Miami Dolphins Free Agent Primer: The Offensive Line

Heading into the 2010 season, the Miami Dolphins were ranked as one of the top NFL teams for offensive line production.  By the end of week 3, the Dolphins and their fans realized that those “pre-season” accolades had fallen flat.  As the 2010 season spiraled out of control, albeit slowly as the team stayed in contention for most of the year, the play of the offensive line became more and more scrutinized.

Anchored by All-Pro LT Jake Long, the rest of the line was a patch work thrown together by whoever the team could find to stay healthy.  Nate Garner went down early and missed the season, Richie Incognito moved from guard to center, Vernon Carey continued his tradition of average RT play, while Donald Thomas who was supposed to be that breath of fresh air, was cut.  John Jerry, a draft pick out of Mississippi showed signs that he will improve but the reality is, if you take a look at the Dolphins current roster, nothing jumps out to make a fan believe that the Oline will be set heading into the 2011 campaign.

The Dolphins drafted G/C Mike Pouncey with the first pick in this years NFL Draft.  At 16 overall, Pouncey will be expected to start from day one and indications are that he will be primarily training at center.  Which will put Incognito back to guard.  With the rest of the roster looking like this, Ray Feinga and Corey Procter rounding out the guards, Joe Berger as the only true center, Lydon Murtha, Allen Barbre, James Marten, Matt Kopa, and Pat McQuistan, at tackles, it’s a safe assumption that the Miami Dolphins will be looking to add at least one offensive lineman in free agency.

So with that, here is my 2011 Miami Dolphins offensive line free agent primer.

It’s unlikely that Miami will cut Vernon Carey loose but there has been some speculation that the Dolphins may explore the trade options.  However with the length of the lockout it’s become more unlikely that the team will be able to make a move within the time frame that may be available.  So it’s safe to assume that the Phins will be locked down at both tackle spots (Jake Long has unofficially recovered from last years shoulder injury).  John Jerry will return to compete for the LG spot and as mentioned earlier Richie Incognito will move back to the RG spot.  Nate Garner who missed all of last season with injury will also be back.

Still, the Dolphins don’t have a 100 percent viable offensive line.  Which leads me to believe they will look to the market.

Logan Mankins of the New England Patriots is an intriguing option for the Dolphins.  Rumors floated last season at the trade deadline that the Dolphins were trying to make an inter-division trade for the All-Pro guard.  Mankins has been at odds with the Patriots over his contract and held out for the first half of last season.  Earlier this off-season the New England Patriots placed the franchise tag on Mankins and over the course of the last couple of months, Mankins has made statements to the media that would imply he is comfortable returning to the Pats.

Recently however, word has leaked out of the league/player negotiations that the 11 named plaintiffs will demand that no NFL team can franchise them as part of a new CBA.  This was done with the last work stoppage that allowed Reggie White to leave Philly for Green Bay.  In other words, those 11 players will have verbiage associated with the new deal that will not allow any team to place a franchise or any other tender on them.  It also means that Logan Mankins would immediately become a free agent regardless of the current franchise association.

Mankins will be expensive, likely one of the most highly paid offensive guards in the league.  The Dolphins know what they would get out of him so I would not rule out that possibility.  However, if the Dolphins want his services they will need to jump on him at the stroke of mid-night to avoid a bidding war with several other likely suitors.

Carl Nicks of New Orleans will battle the free agent lines with Mankins for the top guard salary.  New Orleans will remain in play for the Pro-Bowler but last season they made another offensive lineman, Jahri Evans, the highest paid interior lineman in the NFL.  It’s not likely they will do the same for Nicks.  The Dolphins haven’t been rumored to be interested in Nicks but that doesn’t mean they won’t look at adding him if Mankins signs elswhere…provided Miami does indeed have interest in the lineman.

David Joseph of Tampa Bay spent last season on the IR after fracturing his foot.  When healthy he is a dominant guard who equally excels at both pass protection and run blocking.  It’s unlikely that he gets out of Tampa but if does in fact hit free agency, he will cost much less coming off the foot injury than either Nicks or Mankins would.

If there is one thing that the Dolphins like in their offensive lineman, it’s that nasty hard hitting play that was a staple in Dallas under Tony Sparano and the one thing consistently missing since he became HC in Miami.  Harvey Dahl of Atlanta is that kind of player.  Physical, mean, and excellent at run blocking, pass blocking, and pulling.  It will be hard to pry him away from the Falcons where he has helped transform Atlanta’s offensive line into one of near dominance, but money can change anyone’s mind.

The Miami Dolphins have more than a few holes to fill heading into the season and while some will argue that Running Back is priority number one, it really won’t matter who totes the rock if the offensive line can’t play well above their 2010 production.  The Dolphins can no longer afford to play shuffle board with the lineman as Sparano has done every year since his arrival.  Nor can they continue to rely on the paper predictions either.

For Miami, fixing the offensive line needs to be a major priority.  It will give Chad Henne or whoever the QB is more time, open lanes for the running backs, and provide the stability needed to advance the ball down the field.  While the team has a few pieces in place with upside and helped themselves with the Mike Pouncey addition, the reality is that the line has just as many questions as any other position on the field.

Other names who may possibly be available:

Deuce Lutui (ARZ)
Lyle Sendlein (ARZ)
Justin Blalock (ATL)
Chris Chester (BAL)
Marshal Yanda (BAL)
Olin Kreutz (CHI)
Evan Mathis (CIN)
Kyle Cook (CIN)
Nate Livings (CIN)
Kyle Kosier (DAL)
Jason Spitz (GB)
Kasey Studdard (HOU)
Mike Brisiel (HOU)
Kyle DeVan (IND)
Mike Pollak (IND)
Rudy Niswanger (KC)
Casey Wiegmann (KC)
Jonathan Goodwin (NO)
Kevin Boothe (NYG)
Samson Satele (OAK)
Reggie Wells (PHI)
Scott Mruczkowski (SD)
David Baas (SF)
Chris Spencer (SEA)
Leroy Harris (TEN)
Will Montgomery (WAS)

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Tags: Carl Nicks David Joseph Harvey Dahl Jake Long Joe Berger Logan Mankins Lydon Murtha Miami Dolphins Mike Pouncey Vernon Carey

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