The odd just got odder.
The NFL has scrapped the 2020 preseason following an agreement between the league and the NFLPA, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
The elimination of preseason games poses quite a challenge for a team like the Miami Dolphins, who come off of a rebuild offseason in which they made a plethora of free agency and draft moves, while also hiring a brand new offensive coordinator.
Heading into the regular season, here are five ways Miami could be affected by the removal of the preseason:
Undrafted Free Agents at Risk
After the 2020 NFL draft, Miami signed multiple undrafted free agents. Wide receivers Matt Cole and Kirk Merrit were signed to compete with a receiving core that has a ton of potential but has struggled with injuries. Their best hope now might be the practice squad. The new receivers won’t have those valuable preseason snaps to unseat the incumbents.
On defense, the Dolphins added linebacker Kylan Johnson, defensive end Tyshun Render, and defensive tackles Benito Jones and Ray Lima. Perhaps the largest investment by the Dolphins in free agency was on defense. The lack of a preseason included with the more aggressive roster limits makes these guys luxuries Miami might not be able to afford.
The Dolphins also signed tight end Bryce Sterk. Mike Gesicki is set as the starting tight end. The Dolphins are not extremely deep at the tight end spot which bodes well for Sterk. The challenge is new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey has not been known to heavily use tight ends. The preseason would have allowed Gailey to experiment with multiple TE sets using Sterk. It would have increased his chances of making this roster. It’s still likely that he will make the team, but it’ll be an uphill battle for Sterk to secure his job.
The offensive line is under construction for the Dolphins. Miami is hoping that they’ve found starters through free agency and the draft. The Dolphins also doubled down and was hoping to find depth with undrafted free agent tackles Jonathan Hubbard and Nick Kaltmayer, and center Donell Stanley. These guys will have to make the most out of the practice snaps.
NFL Game Speed Adjustment for Rookies
The Dolphins added 11 rookies via the 2020 NFL Draft, with six of those rookies selected in the first three rounds. Rookies selected that high are expected to be starters. Considering the turnover on the roster, all 11 are expected to see significant playing time this season. Most of them will log snaps in week one, which means they’ll have to adapt and grow up quickly.
Week one versus the New England Patriots will be a test, as Bill Belichick is known for exploiting rookies. Belichick and the Patriots will target these guys and try to take advantage of their inexperience. While preseason is still not quite at the same speed and difficulty of a regular-season game, that experience would have provided some mental preparation for the real deal.
Sloppy Start to the Season
Fundamental football was a strength for Miami in 2019. The Dolphins were ranked as the No. 4 least penalized teams in the league with 92 total penalties. Brian Flores stressed discipline and fundamentals. ‘Takes No Talent’ was the mantra. Preseason would have provided another opportunity to eliminate the mental mistakes without consequence.
At the start of every normal season, fans sometimes see some of the worst blocking and tackling by NFL players. This was especially true for the Dolphins in 2019. The early games against the Baltimore Ravens and Patriots last season were tough to watch. Miami’s coaches will have pressure on them to have their guys as prepared as possible.
Healthy Start to the Season
On the flip side, this season might kick off with record low injury count. Year after year, key players have seen their season ended or significant games missed due to an injury suffered in the preseason. Eliminating the preseason will minimize the risk. There is a counter-argument is that this decision could lead to a more injury-riddled season. However, one of the reasons the preseason was eliminated was to allow the players more time to get their bodies game ready.
The Quarterback Decision Has Been Made
For anyone hoping that Tua Tagovailoa was going to be a day one starter, they can stop holding their breath. Unless something completely unexpected happens to Ryan Fitzpatrick, or he opts out of playing this season, he will be starting for the Dolphins in the opener.
Brian Flores is a bold coach, but this is not how he is going to give Tua his first taste of NFL action. Tagovailoa last saw competitive action on November 16, 2019, when he went down with an injury ending his time as a college athlete. The hardest game to prepare for is always the first game of the season. As mentioned earlier, the level of difficulty is increased because it’s against Belichick and the Patriots, who have a spotless record against rookie quarterbacks.
The Flores Factor
The silver lining in all of this is that good coaching can guide a team to success in the midst of chaos. Flores did a good job considering the circumstances last season and the Dolphins have hope that he can navigate them through these new sets of challenges and the unknown ones to come.