DAVIE, Fla. -- The jump from "good" to "great" is often the hardest. After a largely successful 2020 NFL season, the Miami Dolphins (10-6) are no longer a surprise team. Headed into Year 3 of the coach Brian Flores era, the rebuild is largely over and it's time to contend.
That's why this 2021 offseason is so critical in making sure the Dolphins' improvement continues. It has certainly been an eventful start already with the Dolphins' change at offensive coordinator, a bid to coach the Senior Bowl next week and a whirlwind of rumor-mill conversation involving Miami.
Ultimately, the offseason centers on the quarterback room and the prospect the Dolphins draft with the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
The Dolphins have twice strongly committed to Tua Tagovailoa as their starting quarterback. First, it was Dolphins general manager Chris Grier, who in the team's season-ending news conference said Tagovailoa is their quarterback and they were happy with his development. Flores, last week, reaffirmed his support of Tagovailoa to ESPN, saying he's "excited about the future with him."
While we won't know whether the Dolphins could still select a first-round QB until after the draft happens, the plan appears set on building around Tagovailoa.
However, trade talk surrounding Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is the story of the NFL offseason thus far. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported people in and around the Texans believe Watson has played his last snap with the team. And the Dolphins, who have a bevy of draft capital, have been included among teams Watson would be interested in.
Watson is a top-5 QB who can change even the strongest of plans. Miami would certainly have to have a conversation about Watson if he were to become available.
There are two important hurdles here -- Watson actually asking for a trade and the Texans actually agreeing to deal one of the most valuable players in the league after signing him to an extension and shortly after hiring a new coach and general manager -- before we seriously address what this could mean to Miami.
The other element of the QB room, assuming Tagovailoa returns, is the Dolphins could need a new backup quarterback via the draft or free agency. Flores was noncommittal on free-agent veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick returning in 2021 as they aim to center everything around Tagovailoa. Plus, Fitzpatrick should receive free-agency interest from another team as a bridge QB or high-end backup if he decides to play another year.
If the Dolphins' current plans are realized, Tagovailoa's Year 1 to Year 2 development will be the most important part of the QB room this offseason. Flores has given Tagovailoa a handful of areas he would like him to improve on, including eye progression, overall strength and footwork.
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All eyes on Dolphins' 2021 draft
Beyond QB, the Dolphins' prized offseason assets are their draft picks with four in the top 50, including that No. 3 pick. It's early in the draft process, but we can identify four top contenders there, including Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons.
Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner, is the only one on this list who played in 2020 and he proved to be a tantalizing playmaker. He would be a huge spark to a Dolphins' receiving group that was among the NFL's worst at creating separation. He would also be reuniting with Tagovailoa, his college teammate and friend. His size will be a pre-draft question mark, but you can't question his speed or production. It wasn't a coincidence Smith accepted a Senior Bowl invite despite being unable to play with a dislocated finger and was placed with the Dolphins' coaching staff.
Sewell is regarded by many as the draft's best offensive tackle prospect despite opting out of the 2020 college football season. He was a unanimous All-American and won multiple national awards as a sophomore. The Dolphins selected three offensive linemen in the first four rounds of last year's draft, including left tackle Austin Jackson in the first round, but there could be a desire to add more to a brick wall around Tagovailoa by adding Sewell.
Chase was college football's best wide receiver in 2019 and was largely considered the best receiver prospect headed into the 2020 season before Smith's historic year. Chase, who opted out of the 2020 season, has alpha No. 1 receiver tendencies. He was better in college than his former teammate, 2020 Minnesota Vikings first-round pick Justin Jefferson, who is coming off a 1,400-yard season. Chase is bigger and excels in tight-window situations, but he doesn't win with his speed, separation and quickness as often as Smith.
Parsons is the only defender on this list, but he's an excellent fit in Flores' defense as a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who can cover, rush the passer and tackle in the run game. It's rare to see a linebacker who isn't a pure pass-rusher go this high in the draft, so it will be interesting to see how teams value him in the modern NFL. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, but he was a consensus All-American in 2019.
Given the demand of the QB position, the Dolphins could also try to trade back from No. 3 and land one of these aforementioned prospects.
Either way, as Miami enters its critical offseason, it is in a great spot to be coming off a 10-win season and have some money to spend in free agency, hold the No. 3 and No. 18 picks in the draft and be comforted with a young quarterback who saw significant playing time as a rookie.