Head over to Finheaven.com. Phinatics.com. FinNation.com. Phins.com. And any other Miami Dolphins fan forum DOT.com you choose. Hot topic? What the Dolphins will do with their free agents and what they will do with those that are not. It’s dicey and it’s a full blown debate.
For the most part, many fans believe that the loss of Jake Long is not only a foregone conclusion, but not a tremendous loss for the team. Start talking about Sean Smith, Brian Hartline, and Randy Starks, suddenly the opinions run from “let ‘em go” to “must keep”. One thing is for certain however, not everyone shares the same opinion and even fewer accept the opinion of someone else.
So here of course is mine.
Starting at the top I have to look at Jake Long. The former 1st overall pick is nothing close to the perennial Pro-Bowler he used to be. Some will point out that this year is the first year he has not been voted to the Pro-Bowl and I would argue that he shouldn’t have been voted in last year. Long is a good blocking LT but I question his actual leadership. It’s been pointed out in the local media that he has an ego that far exceeds his on field performance. The truth is, injuries have derailed his production and he is not likely going to get the top dollar salary he is looking for. At least not from the Dolphins.
It’s always easier to say “let ‘em walk” but allowing Long to leave in free agency creates a problem on the Dolphins offensive line. There is a hole. Jonathan Martin played well in Long’s place and it’s likely that he could and will slide to his natural left side but if he does indeed move over, another hole will be left on the right side. Despite the glaring needs at WR and to some degree TE, this offensive line is still not a well balanced in your face unit. While losing Long may not hurt the line play and keeping him will most assuredly not necessarily fix it, a hole will be there none the less.
There are options if Long leaves and more talk out of Miami seems to be leaning in that direction. The Phins could as I said move Martin to the left and find a RT in the draft. With five picks in the first 100 selections, the Dolphins easily could add tackle help on the outside. The addition of yet another lineman however will not likely go over well with Fans. It’s still a need and one that will be even more so if/when Jake Long leaves.
After the talk of Long subsides Brian Hartline talk begins.
Hartline has evolved into a fan favorite. His 1,000 yard season surprised everyone especially after he missed all of the training camp with a non-football surgery. His ability to gel with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill was exciting to watch and he became Tannehill’s go to WR. Despite the fact that most believe Hartline is a number 2 WR, opposing teams struggled to stop the soon to be free agent.
Most fans believe that Hartline is the number 1 must sign free agent. The Dolphins are seriously thin with impact WR’s and it’s an off-season priority for Jeff Ireland to find a legit stretch the field number 1. The reality is that Hartline may be expendable despite the public opinion.
Facing facts, Hartline has had one stellar season and that was in 2012. Looking back on last years off-season and many believed that Hartline was a candidate to get cut. The question now becomes this. How much is Hartline worth to the Dolphins? It’s been rumored that Hartline will command a 5-6 million a year salary and while his yardage was over 1k, he still isn’t a big end-zone target and that is not likely to change.
The second thing you have to ask is whether or not Hartline is worth being paid 5-6 to be a number 2 wide-receiver. Then you have to ask if the Dolphins have any younger WR’s on their roster at this point who could have similar success with a top WR opposite them. As the season wound down, I admit, I was one of those who believed that Hartline was a top priority to re-sign. As the off-season ticks away and I start looking over the team, the stats, and how this team won and lost, I’m not 100% certain that Hartline is a must sign in-house free agent.
Don’t get me wrong, I see Hartline as a valuable asset and a player that Ryan Tannehill needs to have to continue his development but I don’t believe that necessarily warrants a 6 mill contract. If I can get Hartline for four or less or a solid team deal that subsequent years help the cap, then I’m on board.
For the purpose of this article, I will address the one player I believe is the teams number 1 priority. The other remaining free agents will be covered later. To me, this player is QB Matt Moore.
The Miami Dolphins have two HOF QB’s. Bob Griese and Dan Marino. Griese had Earl Morrall and Don Strock. Dan Marino had Don Strock. Since the retirement of Marino the Dolphins have not had a star caliber QB let alone a veteran back-up who could step in on a whim and win the game. Young, hungry, and still holding out the hope that he can land a starting gig, Matt Moore is Ryan Tannehill’s Don Strock.
Moore is as valuable to this team as any of their other free agents. If the Dolphins allow Moore to walk they will need to draft a back-up. Either to stand behind Tannehill or stand behind Pat Devlin. Looking at the NFL landscape only a handful absolutely need starting QB’s and each of those teams will likely address their future starter in this years draft. Which means whatever team Moore would land with, would be a temp job.
In Miami, Moore can find some stability. He can compete and make himself and Ryan Tannehill better. He knows the system and he knows he can walk onto a field and take control. He has the respect of his teammates and the confidence in his ability. More than that, he has the respect of his coaches and the guy standing in line in front of him. Matt Moore is a perfect back-up QB and keeping him on the team will only help improve the play of Tannehill.
Most won’t agree that Moore should be a top priority but he should. Moore will test free agency and will be given the promise that he will be competing for a starting job. It’s unlikely however that anyone will offer to pay him like he will be. His return to Miami shouldn’t be ruled out and the Dolphins shouldn’t summarily dismiss his value to the team either.