Before heading into the 2014 NFL season, let’s take a look back at the overlying storylines in each the Dolphin’s previous Offseasons over the course of past five years.
2009 Season: 7-9, 3rd in the AFC East
South Beach saw some football action take place in early February to conclude the NFL season, as the Dolphin’s Sun Life Stadium played host to the New Orleans Saints’ 31-17 victory the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. As for the team, the new regime of Head Coach Tony Sparano and GM Jeff Ireland produced a sub-par season in their second year on the job.
Starting Quarterback Chad Pennington suffered a season ending shoulder surgery in Week 3 and gave Chad Henne an opportunity to lead the team for the rest of the season. Henne struggled at first, but gave fans a glimmer of hope towards the end of the season as he completed 67.3 percent of his passes over his final four starts. Helping Henne in the 2010 season was free agent Wide Receiver acquisition Brandon Marshall. Marshall, who was acquired for a pair of second-round picks, was coming off a season in which he caught 101 catches for 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns in 15 games.
The front office inked Pro-Bowl linebacker Karlos Dansby to a 5-year, $43 million deal to sure up the defensive side heading into an optimistic season. Questions loomed over what pass rusher would step up to fill the void left by All-Pro players Joey Porter and Jason Taylor. Despite these departures, most people were optimistic about this Dolphins team heading into the 2010 season. Many picked them to head to the playoffs via a Wild Card spot, with some going as far to as say they would win the AFC East.
2010 Season: 7-9, 3rd in the AFC Eaasat
Things quickly turned against Henne after one year on the job. The former Michigan Man threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2010, and the Dolphins stumbled to a disappointing 7-9 season. The team proceeded to sign backup quarterback Matt Moore to add more stability to the position for the upcoming season. Another addition to aid Henne and Miami’s middling offense was the acquisition of former Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush. Like Marshall in the previous season, Bush was brought on in an effort to vault the Dolphins into contention for the upcoming season.
The defense brought some promise in the 2010 season, as the unit allowed just 3.5 YPC against the run, good for third best in the league. The defense was led by tackle Randy Starks and outside linebacker Cameron Wake, who both appeared in their first career pro bowls.
Despite the defensive standouts, many had their doubts heading into 2011 after what was an extremely disappointing 2010 campaign. With Andrew Luck the prize for the league’s worst, a throwaway season was on the minds of most Dolphins fans.
2011 Season: 6-10, 3rd in the AFC East
2012 brought even more disappointment to an already sputtering Dolphins franchise. Following a 4-9 start, the team fired Head Coach Tony Sparano and promoted Todd Bowles to interim Head Coach for the remainder of the season. In January the organization hired Packer’s Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin as Head Coach. Philbin took quarterback Ryan Tannehill 8th overall and officially put an end to the tumultuous Chad Henne era.
Philbin displayed his boldness from day one, trading away Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Marshall and bringing in the always-controversial wide out Chad Ochocinco. HBO series “Hard Knocks” captured the Ochocinco fiasco, and all the other stories throughout the Offseason. Reggie Bush was fairly impressive in his first year as the starter in Maimi, averaging 5.0 YPC for the season. But with Henne now gone, the weight of the starting quarterback duties would fall on either Matt Moore, the rookie Tannehill, or newly signed David Garrard.
The defense continued there above average effort, once again ranking third in the league at 3.8 yards per carry. Despite this success, the Dolphins lost two key defensive members to free agency in 2012. Kendall Langford and Yeremiah Bell were two of the best in the NFL at their respective positions and each turned into gaping holes in the Miami defense heading into the 2012 season.
The Philbin signing marked a new, promising, era for fans in South Beach. But like any rebuilding project, short-term sacrifice comes before long-term success. The 2012 season appeared to be that short-term sacrifice Dolphins fans would have endure through so they could eventually head back to the playoffs.
2012 Season: 7-9, 2nd in the AFC East
Going against all logic, Philbin named Tannehill the starter Week 1 and now appears like he may be laughing at all the doubters. Tannehill’s rookie numbers weren’t spectacular, but his seven touchdowns to two picks over his final five games showed great promise for the young quarterback’s future. After yet another 7-9 season the Dolphins were able to sign numerous marquee free agents with their abundant cap room.
Heading that list of free agents was speedy wide out Mike Wallace. Wallace had question marks at numerous points, but it was impossible to deny his speed that can stretch the field similar to few other receivers in the NFL. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbee was an addition to the defensive side of the ball to sure up an always-changing linebacker crew.
Pass rusher Dion Jordan was another major acquisition for the Miami front office. The Dolphins traded up in the draft to third overall to get the physical Oregon player. Playing behind Jordan was a revamped Dolphins secondary. The Dolphins brought in Brent Grimes to replace Sean Smith as the teams top cornerback. Rashad Jones, one of the top players at his position, played the safety position to sure up the back end.
Big free agent signings brought big expectations for the 2013 Miami Dolphins. But a long and treacherous NFL season usually brings experimental teams closer to embarrassment than success.
2013 Season: 8-8, 3rd in the AFC East
And here we have the present day Miami Dolphins. It’s been over five years since the Dolphins have seen the playoffs, and 2014 brings fans a level of urgency above all else. The team has made numerous moves to put themselves in a place of contention, and now it’s all about if these talented players can put it all together to make a playoff run.
The offensive line has been revamped with the additions of Branden Albert and rookie Ja’Wuan James. Richie Incognito and Jonathon Martin are no longer apart of the team to deliver unnecessary distractions. Ryan Tannehill is in year three of NFL career that has seen steady improvement throughout. Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller are prepared to advance the run game under the watchful eye of new Offensive Coordinator Bill Lazor. The defense needs to prepared to do what it has always done- being steady.
The team displayed moments of success in what was otherwise a forgettable season. Joe Philbin and the rest of the team have everything they need to contend in what has been a long and painful five-year journey.