Injuries to key players were the norm for the Miami Dolphins in 2022.
And you know what?
The injury situation might not improve in 2023.
Just as it happened this season, there’s a chance quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead, Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard, edge rusher Bradley Chubb and running back Raheem Mostert (if he returns) won’t be healthy for the playoffs next season.
Heck, the Dolphins might even acquire another key player or two through free agency or the draft that has an injury history.
“I think you can’t be scared with [injury] stuff,” general manager Chris Grier said.
That’s a good philosophy if that’s the route they choose.
Go for it. Now.
Some disagree with that strategy.
However, the window of opportunity is small, one or two years, or more optimistically, three years with this group. You’ve got to squeeze all you can through that window.
It’s too late to turn back.
Injuries and injury histories be damned, to a certain extent.
Let’s be clear — that’s me speaking, not the Dolphins.
But, hopefully, that’s how they see the situation.
Now, let’s not go totally crazy here.
Let’s not jeopardize the next five years with a one-year “go for broke” attitude.
At the same time, if you swing and miss this year and next year, and it takes you a year to recover, maybe two years, so be it.
For the foreseeable future the Dolphins will battle Kansas City, Cincinnati and Buffalo to get to the Super Bowl, and the 2022 season told us the Dolphins, even with improved health, are a long way from those teams.
Remember, the Dolphins were 9-8 last season and lost six of their last seven games, including the 34-31 wildcard playoff loss at Buffalo.
And who knows how far some of the AFC teams at the Dolphins’ level, say, Jacksonville, New England, the New York Jets and the Los Angeles Chargers, climb the ladder next year.
It’s important to note taking a risk on a player with an injury history doesn’t mean a $100 million contract. After all, the Dolphins, according to overthecap.com, would be $22.6 million over the 2023 salary cap. Grier isn’t concerned about that. He said the Dolphins have flexibility.
Taking a risk could mean acquiring a mid-level starter, say, a guard, or a rotational player, or a third-round draft pick. The Dolphins, by the way, don’t have a first-round pick this year.
Ideally, you’d like to see the Dolphins limit their injury risk as much as possible in free agency and the draft. They’re already carrying a heavy load.
Armstead is in his 10th year. Howard turns 30 in July. Chubb has missed roughly 30 percent of his games during his five-year career, most of them due to knee and ankle injuries.
Tagovailoa missed four starts last season due to concussions. He hasn’t had an injury-free season in the past four years, including college.
On and on it goes. Even 23-year-old right tackle Austin Jackson is an injury risk after missing almost the entire 2022 season with ankle injuries.
But you’ve still got to take some chances in free agency and the draft.
You always enter the season knowing all of your key players won’t be available in December and January, when you need them most. Injuries happen. That’s the NFL.
And when you acquire players with an injury history, you’re playing with fire so you expect some burns.
Look, you don’t want a team full of key players with injury histories. On the other hand, you’re looking for talent more than perfect health.
Buffalo gave 32-year-old edge rusher Von Miller a six-year, $120 million deal in March and got burned by his late-season knee injury. He wasn’t there for the playoffs. That happens sometimes when you sign 32-year-old playmakers with lots of mileage.
It was still worth the calculated risk.
Plus, missed games don’t tell the whole story for a few players with injury histories.
Guys bring valuable intangibles to the table.
That’s one of the things the Dolphins said they consider.
“It’s [more] far-reaching than if they miss a game or two here,” Grier said.
You know about Armstead’s influence and leadership. You know Mostert, well-liked and well-respected in the locker room, rushed for a career-best 891 yards. As for Chubb, Grier said after they acquired him the Dolphins moved into the top eight or 10 in the league in six of the 12 metrics they use to measure their defense.
Here’s something else about Chubb.
“He’s another one that people said was a good player, and the right type of person that you bring into the building for a young team to help impact,” Grier said.
It’s worth repeating that the Dolphins have opened a one- or two-year window of opportunity, possibly even three years, to win a Super Bowl, and they must do all they can, within reason, to take advantage.
And consider this: Tagovailoa is still on his rookie contract so it’s easier to build. He’ll cost $9.6 million against the salary cap in 2023. His fifth-year option, if it’s picked up, goes into effect in 2024, and costs about $22 million. A contract extension that begins in 2025 might cost about $30 million per year. It gets tougher to build when those numbers enter the budget.
So, yeah, it’s OK for the Dolphins to take an injury risk here or there in the offseason in the name of trying to win a Super Bowl.
Sometimes you have to take chances.