The Super Bowl is over. The Scouting Combine has concluded. The new year is about to kick-off. Officially. The annual meat market sale will begin in twelve days when the NFL kicks off the start of free agency. The first three to five days will be a flurry of activity followed by a trending trickle that will fade into secondary stories behind some incoming frosh’s pro-day workout. The off-season will culminate with the draft in May this year before surrendering to the lull of June and July.
Oh but we are not in July just yet. Let’s get ready for some, ahem, free agency football!
The Miami Dolphins, like all teams have needs. More than one. If they didn’t they would have made the playoffs. They didn’t. We know that. One victory would have sealed the deal. Another missed opportunity could seal the future of Head Coach Joe Philbin. With Jeff Ireland gone, the power trio of Dawn Apone, Joe Philbin, and new GM Dennis Hickey will all have input into who comes and goes from the Dolphins locker room. The Dolphins are expected to have anywhere between 32 and 38 million in spendable cap space. They can increase that number with some cuts.
Here is our look at the 2014 free agency. Position by Position.
Ryan Tannehill is the returning starter and don’t buy the “Matt Moore will get his chance to challenge” talk. He won’t. In fact, Moore could be out of a job all together. The Dolphins can save about four million in cap space by trading or releasing the back-up QB. It’s being reported as a weaker draft class for QB’s and the free agent market doesn’t elicit a lot of celebration. Moore isn’t going to join a team as the unquestionable starter but there are teams that may look at him. Whether Moore goes anywhere may have more to do with third stringer Pat Devlin who Joe Philbin is very fond of. The Dolphins won’t fish in this free agent pond unless they opt to lose Moore. And then maybe.
The Dolphins will be looking for another RB. Lamar Miller showed flashes of what he might be able to do behind a better offensive line but he also showed he cannot fully carry a total workload by himself. The Dolphins lack a true FB with solid blocking ability so it’s possible the Dolphins could look for both a bowling ball runner and a bowling ball blocker. Daniel Thomas is no guarantee to make the roster and last years rookie Mike Gillislee did nothing to improve his prospective chances. Marcus Thigpen saw some time but didn’t make huge strides and Charles Clay can’t continue to be counted on to pull triple threat duty as a FB, TE, and RB. There is a lot of talk that Miami may look to the draft to find a compliment to Miller in the back-field but RB value has declined over the years and a free agent won’t cost as much as they once did. Last year Miami flirted with Raven FB Vontae’ Leach. He is about to get released again and may find another shot in South Florida.
It wouldn’t shock anyone if Miami looked at WR’s in FA but it’s unlikely. There simply is too much money invested in Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. Brandon Gibson should be back and Reshard Mathews played well last season as well. The Dolphins won’t likely kick many tires here.
Charles Clay played very well last year but that won’t stop or shouldn’t stop Miami from looking at another one. The offense is supposed to be a two TE set but Clay was a one man show last year. Complimenting him with a big time seam threat TE will go a long way to opening the Miami offense. The Dolphins can go into the draft looking to grab a top prospect or grab one from the market. Those wanting Jimmy Graham can keep hoping. It won’t happen.
The Dolphins will look at Eugene Monroe of Baltimore and Brandon Albert of KC. They may land one or they may lose out on both. Miami isn’t the only team looking to land top offensive lineman. What the team does after that is anyone’s guess but it’s likely they will add one FA tackle and one FA guard and then one of each in the draft. Common sense would say add the LT in free agency and RT in the draft. Miami picks too deep to land a top LT. In addition to the four starters they need, the team is likely going to need some back-ups as well so this will be position that is closely monitored by the team, it’s fans, and the media. Success here could reshape the entire output of offensive production. And of course keep Ryan Tannehill off his back.
Randy Starks, Paul Solia, or both will be gone next season. The Dolphins will need to look hard at replacing them. Jared Odrick is ready to take over a more permanent role as a DT but is A.J. Francis? The Dolphins have Olivier Vernon on the outside but also have Dion Jordan waiting impatiently for his chance to make an impact on a consistent basis. The Dline was a position of strength but they played poorly at times last year. Losing their two veteran line leaders will be hard to replace but it may be something the Dolphins are forced to handle. The Dolphins will have to entertain a DT or two and I would expect the team to focus that attention on the draft. The Dolphins are set at DE.
Phillip Wheeler could lose his job. There has been a lot of speculation that he could be a June 1 designated cut. Wheeler’s play last year was atrocious. Not that Danelle Ellerbe’s was not. He just costs less. Miami has lacked a pure physical LB for years. Both on the outside and inside. A true LB. Ellerbe will get another round and if the Dolphins do depart with Wheeler it’s likely they will focus on second or third tier free agents with a deeper look at the draft. Koa Misi will also need to improve as well to keep his OLB job beyond 2014.
The Dolphins can free up about 5 million dollars by releasing Dimitri Patterson. Patterson is a good, aggressive corner but frankly he can’t stay healthy and last year made around three to four million to sit and rehab. The Dolphins should ask him to take a pay cut or become a free agency. On the other side is Brent Grimes who is talking to Miami but not making any progress with a new deal. Not yet. Both sides however are optimistic. Nolan Carroll is going to hit the market. He has already said as much through his agent. Carroll played well at times but he is far too inconsistent to get a long term deal. The Dolphins might look at what he is offered and then base a new offer on that. Will Davis and Jamar Taylor are waiting to make amends for poor rookie seasons. The Dolphins are going to entertain a few prospects here and there have been reports they played close attention to the CB’s at the Combine.
Reshad Jones was supposed to be the anchor last season in the deep secondary but he came up flat. He won’t be replaced but the Dolphins could look for someone else to pair with him. Jimmy Wilson has played well but no one would say that he is “good” yet. The Dolphins need better than good out of their safeties.
Brandon Fields is coming off his first Pro-Bowl and won’t sniff a challenge for the 2nd consecutive year. Caleb Sturgis will. The Dolphins opted to turn over the kicking duties to Sturgis after the first pre-season game last year. The Dolphins won’t hand him anything this year. Sturgis was very erratic after opening the season perfect. He became unreliable and while he didn’t lose any games outright for the Dolphins he didn’t do them any favors winning them either.