MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Super Bowl clock is ticking.
In my opinion, the Miami Dolphins, as currently constructed, meaning players on the field and this leadership group, have these next two seasons to get to a Super Bowl.
If that goal isn’t met after this season or next year, I’m thinking major changes will have to be made to personnel, finances, or both.
This is life in the NFL. Age of players, and the salary cap, two of the most watched numbers in the league, are often enemies of teams in pursuit of a title. That reality comes calling for the Dolphins soon.
We can safely conclude owner Steve Ross’s patience is running out. Consider he tired to hire then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh in 2011 while Tony Sparano was still the Dolphins coach, lost a first-round pick for trying to scheme to acquire the G.O.A.T., Tom Brady, beginning in 2019, and entertained thoughts of acquiring then-troubled quarterback Deshaun Watson (2021).
We know Ross is desperate to win a Super Bowl.
Each of those moves, the span of which covers a decade, is the move of a desperate owner.
And an increasingly impatient owner.
But the numbers for the Dolphins just won’t add up without a Super Bowl appearance. You can’t justify them.
In 2025, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will likely earn in excess of $30 million per season and, more importantly, he might count a similar amount against the salary cap.
Compare that to his $9.6 million cap hit this season and his $23.1 million salary and cap hit in 2024.
Additionally, the Dolphins will be forced to think hard about Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, who has averaged about five missed games per season for the past seven years. Armstead, one of the Dolphins’ best players and leaders, might play his final season with Miami in 2024 — or in 2023. Whatever the case, it’s doubtful he’s here in 2025.
In 2025, Armstead, who battled toe, hip, pectoral and knee injuries last season and underwent offseason knee surgery, will be a 33-year-old, 11-year veteran with a $20.6 million cap hit.
If Armstead is cut next year it costs the Dolphins $24 million in dead money. But if they designate him a post-June 1 cut they save $3.4 million.
Tagovailoa and Armstead aren’t the only coming concerns.
Let’s not forget general manager Chris Grier and coach Mike McDaniel.
If the Dolphins don’t make it to a Super Bowl in these next two seasons it’s hard to envision a scenario where they’re both still around in their current capacities for the 2025 season.
Heck, if the Dolphins don’t win a playoff game Ross might think it’s necessary to make a change at either position before the 2024 season.
It’s an interesting situation.
Grier, we assume with the blessing of Ross, orchestrated this entire turnaround, from purging the roster of meaningful veterans to drafting Tagovailoa, hiring McDaniel, and acquiring Armstead, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and edge rusher Bradley Chubb.
McDaniel is the architect of this speedy, big-play offense, the Dolphins’ identity.
McDaniel has been given Tagovailoa, wide receivers Hill and Jaylen Waddle, running backs Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr. and De’Von Achane along with Armstead, center Connor Williams and right guard Robert Hunt.
If Grier and McDaniel can’t navigate these shark-infested AFC waters over these next two seasons, proving they’re better than Super Bowl champion Kansas City, former Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati, and three-time AFC East champion Buffalo, among others, pressure rises in all sorts of ways.
In 2025, Waddle and edge rusher Jaelan Phillips, two successful 2021 first-round picks, will both either have their contracts extended or play on fifth-year options that might be in the neighborhood of $12-15 million each.
Among Tagovailoa, Waddle and Phillips that’s an increase of about $20 million.
And that’s just the beginning.
Before the 2025 season begins the Dolphins will have to give raises to several key players who were drafted in 2020 and 2021, guys that comprise the core of the team.
The members of the 2020 draft class aside from the first-round picks — Hunt and defensive tackle Raekwon Davis, a pair of second-round picks, and safety Brandon Jones, a third-round pick — come immediately to mind.
The same is true for safety Jevon Holland, a 2021 second-round draft pick.
Also remember defensive lineman Christian Wilkins, the 2019 first-round pick, will have received a hefty raise by then, even if he’s playing on the franchise tag.
I know what you’re thinking. Every franchise goes through this type of make-or-break period.
What’s different is these Dolphins, with their big-play, high-scoring, analytics-guided 21st century offense, led by a coach who attended an Ivy League school, thought they were finally ahead of the curve.
After spending so much of the past two decades way behind the curve, this was supposed to be it, this flashy offense led by McDaniel and Tua and Tyreek and Jaylen.
If they can’t at least win a playoff game this season it’s tough to believe they could advance to the Super Bowl next season.
The Dolphins, as currently constructed, have two seasons to get to a Super Bowl.
The clock is ticking.