The Dolphins have to address key holes along the left side of the offensive line. Left tackle and left guard will have to be addressed at some point this offseason, as incumbent starting left tackle Jonathan Martin will either be traded or released and incumbent starting left guard Richie Incognito is a free agent who won’t be brought back. It would seem most observers expect the Dolphins to draft a left tackle in the first round of the NFL Draft in May with the 19th overall selection.
The starting defensive backfield from 2013 are free agents, as starting safety Chris Clemons and starting cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll will hit the free agent market in March. Miami’s starting defensive tackles, Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, are both free agents too.
With the offensive and defensive line key issues entering the offseason, combined with the desire for the Dolphins to bring back their two starting corners from 2013, it would appear the running game is taking a backseat in terms of positions and key areas that have to be upgraded in order for the Dolphins to improve their eight-win total from 2013.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Dolphins have to improve a running game that was a detriment to the offense as a whole, including franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Due to the lack of protection from the offensive line and the lack of a running game, Tannehill was forced to carry the Dolphins’ offense.
The 26th-ranked running game featuring Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller was an absolute pain to watch throughout the season. As the team’s primary back, Miller averaged just 44.3 rushing yards per game, while Thomas averaged just 27.1 yards per game.
While it was just Miller’s second year and he ran for a decent four yards per carry average, the same cannot be said for Thomas. While Miller possesses the skills to be a starting back in the NFL, it’s clear what Thomas is — a big back who can run in short-yardage situations. That’s it.
Thomas can’t run well enough to be a viable running back in the NFL, and he can’t catch the ball out of the backfield to be considered a third-down back. The only trait he offers to the team is his ability to convert on short-yardage situations.
As a second-round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Thomas has ran for just 3.6 yards in his career. His 3.7 yards per carry average in 2013 was the highest of his career. He has just 42 receptions for 291 yards in his three-year career.
Going into the 2014 season, Thomas has a cap hit of just a little more than $1 million. However, his prorated bonus is just $213,000. If the Dolphins were to release the veteran running back going into the season, it would only cost the team $213,000 in dead money. At the current moment, Thomas is the 21st-highest paid player on the roster for 2014.
The Dolphins can draft a big back in the later rounds or pick up an undrafted free agent to contribute what Thomas does. The Dolphins can pay that guy about one third of what Thomas is paid and have a guy who can contribute more than 3.6 yards per carry.
Although releasing Thomas isn’t an absolute must, it’s a step in the right direction for a running game that was one of the NFL’s worst in 2013.