The lockout is still in full swing and there is a legitimate reason to wonder if the season will start on time. DeMaurice Smith told the team player reps that progress is being made but that a deal is still a long ways off. That leads me to believe two things. One, he is either saying that to simply keep the negotiations flowing or he truly believes that. On the other side of the coin several media members have stated that the negotiations are going well enough that we could see the start of free agency in as little as three weeks.
Pick your poison.
I will play the part of optimist and say that free agency will start in time for the Rams and Bears to get into the action before opening camp in the third week of July. I will operate under the assumption that players with a minimum of four years will be eligible for free agency provided that they have not been franchised. I’ll start with the WR’s. Why? Because it’s actually the easiest.
The Miami Dolphins have eight receivers on their roster. Davone Bess, Brandon Marshall, Brian Hartline, Edmund Gates, Patrick Carter, Marlon Moore, Roberto Wallace, and Julius Pruitt. Bess, Marshall, Hartline, and Gates are locks to make the roster barring injury or surprise trade. Which really means that the Phins will only carry one more WR.
New OC Brian Daboll wants to run the offense with occasional 4 and 5 WR sets but the team is expected to use a fullback or H-back as one of those WR’s so it’s not likely the team will keep 6 unless they can put one on the practice squad. Of all the WR’s Gates is probably the reason the team doesn’t shop for a wide-out during free agency this year. There is plenty of talent and the Dolphins know they need a solid complimentary number 2 to take pressure off Marshall.
Looking at that number 2 spot, currently held down by Hartline, Miami has to decide if Hartline is going to be that man. Gates will likely not be a major factor early in the season especially without off-season workouts. His first season with the team will be spent primarily as fly wide receiver who will get downfield with his speed. He won’t be on the field every play.
Outside of the four mentioned as locks, the rest are projects. Regardless of height, physicality, and speed, none have shown more than bits of flash and possibility instead of future starters. This is the one reason that the Phins could look to the open market to find a solid number two if they don’t feel Hartline is that man. As much as I like Hartilne and his gritty style of play, I’m not sold on him being that sure thing to take pressure off Marshall.
The FA list is a solid one but the Dolphins have holes to fill at almost every position so it’s hard to say that they will throw money at a WR when they did so last year with Marshall. It will take the right player with the right monetary demands to land in Miami.
Topping the list is Randy Moss who has repeatedly stated he would like to go back to New England. Miami had the opportunity to claim him off waivers from Minnesota last season and declined so it’s unlikely that the team will reach out to him this off-season. Moss is a cancer to his teammates and the Dolphins are still dealing with the “diva” nature of Marshall.
Sidney Rice will likely be the biggest name on the free agent list. While many fans may hope he lands in Miami it won’t happen. Rice, if he does in fact hit the street will make a very nice contract and the Dolphins simply won’t throw more money at the position, at least not in the amount that Rice is expected to make.
Perhaps the most talked about name that is actually linked to the Dolphins is Mike Sims-Walker. The soon to be former Jacksonville Jaguar has publicly stated he wants to play for the Dolphins. His best friend is Brandon Marshall who is also publicly stating his desire for MSW to join the team. The question is would Sims-Walker take a lesser contract to play for the Dolphins and with Marshall? The next question is can Tony Sparano handle the duo on the field? The third question is whether or not MSW is actually a major upgrade over anyone currently on the roster? In other words, there are a lot questions as to what he would bring.
His speed is adequate but not blazing and his hands are solid if unspectacular. Mike Sims-Walker has also only had one very good season in the NFL. But, he could be a difference maker for the offense playing across the formation from his best friend. Sometimes, good friends can bring out the best in the other. With all of Marshall’s off-season issues, MSW may be the one guy that can keep him in check. But that is a high price to pay for that kind of risk.
Two NY Jets are set to hit the open market. Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes. Both have said they would love to stay with the Jets but both want bigger deals and each come with their own set of baggage. Edwards would be a shock to land in Miami. Holmes is a solid WR who can get open and has great hands…most of the time but again, he is going to want a good chunk of change and I just don’t see the Dolphins seeing the same value in him as he will see in himself.
One WR from the NY Jets who could find some love from the Miami powers that be is WR/QB Brad Smith. Smith is a guy who can play special teams, run the WC effectively, throw the ball, run the ball, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle and take a hit. He is actually what the Dolphins were looking for when the drafted Pat White. Smith won’t cost much either and taking him from a rival team would be a nice addition as well. But Smith isn’t elite and there is no guarantee that he would be better number 2 WR than Brian Hartline. In fact, he wouldn’t be. He would be a versatile player that could do many things well but not play one position great.
If you really start thinking realistically about the position and who may actually be a solid number 2 WR for the team, won’t cost a ton, and has proven himself as a legit WR in the NFL, three names come to mind. Steve Breaston of Arizona, Lance Moore of New Orleans, and Sam Hurd of Dallas. Of the three, Moore is likely to stay in NO and Breaston should see a lot of looks from needy teams which could put him out of Miami’s price range. That would leave Sam Hurd.
The Dolphins know the kid. Sparano and Ireland had him in Dallas. Hurd could be a very solid WR in this league but he has spent much of his career behind very good WR’s. The only knock would be that he isn’t a guaranteed starter and I think in the end, that will be the reason the Dolphins pass on him. It’s simply too hard to imagine Hurd beating out Hartline for that number 2 position. Frankly, most of the other WR’s are simply too expensive or lack the experience or level of production that the team needs there.
Fans will wonder why Miami doesn’t go after guys like Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, and Terrell Owens. Truth be told, money, age, attitude, and the development of Brian Hartline as well as Edmond Gates leaves the WR’s as one of the last spots the Phins may look at once the season gets under way.