Breaking Down Free Agency: Defensive Line

The Miami Dolphins are a short 21 days from the start of the free agency and Bill Parcells, Jeff Ireland, and Tony Sparano along with all the scouts have been working at this task since the season ended.  With holes on both sides of the ball, it will get interesting to see where the Dolphins put their value come shopping time.  Will they be the big mover and shaker on the night of free agency and over the weekend or will they play a more passive roll in their approach.  Today we look at the defensive line.

What the Dolphins Have

The Phins have 8 defensive ends on their roster and that number will not likely change although the names likely could.  Last season the Phins found success with the 34 defense after running the 43 for the last few years.  While the Dolphins did at times, albeit rarely, use parts of the 43 it was apparent from the start that the 34 was this teams future.  The defensive ends are a big part of that unit.  Part LB, part DE, part DT.  They all had one thing in common…speed.

Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling were the two rookies who at times stood out but it was evident that their rookie campaigns were just that…rookie campaigns.  They will need to get better and more consistent as the Phins vision for these two have them bookending the line for years to come.  It’s obvious they won’t be going anywhere.

The others however are not so guaranteed to stay.  Vonnie Holliday is entering his 11th season in the NFL and the Phins don’t need his veteran leadership as much as they did last season.  Holliday was a contributor but not a game changer last season and his 1.7 million dollar salary next season will either be drastically reduced or he will be released.  

Lionel Dotson is also coming off his rookie season but he is more of a project and made no showings last year.  The other younger guys are Paul Soliai who was retained from the Cam Cameron/Randy Mueller draft and soon to be 3rd year veteran Roderique Wright.  Soliai played some last season and likely showed enough to warrant another training camp.  Wright has all the tools but has yet to make a major stride on the team.

Matt Roth was used as both a DE and LB but found more success at the LB position.  Still that does not bode well for his future with this team.  The Phins have addressed the LB spot already and look to be players at the position in the draft and in free agency with names like Bart Scott and Karlos Dansby possible targets.  Roth played well but has yet to make that major impact play that everyone expects.  Time could be running out on him.

Randy Starks wraps up the DE’s on the roster but Starks is the type of DE that can slide down into the NT position if needed.  He played well but was brought in to be a back-up and develop and that’s what he is doing.

The Dolphins don’t have a group of DE’s that are game changers.  Yet.  The development of Merling and Langford will go a long way towards that goal.

The Dolphins do have one great need along the DLine and it is apparent on every front that it will be addressed in some way, shape, or form, this free agency or draft.  The nose tackle position.  Jason Ferguson did and excellent job as the anchor of the 34 but when he wasn’t in the game, the Dolphins struggled.  As of today only Ferguson and Joe Cohen, a 3 year man out of Florida are listed as DT’s.  That will have to change.  Some speculate that the Phins may go the route of B.J. Raji in the first round of the NFL draft should he be available but the Phins will likely need to address the position in free agency as well.

What’s available in free agency

Like most positions, not much.  The name Terrell Suggs jumps out at you immediately but he is a DE and the Dolphins future DE’s may force the Phins to spend their money elsewhere as Suggs is going to be expensive.  If he becomes available at all.  While it’s not out of the question that the Phins spend the money, it’s more likely with this regime to look elsewhere first.

At the DT position there are only two names that need mentioned.  Albert Haynesworth and Tank Johnson.  In the case of Haynesworth, the NT wants to stay in Tennessee and if he does hit the open market will be the most expensive defensemen signed in free agency…or close to it.  The Dolphins are not expected to speak with the guys agent.  Tank Johnson however is a likely target.

Johnson was signed by the Dallas Cowboys after his release by the Chicago Bears prior to the 2007 – 2008 season.  He was suspended for 8 games for violating the leagues conduct policy.  He is a big body who can take over a line.  In his first game as a Cowboy, Johnson recorded 1 sack and 3 solo tackles against the NY Giants.  The question with Tank is whether or not the Phins would bring someone in with his history of off-field issues.  He fills a need and when you run down the list of available free agents there is not much to look at.

What the Phins will do

The Dolphins will definitely address the NT position this off-season whether it comes in the form of a trade, free agency, or the draft.  Right now I tend to lean more towards Aprils’ draft rather than free agency because of the talent that is currently there.  The Phins could make a move on a young free agent prospect in the 2nd or 3rd tier of the market and see if he can develop at a cheap price.  If they opt for that option, they will still address the position in the draft and possibly the first round.

I think that the days of Vonnie Holliday are contingent on his agreeing to a big contract restructure.  If he takes a pay cut, he stays, if he doesn’t he is gone.  Holliday likes Miami and this team so it’s likely he will restructure if asked.  Roderique Wright, Paul Soliai, or Lionel Dotson will not all be on the roster come training camp and it will be interesting to see which way the team moves with them.  I think Dotson and Soliai will stick at least through training camp but Wright could be the odd man out.



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Tags: Bart Scott Bill Parcells Jason Ferguson Jeff Ireland Karlos Dansby Kendall Langford Miami Dolphins NFL 2009 Free Agency NFL Free Agency Paul Soliai Phillip Merlin Roderique Wright Terrel Suggs Tony Sparano Vonnie Holliday

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