The Miami Dolphins, their fans, and the media are all counting the days until the NFL new year kicks off. It begins in exactly one month from today on March 13th. In the meantime, general managers, media, and coaches will convene next week from the 22nd to the 28th in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. Then it’s all down to business for the free agency preparation.
The Dolphins do not have the most impending free agents but they also do not have the least either. Fortunately for the Dolphins none of their free agents are dire needs that can’t be replaced through free agency or the draft. In addition, the Dolphins, who already are expected to have roughly 8-9 million in cap space can use an additional 9 million saved from last season and possibly borrow as much as 3 million from next season. In other words, the team could have between 15 and 20 million in cap space entering the market, depending on how this years cap limit falls.
It’s easy to contemplate who will join the Dolphins and easier to discuss who we hope they will sign. Cough, cough…Peyton or Flynn debate anyone? Today however, I want to look at our own free agent list and try and understand who may be candidates to return and who should and might be playing elsewhere in 2012.
All told the Dolphins have 15 free agents and one of them is retiring. Some dude named Jason Taylor so we can cross him off the list immediately.
RB’s: The Dolphins have two running backs slated to become free agents and indications are that both will be allowed to walk. With the recent (impending) signing of CFL player Jerome Messam, the Dolphins will have a stable of runners entering free agency on the roster. Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush, Messam, and FB/TE hybrid Charles Clay. Add to that two other late additions, Richard Medlin and Marcus Thigpen and it’s easy to see that these two will not be a part of the teams future.
Lex Hilliard – Hilliard was a decent downhill runner but he was never able to get his foot in the door. Instead the Dolphins opted to go with Daniel Thomas in last years draft. Hilliard was serviceable and at times showed flashes of being something better but his inconsistency and lack of playing time puts him on the market. If Hilliard goes unsigned, unlikely, he could rejoin the Dolphins for training camp later in the year.
Steve Slaton – Slaton was a street free agent addition to start last season and while he saw limited action, he was simply an insurance policy. The addition of Messam makes Slaton a free agent.
OL: The Dolphins are in good shape on the left side of the line and have decent depth as well, it’s the right side of the line that is messed up and it’s likely here that the Phins will try and make a move in free agency and if not the draft…or more than likely both. After playing his entire NFL career with the Dolphins, one free agent is likely to have played his last.
Vernon Carey – He played his college ball at “The U” and his pro-career with the Dolphins. Last year Carey agreed to a restructured deal and a move to RG. The move didn’t pan out the way the Dolphins hoped and Carey is now looking at free agency. At this point in his career, Carey is no longer a realistic option to start but would provide solid depth to any team. I won’t rule out Carey returning to Miami at a much reduced salary. If Carey believes he still has starter potential and thus a starters salary he may opt to try the market first and come back to Miami later.
Lydon Murtha – Miami’s only restricted free agent as far as I know is likely to be tendered or re-signed. Murtha has a lot of upside but his biggest drawback is his inability to stay healthy. He has the physical tools to start in the NFL but if he can’t stay on the field, his worth is nothing. The Dolphins will likely overpay to keep him but I would guess it won’t be by much. If they can get him healthy he is a valuable depth player who can play both guard and tackle.
Jeron Mastrud - The Dolphins have a pretty good TE in Anthony Fasano and a budding star in the aforementioned hybrid Charles Clay. Still, the team is always rumored to be looking for a new TE and with a new “West Coast” style offense coming to Miami, the talk of adding a top TE has increased. Mastrud is not a player who will command a lot of attention on the open market so whether the Dolphins decide to re-sign him before free agency or after the draft is not known. Mastrud will not receive a guaranteed contract from anyone and will play through training camp for a roster spot no matter where he goes. His best chance, as of now, is to stay and compete in Miami. The question is do the Dolphins want him?
QB’s: This is the most debated position on the team heading into the 2012 season. From Peyton Manning’s arm to Matt Flynn’s experience to trade up compensation for Robert Griffin, III to a myriad of incoming rookies. The Dolphins need a franchise QB and most believe that Matt Moore isn’t it. So what does that say about the teams impending free agents at the position? It means they won’t be back.
J.P. Losman – Signed as a street free agent last season after the injury to Chad Henne, Losman’s days in Miami are all but over. The Dolphins have no room for him on their roster. With Matt Moore and Pat Devlin, a likely rookie addition, and perhaps a veteran in free agency, the roster get’s too deep to keep a guy like JP.
Chad Henne – Let the debate begin. Should the Dolphins give him another shot? Will they? All depends on what happens in free agency. Truth be told, it’s almost impossible for Henne to come back to Miami after the showers of hatred thrown his way. He maintains he would love to stay but there simply may be no room and the Dolphins will look elsewhere first. It’s likely that by the time the Dolphins come back to Henne, he will be gone. Henne still has a lot of upside and a change of scenery may do him well. The Broncos are already rumored to have interest and I think that would be the perfect fit for Henne. Also the NY Jets with Tony Sparano isn’t out of the question either. Regardless, it appears more and more likely that his days with the Dolphins ended in week 3 of 2011.
Totaling the offense: So far we have seven offensive free agents and only Lydon Murtha truly stands to return to the team and frankly is the only one that the Dolphins likely should re-sign.
DB’s: The Dolphins will face only two free agents on their roster and the truth is that the guys who are under contract have more to worry about given their salaries and their level of play or age.
Will Allen – Allen came back to Miami last season but he struggled at times and was nothing close to the ball hawking corner he used to be. The Dolphins will likely to turn to younger depth under new DC Kevin Coyle so it’s likely that Allen will be allowed to walk. Truth be told, Allen is solid Miami Dolphin but there are younger and cheaper options available and the team can afford to let him go. Considering he isn’t a starter at this stage of his career, the Dolphins will not lose much on the field but likely more off the field, as in the locker room.
Tyrone Culver could return to the Dolphins. If Miami decides to release some of their safeties, including the almost six million dollar salary of Yeremiah Bell, the team may want some degree of continuity back there. Culver won’t bring much more than depth at this point but it is a position that the team may be very thin on. Culver won’t be an expensive back-up and likely won’t find many suitors on the open market.
DL: Most of Miami’s impending free agents come from the defensive line and this could present a problem for the team. As they transition to a 43 defense from their previous 34, some of these players may not have a home. It’s hard to predict what the Dolphins see in any of them in terms of making the transition so it will be interesting to see what direction the team takes in re-signing some but not all of these players.
Paul Solia – Miami’s 12 million dollar franchise player a year ago will be this years big name NT free agent. He will find plenty of opportunities to play elsewhere and the Dolphins simply don’t have the money or the position to keep him. Soliai could very easily move to a DT spot and would likely excel at it but he won’t get paid nearly as much as he would signing elsewhere as a nose tackle. The chances of him remaining in Miami are slim and the Dolphins really can’t afford to tag him and hope to trade him to get compensation. This is simply one of those instances where a solid productive players will hit the open market and likely be off the market in the first weekend.
Igor Olshansky was signed after he was released from the Cowboys last season and he played well. He will likely test the free agent market but could return to the Dolphins on a similar one year deal he signed last season to provide added depth. In Miami he would see playing time as the Phins likely will continue to rotate their players during games to keep them fresh. Olshansky has value as a back-up and I’m not sure he will find free agency all that financially beneficial.
Ikaika Alama-Francis can play down or up on the defensive line but to this day he simply can’t make a move to start which means he is a back-up and therefore depth. The Dolphins know this and that is why they will either try and sign him to a league minimum contract prior to the start of free agency or will let him test the waters and then try and bring him back. Regardless, if Alama-Francis plays for another team in 2012 the Dolphins will be able to replace him.
Phillip Merling had a much better season last year after surviving the roster bubble as many thought. He was considered to be a trade asset last season but the Dolphins either didn’t try to move him or didn’t find any takers. Despite his off-field issues, Merling will find a landing spot on another team if the Dolphins don’t bring him back. That means that he will likely find free agency more financially beneficial than re-signing early with Miami.
Kendall Langford has proven to the Dolphins that he deserves another contract but the issue here comes to how and where he will play in the 43 defense. Langford is not an OLB and I’m not sure he can become a four point defensive tackle which means he will have to play end. The Dolphins will need to weigh his value to the team vs. the contract he will likely be seeking but I believe that he has a good chance of being retained.
Wrapping up the defense: The Dolphins will likely try and keep Culver, Olshansky, and Langford allowing the others to test the market. Overall none of the impending free agents are dire re-hires but it’s hard to fill every vacancy left on your roster if you allow all of your players to leave. Still, the Dolphins core of defensive players should remain intact and the defensive line which is already a large unit may not necessarily need to be fully replaced as is. Allowing the team to add depth or starters at other positions.
NOTE: the above list of possible free agents is what I know as of today using a listing from KFFL. Some of these designations may change or may have already changed based on injury designations and accrued seasons. Other players that I may have missed may also be impending free agents. The team does not officially release a list of it’s free agents and until the start of the league new year, things may in fact change. If you are aware of another player facing free agency this year, please leave a comment and I will respond with my thoughts on that player, in the comment section.