The NFL’s new year will begin in nine days. In seven days teams can start negotiating with agents for the soon to be free agents. In other words the next 10 days are going to get crazy.
For the Miami Dolphins the free agency period is going to be an interesting one to say the least. Needing a lot of defensive help that includes starting linebackers and defensive lineman the class of free agents may just push the Dolphins towards the offensive side of the ball despite their needs defensively.
Simply put the free agent class of 2017 on defense isn’t really that good.
Along the defensive line Dontari Poe of Kansas City and Brandon Williams of Baltimore headline an otherwise unimpressive group. Kansas City could franchise Poe now that an extension with safety Eric Berry is complete and Williams will have a lot of teams looking for his services.
Williams is considered to be the best in this years class. The Dolphins need to stay away from a bidding war but the prospect of Williams lining up next to Ndamukong Suh will be tough to avoid. Spotrac.com has a market value of $12.9 million a year.
At defensive end the Dolphins find themselves with no opportunity to grab Jason Pierre-Paul who had recently been a hot rumor. He was franchise tagged by the Giants. As was Calais Campbell of Arizona. The issue isn’t that Miami is out of the running but the fact that DE is already thin this year and teams needing DE’s will overpay for 2nd and 3rd tier players. Soon to be free agent and former Dolphins DE Andre Branch is going to get paid a lot more than the Dolphins value him at. Miami will likely have to look to the draft.
Moving back to linebacker isn’t giving the Dolphins much either. The biggest name is Donta’ Hightower of the Patriots but Hightower may not play nearly as well in a system outside of New England. Hightower is not an impact player at the point of contact or at the line of scrimmage. He has steadily drawn more assisted tackles than solo and compounding that is he doesn’t set the edge well on the outside. He is also going to be expensive.
Melvin Ingram would have been a nice addition but the Chargers placed the franchise tag on him as well.
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Another hot name that has been associated with Miami is Buffalo’s Zach Brown but this is less than a rumor falling somewhere between rumor and speculation. Brown would be a perfect interior linebacker for the Dolphins but again, Miami will not be bidding against themselves in the pursuit.
As the salary cap steadily increases teams are more capable of keeping many of their top free agents and thus the market becomes thinner in talent as the salaries continue to rise. With this years crop of defensive players dwindling, the Dolphins could find themselves looking at the possibility of filling both guard positions where the talent at the top is deeper.
T.J. Lang of Green Bay is a player that has been mentioned as a possible Dolphins target and Kevin Zeitler will be the top name on many teams wish lists. The Jaguars are expected to make a serious run at him when the market opens.
The Dolphins need to invest money in the position as it has been an Achilles heel for them for years. Miami moved Laremy Tunsil outside, or rather will for 2017 and Jermon Bushrod is a free agent. That leaves the Dolphins needing two starting guards.
Miami has money to spend, almost $46 million and they still have players that are not likely going to be on the roster by the end of March. With players like Kiko Alonso needing re-signed and some of their current contracted players looking for new deals, the Dolphins have a lot of decisions to make.
This week the NFL will host the annual NFL Combine in Indianapolis and a lot of deals will be brokered and or discussed behind closed doors and out of ear shot of others so things tend to get done pretty quick when the bell rings ushering in a new season.
For Miami, it will be a matter of returning to the free spending years under Jeff Ireland or the more cautious approach under Dennis Hickey and to some degree Mike Tannenbaum. What is known for certain is that the Dolphins have holes to fill, money to spend, and a lackluster talent pool to pull from.