By Abe Gutierrez
Following Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Wild Card Round, Adam Gase’s main message to his team was “remember this feeling.” He told his players to “get back to this spot and make some noise” in the future. As cliché as that sounds, that’s exactly the mentality the Fins will need to adopt in order to take things to the next level.
“We’ve come a long way from where we started,” said team owner Steve Ross following Miami’s (30-12) loss to the Steelers. “Certainly unhappy right now, but you could see I’m happy for the direction we’re going and I think we have the right coach, the right people in place and have the basis for something that, you know, everybody’s smelling it, they want it more and I think that gives you optimism for next year.”
After a 1-4 start, the Dolphins closed out the season by winning nine of their last 12 games. In the process, there were several key cultural changes that took place that enabled them to turn their season around. These changes were anchored by accountability on all fronts and a winning attitude. How well this team can internalize that shift in culture and inject it into their DNA will determine what kind of season the 2017-18 NFL campaign will be for the Dolphins.
For the time being, it seems the culture change instilled by Gase in his first year at the helm has had a lasting effect, and his locker room speech seems to have resonated with the players.
“For me, mentally, personally, I don’t see this as an accomplishment. I don’t see making the playoffs as an accomplishment,” said Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry. “I wasn’t just happy to be here today. I wasn’t happy with just make the playoffs and be part of the Miami Dolphins organization. I wasn’t just happy to be here. That’s all I can speak about.”
For many years, the Dolphins’ misfortunes haven’t necessarily been due to a lack of talent so much as it’s been about having a losing attitude that embraced mediocrity. Even though it’s still early, one gets the sense that Gase’s legacy in Miami will be based on his ability to keep his team hungry and avoiding complacency.
“We’re not the same teams of the past,” said running back Ajayi, who played a key role in Miami’s success this season. “We wanted to do something special this year and we weren’t able to do that. It’s about moving past it, moving forward and using this to propel us and strive to do it in the future.”
As far as the rest of the equation goes (personnel, draft picks, etc.), the Fins seem to be in a pretty good financial position to continue building a championship-caliber team in years to come. Miami will have no concerns regarding cap space heading into the offseason, which means they can capitalize in the 2017 NFL Draft despite losing a pair of picks in a trade last offseason.
Naturally, the offensive line is always a concern for this unit, but again, things appear to be on the up-and-up in this area as well. Mike Pouncey (expected to be healthy for next season), Branden Albert, Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James are all under contract, while Jermon Bushrod and Kraig Urbik will become free agents.
On the opposite side of the rock, there are plenty of question marks regarding Miami’s D-unit. Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of optimism with the one-two punch of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake coming back next season, as well as Jordan Phillips’ potential return.