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49ers opponents 2016: Will the annual sleeper Dolphins do anything?

Our review of the San Francisco 49ers 2016 opponents continues on with the Miami Dolphins.

49ers opponents: Cowboys | Panthers | Falcons | Saints | Bucs | Bills

The 2016 NFL Combine has come to a close, and free agency gets started next week. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, it is time to continue our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.

We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.

Today, we continue our look at the 49ers AFC opponents, moving on to the Miami Dolphins. It was another disappointing year for the Dolphins, who have been considered a potential sleeper the last couple years. They were 1-3 out of the gate, leading to head coach Joe Philbin getting fired heading into the bye week. Dan Campbell took over on an interim basis, and the Dolphins won two straight. However, they would not put together a win streak the rest of the season, finishing 6-10.

The Dolphins got a breakthrough year from wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who finished with 110 receptions for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the offense was inconsistent, and it cost the Dolphins. A year after Football Outsiders ranked them No. 8 in 2014, and No. 22 in 2015. They ranked No. 11 in scoring in 2014, and No. 27 in 2015.

A year ago, Ryan Tannehill signed a six year contract extension. He had shown improvement each of his first three seasons, but in 2015, he took a step back. He still surpassed 4,000 yards, and threw 24 touchdowns, so it's not like he's a crappy quarterback. However, it was a definitely step back from his first three years of improvement.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ndamukong Suh was the big addition. It was not a great year for him, and the defense will need to figure out how to straighten things out. They finished the season ranked No. 25, a year removed from being ranked No. 17. Not exactly trending the right way.

Free Agents

Unrestricted free agents: DE Olivier Vernon, QB Matt Moore, DE Derrick Shelby, FS Louis Delmas, CB Brice McCain, ILB Kelvin Sheppard, RB Lamar Miller, WR Rishard Matthews, OLB Spencer Paysinger, OLB Quinton Coples, OG Shelley Smith, C Jacques McClendon, OLB James-Michael Johnson, SS Dax Swanson

Restricted free agents: FS Michael Thomas, TE Brandon Williams

Exclusive rights free agents: TE Jake Stoneburner, WR Matt Hazel, OT John Ulrick, S Shamiel Gary

The big name on the list is Olivier Vernon. The team designated him as their transition player on Tuesday. The tender is below that of the franchise tag, and there is no compensation if he signs elsewhere. The Dolphins tried the same thing with tight end Charles Clay last year, and saw him depart for the Buffalo Bills. I fully expect Vernon to sign an offer sheet somewhere. Whether the Dolphins match it remains to be seen.

Lamar Miller is another notable free agent, and while he had a solid year, averaging 4.5 yards per carry, the Dolphins never really fully unveiled the ground game. It is unlikely that he returns to Miami. The other question is what happens with wide receiver Rishard Matthews. With Alshon Jeffery getting the franchise tag, the wide receiver market is pretty thing. Couple that with a poor draft class, and Matthews could find a nice little pay day on the open market.

Potential Needs

Cap space: ($3,511,239)
Draft picks: 1(8), 2(11), 3(10, 4(9), 5(8), 6(11), 7(6), 7(10) - no comp picks

The Dolphins placed the transition tag on Olivier Vernon. Although he has not signed the tender, it counts as $12,734,000 against the cap. That means the Dolphins will need to figure out how to make room for that money. They will restructure Ndamukong Suh's contract, and likely will restructure others, as well as release some folks.

I suspect the Dolphins will spend a lot of their draft picks on the defensive side of the ball. They need a linebacker and cornerback to help lead this defense, and both can be found in the 2016 NFL Draft. They need to figure out their running back situation, and they need to boost things at the guard position.