By David Dwork

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DAVIE (CBSMiami) – When the Miami Dolphins began the season 1-4, hopes weren’t very high that the campaign could be salvaged.

That is, for everyone except the Dolphins players and coaches.

Nobody stopped believing, thanks to head coach Adam Gase keeping everyone focused and positive.

It created a great environment around the Dolphins facility, one that should keep the team trending upwards as they begin planning for next season.

“[Sunday’s game] was disappointing,” said defensive end Andre Branch. “But everybody’s mindset today was positive and we know what we have to do to fix it going into the offseason. It just makes you work harder.”

With so many young players on the Dolphins roster, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.

Miami’s new regime certainly had more success in its first season than many had anticipated and the foundation is there for that trend to continue moving forward.

“A lot of people say that we’re young and that we need to mature, but it’s knowing when you get in the playoffs, you can’t start slow, you can’t turn the ball over, you can’t have penalties,” said wide receiver Kenny Stills. The way that we played [Sunday] wasn’t good enough. Sometimes things like this have to happen if you’re going to learn that lesson that needs to be learned. I definitely think that happened. Guys understand the way this feels and we don’t want it to happen again.”

Stills and Branch are both free agents that could be facing a big time payday on their respective next contracts.

Stills had a career year in Gase’s offense and Branch blossomed playing opposite Pro Bowler Cameron Wake on the defensive line.

Both players have said they would like to stay in Miami though, so we’ll see how long that sentiment lasts once dollar figures start getting thrown around in free agency.

“I don’t know how to say how much I want to come back here,” Stills said. “I want to be back here, yes. I love this team; I love these guys. We did something special after starting 1-4. We did something really special. We’re going to do whatever we can to try and make that happen.”

Branch knows that at this time last season, he wasn’t nearly as hot a commodity around NFL teams.  If not for the Dolphins taking a chance on him, who knows where he’d be today.

“I love this place,” Branch said. “They believed in me when not too many people did. I appreciate them for that. So we’ll see how it goes. I don’t know what the future holds, but I had an amazing time this year.”

The Dolphins are expected to have around $30-40 million in cap space when the NFL’s 2017 free agency period begins on March 9th.

That number could go above $50 million depending on which players they keep and which players they cut, such as Mario Williams, Dion Jordan and Koa Misi.

Additionally, the Dolphins will have the 22nd pick in the first, second, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft in April.

They are also expected to be awarded at least two additional compensatory picks due to free agent losses last year.

So while Miami ended the season with several holes on the roster that need repairing, it appears that between free agency and the NFL Draft, the team should have ample opportunities to repair whatever needs to be fixed.

That means the returning players and the new additions will have something to build on as the Dolphins try to do something that hasn’t been done in almost 20 years; make the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

“It will be good,” Dolphins center Mike Pouncey said of next season. “We’ll be in this program for two years now. We’ll get to work on different things that we couldn’t work on last year. We were trying to basically just learn the offense. It would be good to know it now and then kind of work the ins and outs of it.”

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