Breakdown: Wide Receivers
By Brian Miller
NEWS: The Miami Dolphins fired offensive line coach Mike Maser yesterday. Maser was brought in with ties to offensive coordinator Dan Henning. While the team struggled with injuries to the line, the play of the interior lineman came into question and head coach Tony Sparano was never quite pleased with their overall play after Justin Smiley went down with injury.
BREAKING DOWN FREE AGENCY
The Dolphins have some issues with their wide-outs. Looking for a taller prototype wide out last year, the Phins brass made their only true epic failure last season. The signing of Ernest Wilford was a joke but one the team realized was a mistake early on. Rather than play the WR for the sake of his 7 million dollar salary, they kept him inactive most of the season and ate the price tag.
While Wilford was a monumental disappointment, Greg Camarillo was a monumental surprise. Unfortunately after being rewarded with a 3 year extension and a hefty pay raise, Camarillo joined the NFL’s IR list.
The Dolphins will look to add a WR this off-season and the question really becomes a matter of who and where. Who will the player be and where will he come from. The draft or free agency? On thing is for certain, the team will likely do a lot more research before dropping guaranteed money on a guy that won’t get on the field.
What the Phins have:
Greg Camarillo is the number 1 target but the number 2 wide-out. He will be ready when camp rolls around and definitely by the start of the season. Camarillo isn’t fast so the knee injury shouldn’t take away from his speed or his roll.
Ted Ginn showed some flashes of what is capable of during the season but his play was far too up and down to be considered moderately consistent. Ginn seems to struggle in routes and getting off the line against bump and run coverage. Still, WR’s tend to make the biggest jump in year 3 so next year will tell whether he lasts or not.
Davone Bess became Mr. Dependable this past season. Filling in capably for Camarillo, Bess became a sure handed target that Chad Pennington looked at often. Bess is more suited for the slot right now which means that he won’t be breaking into the 1 or 2 slot anytime soon.
Brandon London was signed after the season started and quickly jumped into the lineup. A combination of size and moderate speed, London did well with the opportunities he was given. Young and still a long way away from being complete, London showed the team enough to warrant being here next year as a valuable contributor…plus he plays special teams.
Ernest Wilford will likely be dumped before the start of the free agent period if the Phins can not trade him. Which they likely won’t. Wilford possesses what teams want out of a WR, size, hands, speed, but for unknown reasons, he can’t seem to put it all together with any consistency. So much so that his 7 mill cap hit couldn’t get him off the inactive list.
The rest of the WR’s are nothing to smile at. Todd Lowber and Anthony Armstrong spent the season on the practice squad and it looks as though they will start the season hoping to make it again on that squad. Neither figure to be in the short or even the long term plans right now…and that’s not likely to change.
The possible free agent market:
If you want to know what the Phins might do in free agency you have to look at two things. The first, where does that player fit into the team? With Camarillo under a 3 year deal, he is the number 2 guy and with the emergence of Bess in the slot the only real spot left is at the number 1 spot held by Ginn. If you sign a top guy to play 1, where does Ginn go?
Ginn has shown enough to warrant being on the field and next season if the Dolphins find a free agent WR fitting the mold of a true number 1, Ginn could find himself relegated to spelling Camarillo or being a part of the 4 WR set or special packages.
The 2nd is whether or not that player can play Special Teams. Unless that acquisition is a sure handed number 1 no question mark WR, any player will need to have special teams contribution capabilities. Last season the Phins wasted their money on Wilford who didn’t play ST’s, they won’t make that mistake again.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh is probably the top name on the off-season list of wide receivers but just because his name is on the list of probable FA’s doesn’t mean he will make it that far. The Bengals have the franchise tag and would be smart to use it on TJ. They know he wants out of Cincy but letting him go without some degree of fair compensation would be horrid for a franchise who already has enough problems.
OutlooK: Assuming for one moment that he makes it into free agency the Dolphins won’t pony up the cash that will be required to get him. He will either stay in Cincy with the tag or sign elsewhere.
Antonio Bryant would be the number 2 guy on the list and talk around Tampa is that they plan to keep him around by any means necessary.
Outlook: He will stay in Tampa
The rest: After the top 2 there is a considerable drop in unrestricted free agent talent. Marques Colston is available for now but he will be tendered to the highest level as an RFA so write him off coming to Miami.
My Pick: There is one name that pops up often and he is my choice to join the Phins this offseason.
Miles Austin is a man who seems buried on the Dallas Cowboys stat chart. He only caught 13 balls this season but they gained over 270 yards and produced 3 touchdowns. Austin is fast and a solid route runner. The Cowboys have a lot of money tied up in their WR’s. Terrel Owens and Patrick Crayton along with the “beat the trade deadline bust” Roy Williams make up the top 3 at the position. With Miles being an RFA the Cowboys will likely tender him at a level that will at least get them some compensation.
Austin is a 6-3 216 pound wide-out who has been with Dallas for 3 years…which means you know who brought him in. The Cowboys also have Sam Hurd on the team who spent last season on the IR and will likely draft a WR to become the heir apparent to Terrel Owens.
Oh, and Austin plays ST’s as well.
Outlook: I like this kid and he could be a very solid option for the Dolphins. Able to stretch the field, capable of going over the middle, solid hands and good height. I think the Phins will look very closely at this kid and he could be in Miami before the draft…either as a free agent or in a trade.
There is always the possibility of a trade and these Dolphins apparently are not afraid to pull the trigger. The biggest name on the trade market of course is Anquan Boldin from the high flying Arizona Cardinals. Boldin is entering the final year of his contract and expects to receive money close to the huge 70 mill contract that Larry Fitzgerald signed last year. Fans love the thought of Boldin coming to Miami, call it a retro-fix for drafting Eddie Moore instead the stellar WR. Still, it won’t happen. While Boldin would be a great site in Miami a returning home kind of story, the truth is this regime doesn’t blow draft picks and that’s exactly what the kid will cost…picks.
Unless the Phins can find a way to send players instead, Boldin will not come to the Dolphins the price of admission is way too expensive. When you add his salary demands to that as well, your better off looking elsewhere.
In terms of other receivers who may find themselves tradable, there really isn’t any that stand out as sure things. You can see a full list of “potential” free agent WR’s here.
What will the Dolphins do?
As I stated above I predict that Miles Austin will join the Phins this off-season and I look for the Phins to use a 2nd day pick on a WR as well. Pat White, the QB/TE/WR wildcat guy could be a possibility late round 4 or 5. A more traditional pick may be Nevada’s Marko Mitchell. The 6′ 3″ 210 pound WR had 57 catches, 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns in his senior year. A project with some upside who could contribute on special teams in year one.