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AFC East offseason review: Dolphins take methodical approach to improvement

This is the second of a three-part series examining how the rest of the AFC East fared during the offseason. Today's installment looks at the Miami Dolphins.

The Miami Dolphins didn't approach the offseason looking to make a big splash, as they did with the $114-million contract they gave free-agent defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in 2015.

This time, they were far more methodical.

They looked at the 2016 team that finished 10-6 and earned a wild-card playoff spot, and concluded that it made far more sense to mainly keep and build upon what they already had.

Rather than throw a heaping pile of cash at a singular difference-making force, the Dolphins invested in retaining some of their best players while using free agency, trades, and the draft to enhance the defense around Suh.

They gave wide receiver Kenny Stills and defensive end Andre Branch new contracts before they would hit the open market in March. They also extended the deals of linebacker Kiko Alonso (who, consequently, drew some social media shade from Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy) and safety Reshad Jones.

The Dolphins did make an offensive addition, trading for Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas. But the primary goal of their additions was to improve a defense that ranked 29th in the NFL last year -- 30th against the rush and 15th against the pass.

Here's the breakdown on the Dolphins:

Key additions: LB Lawrence Timmons (FA, Pittsburgh), S Nate Allen (FA, Oakland), TE Julius Thomas (trade, Jacksonville), DE William Hayes (trade, L.A. Rams), S T.J. McDonald (FA, L.A. Rams), DE Charles Harris and LB Raekwon McMillan.

Key losses: T Branden Albert, DT Earl Mitchell, S Isa Abdul-Quddus, DE Dion Jordan and DE Mario Williams.

Better, worse or the same?: Slightly better.

Of course, in the AFC East, everything the rest of the division does is measured against the gold standard that is the New England Patriots. And even after winning a fifth Super Bowl, the Pats appear to have somehow managed to upgrade themselves.

So much of what the Dolphins have done in an effort to close that gap depends upon the performance of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill told reporters in May that he has healed from the sprained ACL and MCL in his left knee that caused him to miss the final four games of last season, including the Dolphins' wild-card loss against Pittsburgh.

He seems to have benefitted from working with Adam Gase, the Dolphins' second-year coach who excels at getting the best out of quarterbacks.

By trading Albert to the Jaguars, the Dolphins cleared the way for last year's first-round pick, Laremy Tunsil, to move to left tackle after spending his rookie season at left guard. Whether Tunsil is ready to consistently perform at a high level at a more demanding position remains to be seen, but this was why the Dolphins used the 13th overall pick to get him. Replacing Tunsil is also a concern (free-agent acquisition Ted Larsen gets first crack), as is the health of center Mike Pouncey, who is recovering from hip surgery.

If Allen can stay healthy, he should help make the Dolphins' secondary better. McDonald is highly talented, but won't be available until after serving an eight-game suspension for driving under the influence of prescription drugs.

Timmons should help fortify the defensive middle. The Dolphins' first two draft choices -- Harris, from Missouri, and McMillan, from Ohio State -- add much-needed speed and depth to the front seven.

Next: New York Jets

More from the AFC East series:

AFC East offseason review: Leave it to the Patriots to find ways to get even stronger

AFC East offseason review: Dolphins take methodical approach to improvement

AFC East offseason review: Jets hoping short-term pain will mean long-term gain


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