of Koa Misi, who missed all of last year and is probably also out the door in South Florida. Addressing this position should be one of the Dolphins’ top priorities.
Contracted personnel: Reshad Jones, Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett, Jordan Lucas, Byron Maxwell, Bobby McCain, Lafayette Pitts, Walt Aikens, A.J. Hendy, Isa Abdul-Quddus, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Free agents: Michael Thomas (restricted), Bacarri Rambo, Chimdi Chekwa
2016 grade: C-
Overview: For a large portion of the season, the Dolphins were down three starters in the secondary with starting safeties Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus both suffering season-ending injuries before the end of October. At cornerback, youngsters Bobby McCain and Xavien Howard showed promise while Byron Maxwell, when healthy, was a decent addition. Michael Thomas, a restricted free agent, should continue to be a serviceable backup if resigned. Miami however, should look to add another dependable veteran in the secondary this offseason.
Mike Ferguson is a sports writer and reporter for several publications and the Pro Football Spot lead writer for the Miami Dolphins. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson