With the season finally over, the coaching staff in place, and the NFL Combine looming a short 10 days from now, what better time to look at the top 10 things to watch this off-season with the Miami Dolphins. In my opinion of course!
The NFL season begins in a very short 19 days on midnight February 29th when free agency officially begins. Two days ago, teams were allowed to start using their various tags on their own players, a window that is only open for 15 days. Already LJ Smith, the Philly TE has received the franchise tag and various other players have received qualifying tender offers that require draft pick compensation. So in reality, the season has already begun.
10: Running back: It is not a major issue, but with Samkon Gado and Jesse Chatman both free agents, Ronnie Brown recovering from knee surgery, and the “I don’t look for pot heads” speech from Bill Parcells then picking up the option year on Ricky Williams in the equation, the RB situation could be an interesting development. Do not be surprised to see Chatman play elsewhere even though rumors said that Parcells liked him. At the same time, don’t be surprised to see Gado resigned. His play in the last few weeks was very inspiring and he should garner enough respect to at least enter training camp on the roster. Ricky will be the most talked about either way. He does not fit the “character” that both BP and Jeff Ireland have talked about. Although his contract was picked up, the Dolphins need to do that if they have any hopes of trading him. I still think that somehow, in a trade, he ends up in Dallas. Despite all the rumors surrounding Marion Barber from Dallas in a draft day trade, don’t be surprised if Barber isn’t the player involved in a trade that would include a 3rd team instead.
9: Trent Green: Yes many do not want to see him around these parts anymore than they did last year. He has yet to medically be cleared to play, but according to reports has been approached by Phins management. Green will likely not be able to start anymore, but the Dolphins face a QB problem with Cleo Lemon a free agent and likely not a target for the new brass. John Beck will compete and there are some reports that close friend of Parcells Ron Wolf really liked what he saw in Beck aside from the turnovers. Beck is a roster guarantee but after that there is nothing. The reports out of Cleveland are that the Browns and Derek Anderson are at a standstill, but the Dolphins are not going to throw a 1st round draft pick to Cleveland for him, unless they somehow end up with a late 1st rounder to spare…even that is unlikely. Look for the Dolphins to use Green as the 3rd emergency QB or let him compete for the backup as a veteran…that is…if he doesn’t retire…which he really should be considering.
8: Free Agent Olineman: The Dolphins are in a position to draft anyone they want, and can draft the best player available at the top of each round but number 5…gone for Trent Green. However, with holes on both sides of the ball, don’t be surprised if free agency is where the Dolphins make the biggest splash in terms of the Oline. Max Starks and Alan Faneca are two top of the line guys that are available and with the Dolphins somewhere between 25 and 30 million dollars to spend, it will not be the least bit surprising to see them sign two big bodies to fix the Oline immediately. They may not be Starks or Faneca, but there are very good lineman this year that could easily fit this offense.
7: Rex Hadnot: Only a year ago, many wanted Hadnot gone. Now, most think that he should stay. Hadnot did not have a stellar year, but he definitely showed why he can be a solid starter in the NFL. Yes he needs more time, and with this his free agent year, he did not do enough to make top line dough. In fact, the questions around him may give teams reason to teeter on 2nd and 3rd tier money. That may be enough to keep him in Miami. Having Hadnot retained will give the Dolphins a starter and if free agency works out well, depth. This is why I think that the future of Hadnot with this team is a serious thing to watch this off-season.
6: Zach Thomas: The future of Zach Thomas is up in the air and although he has publicly said that he wants to play another year, either in Miami or elsewhere, the reality of the issue is that neither he nor anyone else knows for certain what is going to happen. He has been approached by Phins HC Tony Sparano, but it was likely nothing more than a courtesy. Thomas was last seen on the Monday following the season finale against Cincy removing his parking sign. Thomas’ wife further complicates the issue as she wants him to hang it up and after a year of consecutive concussions and an unwanted stint on IR, Thomas has little to no trade value. In all likelihood, if Thomas does not retire, two things will happen. He will sign a new contract for less money to stay with the Phins or he will be cut and then sign a one year deal elsewhere. Unless Zach is part of a draft day trade or part of a trade for something else, he will not be traded for a draft pick alone. The value just is not there anymore.
5: The defensive scheme: Will it fit the players or will they find the players to fit the system? It is a logical question. The Dolphins do not have the makeup of players to run a 34 defense that has been the D of choice for Parcells, new DC Paul Pasqualoni, and Asst. DC Todd Bowles. The Dolphins are saying that they will fit the system to the players instead of the other way around which would imply a 43. The Phins lack a true NT that is required to run a 34 successfully. However, it is expected that as much as 75 percent player turnover could occur over the next two seasons. That would mean that the Phins would be bringing in personnel to actually fit their system. Watch what transpires in FA and in the draft to see what direction they are really taking. If the Phins brass concentrates solely on 34 guys, then it is a no no-brainer what they are doing. If they grab guys that can play in either scheme, they will likely run a hybrid this year and transition slowly to a complete 34 next year. I seriously doubt that we will see the Phins target guys who are only able to compete in a 43 scheme.
4: WR’s: The Dolphins are in a situation where their offense needs some play makers, they need a threat at WR and a they need a sure handed TE. They are in a position to address both of these needs via the draft or free agency, or maybe both. Marty Booker is the worst value at over 3 million a year and it would be surprising to see his name on the Phins roster come the end of March. The Dolphins do not need to cut players to get under the projected 116 million dollar salary cap…something they have not had the luxury of doing in over 5 years. When looking at the free agent market only a couple of names come to mind as being value, but none are sure fired number 1 threat WR’s and it is unknown what these guys think of Ted Ginn. The Dolphins may be able to find a number 1 WR for the future in the draft as it is heavy in wide out threats. With more pressing needs on both sides of the ball though, it may be a late draft pick that they look for. TE is the spot that bears a little more watching as David Martin has been an extreme disappointment and Justin Peele is too inconsistent. I think the Dolphins will somehow work out a trade for Dallas TE Anthony Fasano. Speaking of trades, I would not look for the Dolphins to make a play for Cincy WR Chad Johnson, Bill Parcells is not an antics guy and try as Ocho Cinco may, he can not stay away from the negative publicity. His trade costs may be too high as well.
3: Trades and the Draft: Bill Parcells has said he does not want the number 1 overall pick and Jeff Ireland has said it is on the market for sale. The real and only question is who will take it. The Dolphins are playing a game that is only going to get more confusing in the coming two months. They are going to throw out every possible scenario to mask their true intentions to facilitate a trade. Matt Ryan is supposedly coveted by Atlanta, the Falcons will know where they pick when the Combine rolls around as they will have a coin flip with Oakland for the 3rd and 4th and maybe the 5th spot with KC. Miami is going to try and convince them they are taking Ryan. At the same time they will try and convince everyone they are taking McFadden as well. The Dallas trade scenario won’t die, and in reality, it makes sense for the Cowboys to move up to number 1 or 3 to get him. Jerry Jones loves him. The question is the cost and whether or not they want to pay it. They very well may. My guess is that if the Falcons win the toss, they will trade up with Miami for Ryan for their 3rd or 4th round pick and DeAngelo Hall. Miami will then trade that pick to Dallas for both number 1’s, LB Bobby Carpenter and TE Anthony Fasano. In any case, the reason that this is the number 3 thing to watch is that free agency could give some clues to the Dolphins intentions on draft day, and any validity to trade rumors as well.
2: The QB situation: Different from what happens with Trent Green. The real question is who will be competing with John Beck for the starter job? Cleo Lemon is very doubtful to return and the Tuna loves veteran QB’s he is familiar with. With a free agent market that is thin at solid QB’s, the Dolphins may look to make a trade for one. Although I doubt the name Anderson will have much substance to it, it will inevitably be the hottest rumor. Beck is going to get his shot, but in reality, he will not likely be the opening day starter unless he beats someone else out…that someone else is not on this roster yet. So as the focus of this off season begins to play out, we can fall back on the comments of Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano that the QB spot is the most important position on the field. It is doubtful that the Phins and this management team will spend a high draft pick on a QB this year, but they likely will draft one in round 3 if someone is there they really like, but more likely outside of the top 3 picks. That would leave a free agent QB signing, that rookie, John Beck, and Trent Green on the roster. There will likely be only room for 3 and that would mean that if the Phins spend a draft pick on a QB, Trent Green could be out…if he opts to stay. It is the questions that make this the number 2 off-season issue to keep an eye on.
1: Jason Taylor: Is there really anything else to watch closely? The Dolphins are not saying what they are going to do, and neither is Taylor. JT still has a good 2 or maybe even 3 years left in him. He has been relatively healthy and not missed much time during games. He is still a force to be reckoned with and has said that he wants no part of a rebuild. If JT plays for 3 more year, he may get lucky enough to see the Dolphins make a push for the playoffs in year 3. Instead, I think he and the Phins brass decide that the best interest for JT is a trade. The question will then become to where? JT wants to play for a contender and that is what he deserves. However, there is really only one team that stands out as a true possibility. Jacksonville. Jt stays in Miami, they are extremely close to going to the Super Bowl and they have the picks to make a trade work. Because of the uncertainty of Jason’s future, he is the number 1 thing to watch this off-season.