Jonathan Brownfield-US PRESSWIRE
With the Franchise Tag deadline past and only around ten teams using their tags, there appears to be a lot of free agents hitting the market on Saturday. Miami alone has several that will more then likely be looking for a new team. For those that don’t already know, Miami used their tag on Defensive Tackle Randy Starks which will hit them for roughly 8.4 million on this years cap. With the tag used, it more then likely means that Left Tackle Jake Long, Corner back Sean Smith and Running Back Reggie Bush will walk. WR Brian Hartline will more then likely be retained after his break out year and is presently the best option at wide receiver that Miami has. Chris Clemons will probably be cheap enough to keep around, and there’s no reason for QB Matt Moore to stay if he has an option to start somewhere else. If the reports are accurate and this scenario plays out, Miami has more even more holes to fill then they did last season. Fortunately the Phins have 9 draft picks and around $40 million to spend. But who is really worth it?
Miami is desperate for a big play maker at receiver and owner Stephen Ross has said that acquiring one is the number 1 priority this off season. Also in need is a offensive tackle, running back, corner back, free safety and tight end. Lucky for Miami that this years free agent pool is pretty deep this year because the draft is not. This years draft does not have any real stand out picks that teams will be climbing the boards to get. There are no dynamic receives, like a Julio Jones or corner backs like Morris Claiborne that can come in, start right away and instantly improve the team. Positions like these need to be addressed through free agency this year with low mileage vets that can come in and make a difference. Miami has the money to spend and even picks to trade if they really need to.
At wide receiver, Mike Wallace is easily the best option for the Phins. Everyone knows that he is not the complete receiver but he is the deep threat that Miami needs. With an average of 18 yards per catch, Wallace can help move the offense down the field faster then 5 yards dumps we have been used to seeing over the last couple of years. He automatically commands support over the top from the safety and opens up the other receivers and the running game. But is he worth the money? Wallace will be asking for about $11 million dollars a year if not more and will more then likely get it. Miami has the cap room to make it happen and desperately need another receiver to help second year starting QB Ryan Tannehill. With Dwayne Bowe locked up by the Kansas City Chiefs, Wallace is head and shoulders above the rest of the receivers. Greg Jennings is still available but rumor has it that Head Coach Joe Philbin is not impressed with him, and honestly Miami has their own version in Brian Hartline. Randy Moss is ancient and just trying to get a pay check, and Wes Welker will stay in New England no doubt. Danny Amendola is also going to be available but has only had one decent season and honestly is not the same caliber as Wallace.
Sean Smith with be testing the waters and that’s fine with most fans. Smith showed flashes of talent at times and shortly shut down some great receivers, then was burned or gave up short yardage passes that turned into long drives for touchdowns. Smith never developed in to the shut down corner Miami hoped he would become, and is asking for way too much money for a corner with only 5 picks in 4 years and no sacks. Better options would be players like Derek Cox out of Jacksonville or Cary Williams out of Baltimore.
Cox was injury prone but when he was on the field he was a great corner to have. A true ball hawk with 12 picks in only 3 and a quarter seasons( he missed 6 games in 2011 and 4 games in 2012) he would be an instant upgrade and help a defense that gave up some of the more yardage in the air last season. Cary Williams stepped in as a starter in Baltimore when Lardarius Webb went down and did a fine job. He was beat over the top a couple of times at first but with practice was able to lock up quality receives and help with the Super Bowl.
There are also options like Aqib Talib that can work as band aid for this year, still a great player but highly unlikely given his off the field behavior. Brent Grimes is another option and will probably be cheap and open to a short term contract considering he is coming off a torn Achilles. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is available but probably asking too much money and not really worth it. Charles Woodson is also available but would more then likely not be more then a Nickle back due to his age. Best option would have to be Derek Cox and draft a rookie. If he can stay healthy Richard Marshall can play opposite Cox and put Nolan Carrol on the bench. Jimmy Wilson can stay at nickle and possibly even pick up Grimes if he agrees to a short cheap deal. Priority though would be Cox.
Now here comes the screaming and arguing. Running Back is a rough choice this year. Ahmad Bradshaw is a great back but always hurt, Cedric Benson is getting old, Shonn Green would not be an improvement over any of Miamis backs, Peyton Hillis doesn’t fit the offense. Danny Woodhead is available but undersized and again not a great improvement. Felix Jones is available but injury prone. Miami’s best option(here it comes) is Reggie Bush. Bush knows the offense he can run through and around tackles, line up as a slot, a team leader and a dangerous player. Teams still have to account for him on the field. In two seasons with Miami he has rushed for over 2000 yards and just uner 600 yards receiving. Over 900 yards last season with a sub par passing game that allowed the defense to concentrate on him. Problem is the money, of course, and what he will be asking. Bush will likely ask for upwards of $5 million a year and at that price might be to expensive for the Phins. He is injury prone and had a problem with fumbles last year. Daniel Thomas is not the answer and nobody knows if Lamar Miller is after only getting 51 touches last year. There is the draft, but Miami already has two young inexperienced backs. Although many disagree, Bush is Miamis best option for at least the next year or so. Hate it or love it, its the truth.
O-line is rapidly becoming an issue as well. Jake Long is coming off two of his worst years and has been plagued with injuries and still asking for big money. With the franchise tag used, the chance of bringing Long back is slowly fading away. Fortunate for Miami, there is a lot of quality talent up for grabs around the league as far as offensive tackles go. Still on the market are tackles like Ryan Clady, Sebastian Vollmer, and Andre Smith. Long was for several years the best Left Tackle in the league but those days seem to be in the past. Either hes just beat up and lost a step or he does not fit the new zone blocking scheme that Miami has implemented. Either way he is not the Long of old and either takes a pay cut or let him walk. Clady has done a great job in Dnever and we know that he learn quickly since is offense ha changed three times in the last 3 years. He also had the job of protecting Peyton Mannings blind side which was a huge responsibility last year with Manning coming off surgery. Vollmer also has done a great job in New England while protecting Tom Brady. Brady has had all the time he needs to pick apart secondaries. These players also bring experience that can help teach Jonathan Martin and left him develop further on the right side of the line. Best possible out come is Miami picking up either Clady or Vollmer for a 3 year deal for no more then $7 million a year.
No the last hole to fill on the team but one that can be and should be addressed in free agency is tight end. Anthony Fasano has been great in the clutch and done a great job blocking but has never been a serious threat. With the progression of the passing game, Miami needs a tight end that not only block but get behind the linebackers and open up the field of play. This years free agent pool is not exactly overflowing with talent but it does have some talent. Jared Cook, Delanie Walker, Fred Davis and Martellus Bennett are all available and have been succesful where they played. Cook seems to be everybody’s favorite with his size and speed. Unfortunately his agent has said that he wants wide receiver money and that’s probably not gonna happen, at least not from Miami. Davis had a break out year in 2011 but tore his Achilles in 2012 so he would be a liability but also someone with something to prove. Bennett and Walker are both coming from championship teams and are both powerful tight ends. Bennett might be the cheaper of the two but Walker might be the more talented and also used to running a similar offense. Walker’s downside is his size, he’s only 6’0 while Bennett is 6’6. Each player has his ups and down, but best case Miami signs Cook to a cheap 2 or 3 year deal but more realistically signs any of the other three to a short, cheap deal.
In reality noone knows what GM Jeff Irelands plan is. At times it doesn’t appear that he knows, but he has done a good job of aquiring picks and cap space this year, so lets see how he uses it to put a team together that can make a serious run at the division. This years draft is not your normal draft with explosive players battling for the number one spot, there are no high value skill players that teams are trading up for, even garuanteed top spots. On the other hand the free agents avaiable this year are extremely talented. there are less then 20 mentioned above and that doesnt even make a dent in whats avaible on the market. With Miami’s cap room this year there is no reason why they can’t sign a number of free agents to instantly improve the team. There is no need to gamble on on unkown players like Mr. Ireland is know for, the talent in free agency is obvious, now will he go after it.