Looking at what the Miami Dolphins will need for the 2011 season is always a passionate off-season hobby for fans. This year, the free agency period skirted by with nary a move thanks to the childish chest thumping of the players and owners. In other words, the lockout and litigation. While both sides will resume court ordered mediation, the reality is that at some point, someday, there will be a free agent period and it has to be before the season starts…or at least an abbreviated season starts.
Why? Simple, too many players are without contracts this year, over 200 actually. That means that those players will have to find a home when the lockout is lifted. They will not simply go back to being the property of their former teams because the players won’t allow that in the negotiations. One year deals are simply too risky for the players given injury possibilities. So when the league ends its lockout and the players end their litigation or somewhere in between the two, players with no teams currently will start signing with others.
Which brings us to the point of this article. Are the Miami Dolphins better off addressing needs in free agency, the draft, or both? What positions should the team look at addressing in the draft vs. free agency. There has been a lot of discussion on who the Dolphins should select at 15, 79, etc…, but nothing really about what they should take and pass on for a later date. And what impact will free agency have this year?
Let’s take a look.
First of all, free agency this year is going to really benefit the players. Teams who go after these players will likely pay a higher amount than in years past. Why? Simple, there is no draft to get what you need at that point. In years past, free agency was your window to fill holes and then what you didn’t address there you addressed during the draft, and what you didn’t address in the draft you got in un-drafted free agents, and what you don’t get there…well you get the idea.
That’s all gone out the window as the draft will serve as the springboard to the teams off-season start. So if you don’t get what you need in the draft, players know you need them and their agents will most assuredly use that as leverage in negotiations.
So what should the Dolphins do?
The Dolphins need to draft a QB and likely need to do so in round 1. Chad Henne will be the starter for training camp and Tyler Thigpen could become an unrestricted free agent if a new CBA is signed. With Henne having only one year left on his deal and Tom Brandstater the only other option on the team, the reality for the Phins is they likely would need two QB’s heading into September.
The free agent market is up in the air as to who may be available and while the Dolphins may look to bring in a veteran QB, it’s also likely they will stick it out with Henne and groom their draftee. This does not mean that the team won’t trade for a veteran if one becomes available at an affordable price.
The Dolphins can address their future and bring in someone to compete with Henne. While trading is an option, the FA list could be expensive. IF the Phins fail to address the position early in the draft, then a veteran will be key.
RB: With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams not expected back, even in the view of Ricky Williams, the Phins will need to find their future at the end of next week and another when the free agency opens up. The Phins want a complimentary running back situation which means that the team will likely go opposite what they do in the draft when they can add players later.
With the draft allowing the team to take a future star they can address this season and the next couple with a reliable free agent upgrade. I think the Dolphins will pass on Mark Ingram and wait until rounds 3 or 4 or maybe even 5 to find their rock toter.
Oline: Miami had one of the most porous offensive lines last season. Without free agency, it’s not likely to improve with the draft alone. At the top half of the draft C/G product Mike Pouncey would be the best option while Gabe Carimi at the tackle position would be an option as well and he could take over for Vernon Carey on the right side. Stefen Wiesnewski is also an option at the center position as well and the team may find him available later in round 1 if they trade back.
The free agent market is normally saturated with offensive lineman and it’s still possible that a new CBA could make New England Guard Logan Mankins a free agent. In which case I think Miami would jump on the opportunity.
Again, the draft is where the team will get younger, but the free agent market will have more proven veterans on the younger side of 30. The Dolphins technically only need to find a a guard to man the right side next to Carey but a Center would go a long way to giving the team some much needed physicality. For now, it appears that Richie Incognito will be lining up at the exchange spot.
TE: Anthony Fasano signed an extension last season and the rest of the team plays flat. There simply isn’t another TE on the roster that can make an impact on the field consistently and some might ask if Fasano really is a consistent pass catcher as well. Statistically he had a very solid season last year but he is still a better option to block than to get into routes. The Dolphins lack a seriously tall option in the passing game that would allow more one on one LB work in the redzone and endzone.
This years draft doesn’t have any over the top can’t miss TE projects but it does have a few with some solid promise and thats not a bad thing. The team won’t spend a first round pick on TE but they could spend a 2nd or a 3rd on one. D.J. Williams of Arkansas is likely the best option for the team.
This years free agent crop isn’t going to provide Miami with a sure fire hit anymore than the draft will so I doubt the team uses what FA dollars they get to sign a free agent unless they completely miss on one in the draft. Last year was their best option to find a TE and things didn’t work out for them in that department.
The Phins could take Williams in the 2nd or 3rd if he is still around. If not, they will likely wait until round 5 to find someone to compliment Fasano.
WR: Miami has taken big swings on WR’s in the past few years dating back to Ted Ginn, Jr. Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland swung and missed on Patrick Turner and the jury is still out Brian Hartline. The best WR move they have made has been the signing of Davone Bess from the undrafted free agent list. Sorry Brandon Marshall but it is true. Bess has become a sure-handed WR in the NFL and a staple of the Miami offense.
The Phins do need speed and they need it in a big way which is why I really doubt they pass on an opportunity in the draft to take a speedy WR. The problem is there simply are too few pure speed runners who also have the hands to perform well.
While it’s not know who will hit the open market the Dolphins would do themselves well by not wasting a pick on WR in this years draft barring a free fall of a top end guy. The FA market may not produce the type of speed guy the team needs, but there are some very solid players who know how to get down-field and open. The Dolphins should take a long look at some of those guys when the market for players is back open again. Lance Moore of New Orleans, Steve Breaston of Arizona, and Sam Hurd of Dallas stand out to me on the potential FA market.
LB: Both inside and outside are what the team needs but the inside, in my opinion is more important. I have about run my Channing Crowder support wagon and realize that what the Phins defense needs is a play-maker to work with Karlos Dansby and make the inside of that defense much more formidable. Crowder has spent several weeks each of the last three seasons injured and frankly when he is in the game, he simply doesn’t make game changing plays. Behind him, Tim Dobbins struggled most of last season which was a shame because he actually had opportunities to showcase what he has. He didn’t.
The draft has some solid LB’s but I would be surprised if the team drafted one before round 5. With QB, OL, RB, and WR/TE open on the offense, the LB spot is one that should be addressed later or if someone unexpectedly falls through the rounds.
The Dolphins don’t need another blockbuster signing like Dansby but a very proficient tackler should come at a reasonable price that will challenge both Crowder and Dobbins for that starter spot.