HOT NEWS: Dolphins coach keeps pedal down despite big changes, especially on D

MIAMI — Don’t talk to Mike McDaniel about expectations.

Mike McDaniel explains how Miami navigated free agency challenges

Or at least, don’t expect him to care.

The Miami Dolphins’ third-year coach has led his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons but has yet to capture the franchise’s first postseason win since 2000. After paying big for star talent such as wide receiver Tyreek Hill, defensive end Bradley Chubb, offensive tackle Terron Armstead and defensive back Jalen Ramsey over the past two seasons, the bill came due this offseason as several Miami free agents signed elsewhere.

Starters such as defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and guard Robert Hunt signed massive contracts with the Las Vegas Raiders and Carolina Panthers, respectively, while key rotational players in linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and safety Brandon Jones signed with the Minnesota Vikings, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, respectively. Miami also released veterans in linebacker Jerome Baker, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Xavien Howard, leaving last season’s 10th-ranked defense in need of restructuring.

The Dolphins have done that through the first couple weeks of free agency. But until they take the field, it is difficult to tell whether they are better off after parting ways with so many players.

Due to the losses, there is a belief that the 2024 season will be a reset year. But McDaniel says the expectations for the Dolphins will be as high as ever.

“I can tell you one thing: Every single player that was on the team last year and the year before, and every single player that we’ve added this offseason, and every single coach that we’ve added this offseason, their expectations are to help fulfill goals unaccomplished,” McDaniel said at the NFL’s annual meeting this week. “There’s been zero time spent thinking anything less bold or less aggressive than the way we approach every season.”

The Dolphins’ transition first began in February, when they mutually parted ways with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio after one season and hired former Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver.

But additional changes were necessary, considering Miami was roughly $50 million over the salary cap prior to free agency. Baker started 82 games for the Dolphins since 2018 and was productive throughout his six-year career with the team. Ogbah’s production over the past two seasons didn’t match the $65 million contract he signed in 2022, but he put together consecutive 9-sack seasons in his first two years in Miami.

Moving on from them saved roughly $25 million against the 2024 salary cap, and moving on from Howard represents another $18 million in savings once his post-June 1 release hits the books.

But their release — along with the departures of Wilkins, Van Ginkel, Davis and Jones — left holes at every level of the defense. Adding linebacker Jordyn Brooks, cornerback Kendall Fuller, safety Jordan Poyer and outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett won’t grab headlines but still gives the Dolphins the opportunity to be competitive on that side of the ball.

“I think the team itself is loaded with talent, but that only goes so far,” said linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., another offseason signing. “I think I’ve been a part of some talented teams in Cleveland and Indy, and we just haven’t been able to put it all together. I think that’s the tale of football, right? Can you put it all together?”

Despite the notable losses, the Dolphins’ defense still features Ramsey, Chubb, pass-rusher Jaelan Phillips, safety Jevon Holland and tackle Zach Sieler.

With that core, Miami expects to perform at a high level in 2024.

McDaniel made that much clear.

“The more people lower their expectations, it’s kind of erroneous or irrelevant, but I know that starting April 15, guys are very, very hungry to deliver on what they know,” he said, “which is an opportunity to be on a team that has the ability to grow from what we’ve learned last year and what we went through, and have zero thought as to down, rebuilding, whatever those words are. That makes zero sense to me.

“Fans are going to pay to try to watch us play football and people don’t go to games to watch people lose. People’s careers — this will be the most important year of every single player’s career because it’s the only one that exists. We’ve talked about that before.”

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