Ask any Miami Dolphins fan what they want as a priority this off-season and 99.9% of them will tell you a pass catching number one WR. Ask them about last off-season and the majority of them will tell you about the lack of replacing Brandon Marshall at the outset of the free agency period. There is a lesson to be learned there. One that Jeff Ireland needs to be careful not to repeat.
The concept was simple enough. A trade had been brokered between the Dolphins and the Chicago Bears for the talented yet conflicted problem child. Two third round picks for a WR that was facing yet another off-season incident. The plan, according to a Dolphins source, was to fill the vacancy VIA free agency. When the proverbial gun sounded, the Dolphins made the deal, and then started making calls.
Several free agent WR’s on the Dolphins target list but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins jumped into the WR market so quickly and with so much money offered on guaranteed deals that the market quickly inflated in value while declining in talent. While players like Vincent Jackson and Pierre Garcon not only got large contracts, players like Mario Manningham found inflated deals with far less production.
With the plan of replacing Marshall now an issue the Dolphins turned to the draft where once again their plan to draft a replacement fell through as well.
The Dolphins entered the draft with the idea of taking a WR in round 3 according to the person I spoke with. The Dolphins were very high on Tackle Jonathan Martin in round 2 mainly because he had been graded out as a round 1 prospect. The thought was that most of the WR’s on the Dolphins list would fall to the 3rd round. A run on WR’s in round 2 took the top guys off their board.
In retrospect it’s easy to see how making a mistake evolved into losing out on both a WR in the draft and in free agency could happen. It’s also a lesson that needs to be learned from. The Dolphins can ill afford to enter the 2013 season without a legit number 1 WR. The good news for the Dolphins is that this year free agent WR crop looks to be much better than last seasons.
Leading the list is Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Wallace who will become a free agent if the Steeler’s don’t tag him again this year. Dwayne Bowe is also a good possibility to leave KC and would give the Dolphins a player similar to that of Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately Bowe still has a lot of maturity issues and could bring the same kind of problems to Miami that he had in K.C. Of course the most talked about free agent WR this year will be the name Greg Jennings.
Jennings naturally will be linked to Miami thanks to the Joe Philbin connection. At 29 years old, Jennings has been a major contributor to the Green Bay Packers and while he missed most of this season with an injury, he is still likely to make a huge impact for some team next year. The Dolphins would gain in Jennings the talent of a Marshall without any of the associated attitude. Jennings is the epitome of “team player”. While Jennings is statistically one of the best WR’s to hit free agency, he lacks the bulking size that Bowe and Marshall have in terms of fighting for a ball. In Miami however with the same offense he had in Green Bay, Jennings can find success in the timing offense that is employed.
Make no mistake however, Jennings is going to cost a lot of money. Likely similar to the 55 million signed by Vincent Jackson last season.
If the Dolphins fail to land a top wide-out in the free agent market, there are some secondary options. While each have a tremendous amount of talent, none of them have proven to be legit number 1 stretch the field options which is what the Dolphins need.
In Cleveland, Joshua Cribbs has been relegated to special teams play and while he is very good at returning punts and kick-offs no one really knows what he can accomplish as a WR. That is both good and bad. The good news is that he won’t command major money but the Dolphins can’t afford to add another WR that isn’t cut out to be a number 1 and that is where Cribbs, to me, falls.
Wes Welker is set to hit the free agent market and if he actually does hit the street, you can be there will be a lot of interest in him. For as good as Welker has been in New England, he is still a number 2/slot receiver at best. The Dolphins couldn’t slide him into the number 1 role opposite Brian Hartline and expect to see a major jump in offensive production. Welker is a possession go to WR and even in Miami, he wouldn’t be much more than Davone Bess.
Two other names that might get early conversations are Danny Amendola of St. Louis, a go to possession receiver that fits more along the line of Brian Hartline and Kevin Ogletree of the Dallas Cowboys. Ogletree had a breakout game in week one of the 2012 season but then disappeared for much of the remainder. Neither player improves the Dolphins WR’s for 2013.
Should the Dolphins pass or fail to land Wallace, Bowe, or Jennings, the best option for them would be to turn to the NFL Draft in late April. Much like last year however they can’t afford to assume that a player will fall to them where they have them slotted. If that happens we will be looking at a repeat of 2012 and wondering if the Dolphins will make any trades. Without question the team needs to address the position in round 1 or round 2.
The addition of Armon Binns recently has the Dolphins appearing to be pointing in the right direction. Binns wearing the cursed number 19 played well after being claimed off waivers from the Bengals. Binns has a very solid shot of making this roster next season but he isn’t ready to make an impact as number 1 wide. So while his production and his attitude has thus been impressive after one week, the Dolphins do not have on their roster a number 1 WR and until they do, this offense is going to have to manufacture yards instead of manufacturing points.