The Blueprint to a Perfect Offseason for the Miami Dolphins
Now is it safe for me to talk about the Miami Dolphins' offseason?
A few weeks ago I attempted to discuss not only the players Miami should look for in April's NFL draft, but also their salary cap situation for next season. While many readers offered in their own input, some readers were a bit resistant to the idea of discussing next season with Miami still fighting for a playoff berth this season.
But at 4-6, in the midst of a three-game losing streak, and with a tough schedule coming up (three straight games against Seattle, New England and at San Francisco), it might be time to face up to the fact that while this team has shown great potential and many of reasons for hope, they're not quite the playoff team that we (and by we I mean I) thought they would be less than a month ago.
Now I'm not throwing in the towel yet on 2012, as the NFL is an any given Sunday league, and just three any given Sunday performances could put Miami back on track at 7-6, but why not look to the future now and start thinking about what the Dolphins should do this offseason?
Who should they go after in free agency, who should they draft, and most importantly, should Jeff Ireland be in charge of those decisions?
Let's take a look at my ideas, then in the comments feel free to discuss your own.
Don't Overpay to Keep Jake Long
It feels at times like Bleacher Report's writers and readers are the only ones discussing this, but here are the facts: Jake Long has been terrible this season.
The reasons for it are a bit ambiguous at this time, my personal opinion is that injuries as well as the transition to the zone blocking schemes used in the West Coast offense are the reason for such a decline. However, it should be noted that franchise left tackles tend to last a long while and can play in any scheme.
For Long, I'm beginning to think that a change of scenery might be the best thing for both him and the Miami Dolphins. While Miami will have almost $60 million in cap room next year, Jake Long's contract would take up $15.36 million if Miami were to slap him with the franchise tag, which is far too much for an underperforming left tackle who might be looking at the possibility of having seen better days.
Miami's best option would be to franchise Long but allow him to talk to other teams about a potential deal, then move forward for a trade. However, with Long's play there's the possibility that no team would be willing to give up a decent draft pick for the privilege of overpaying him.
If the Dolphins do choose to keep Long, they will have to get him to accept at least $5 million less in his first year than he would make under the franchise tag. This would also be the smart thing for Long to take as it would provide him with more long-term financial stability while giving Miami roster flexibility, because if he winds up having another year like 2012, his days of being a highly sought after free agent and highly paid player could come to an abrupt end.
Sign a No. 1 Receiver
Miami obviously and clearly, needs to find a top-flight receiver in some way, shape or form.
They could do that via the draft, but developing receivers does take time, and with the glut of receivers on the market it would be almost unnecessary to use a first round pick considering the value of the receivers available in the draft, and the potential draft position of the Dolphins (right now somewhere between 10-20, if I were to guess in Round 1 it would be top 15).
Round 2 would be a better place to find a receiver that fits Miami's system, as the Dolphins will have plenty of opportunities to find their future number one receiver in that part of the draft.
But back to free agency, where as I mentioned, there will be a glut of receivers. One of those receivers will be someone who knows the system already and will still be young enough to contribute to the Dolphins in the next five years, but still old enough to give the position some much needed experience.
It's not Dwayne Bowe, whose signing will likely end up about as well as Brandon Marshall's signing, and will be more expensive. It's not Mike Wallace either, although he would be my second choice if Miami is pressed on signing a wide receiver in free agency.
I'm talking about Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings, who will be a free agent after this season and likely won't be back in Green Bay.
The Packers have found themselves doing well without Jennings, but this has more to do with Green Bay's tremendous job drafting and developing players than the talent that Jennings has. The only reason Jennings is out is due to a sports hernia that he had surgery on earlier this month.
Green Bay is currently monitoring him on a week-to-week basis, and when they feel he's ready to go, they'll activate him. But for now they're in no rush to bring him back only because of the great job that James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson have done thus far.
Jennings will turn 30 years old at the start of next season, but will still be able to produce for Miami while giving Ryan Tannehill a much needed target. At only 5'11" and 198 pounds, he's not particularly big, but will add an element of speed that Miami's receiving corps will need.
While we do talk about the fact that Tannehill and the Dolphins need a number one receiver, what he really needs is another solid target, mainly one that can get open in a hurry, thus forcing teams to blitz Tannehill (which is where he has been at his most effective, and yes I still find that odd). Jennings is the answer there.
Just add Jennings then draft a receiver in Round 2, and Miami will be pretty set with skill players on offense.
Re-Sign Randy Starks and Brian Hartline
If Randy Starks isn't re-signed on day one of free agency, then the offseason won't be off to a good start. If Brian Hartline isn't in tow either, than it gets even worse.
Starks and Hartline have been two of Miami's best performing players, and will be needed in the long run, while also being cost-effective.
Hartline should have an extension worked out prior to the start of free agency, as it's quite clear that his value to the Miami Dolphins is a lot more than his value would be to other teams (likewise on most other teams Hartline would be a number three receiver, while in Miami he will be either a number one or two guy, depending on what else they do at the position).
Starks is a bit of a different case, as teams will be interested in him this offseason. Even though Miami will likely wind up in a bidding war for the defensive tackle, he still shouldn't be too expensive for Miami to re-sign, especially considering the deal they wound up signing teammate Paul Soliai to (two years, $12 million) as well as the contract he would sign if Miami chose to franchise him ($7.9 million).
Both of these players fall under "must re-sign," and both will be rather inexpensive re-signings for Miami. It's imperative that both remain Miami Dolphins come next September, thus eliminating two unexpected holes Miami would have to cover in the draft.
Cautiously Re-Sign Sean Smith, Then Build the Secondary around Him
Very, very cautiously re-sign Sean Smith, as in a "there aren't really any other decent free agent cornerbacks, but we're spending one of our second round picks and a first round pick on a corner and need some experience back there" way.
Smith has been hot and cold this season, with his best games being great, and his worst games being awful. Most of this is on him, but if I had to play in a secondary that also featured Nolan Carroll, I'd probably get a bit frustrated too.
As for building the secondary around him, Miami would be well served by drafting a safety and a corner in the first two rounds of the draft (more on the draft blueprint in a minute). There are plenty of decent ones to go around in the first two rounds, where Miami has three picks. Two of those picks should be used on the secondary, with another later pick also possibly used in the secondary as well.
Secondary is the weak spot of Miami's defense, and one that must be addressed with much more urgency than wide receiver in next April's draft (which is why I advocate signing Greg Jennings or any other free agent wide receiver not named Dwayne Bowe). While Smith is a free agent, he should be kept by Miami because he does work as the number two cornerback, not so much as a number one.
Miami should draft and develop their number one cornerback.
Replenish the Linebackers
The Dolphins have been fortunate enough that this problem hasn't cropped up yet: the thinness of their linebacking corps.
After Kevin Burnett, Koa Misi and Karlos Dansby, Miami's linebacking corps is a thin one. Austin Spitler, Jason Trusnik, Josh Kaddu and Jonathan Freeny are their backups, but they haven't seemed to impress Miami's coaching staff enough this season in practice to get any playing time unless someone gets hurt (in that situation, it's mainly been either Spitler or Trusnik getting the call).
Miami will have to look for a linebacker in this year's draft while continuing to develop the ones they already have on the roster. What makes this more important is Karlos Dansby's age plus his onerous contract for 2013 where he's owed $6.05 million. It's likely Dansby will either have to take a pay cut, or no longer be a Miami Dolphin.
Another option Miami has would be to draft another defensive end, then shift Olivier Vernon (who really should be getting more playing time yesterday) to linebacker. Vernon has the skill set to thrive as a pass-rusher at either position in a 4-3 defense, and should be utilized more.
The Fireland Section I Know You Were All Waiting for
You knew this slide was inevitable. You knew I had to mention that Jeff Ireland leaving might be in the Miami Dolphins' best interests.
If you're wondering whether or not I thought that during Miami's three-game winning streak, yes I was.
I honestly don't think he's going anywhere, I'll continue to say it again, his 2012 draft class was a very good one, and if Michael Egnew and Rishard Matthews continue to develop one, it becomes the best post-Jimmy Johnson draft class.
Along with that, it is the coaches responsibility to prepare their players, and they didn't do such a great job of that in their last two games. That's not on Jeff Ireland either.
But, how much does Ireland know in terms of picking players suited for a West Coast offense? Think about the players struggling in that offense: all Ireland guys chosen to run the Sparano-Henning offense of years past.
Jake Long is the best example of this. He was phenomenal under Sparano and Henning running that offense, but has struggled with the West Coast offense.
In contrast look at the defensive front-seven, which has the personnel of a 3-4 defense, yet started off the season running the 4-3 fairly well. The only ones I'd replace thus far is Jared Odrick and Karlos Dansby, and with Dansby it's mainly due to his cap hit.
But on the whole, Ireland's record is still a bit too spotty for me to put my full trust in, and while he has done good work in the last two drafts, we can't forget his first three drafts with the team and his failures back then (here's the part where you say that Bill Parcells was running the team, but that's only partly true).
Does he deserve to get fired? For right now I would say probably not.
However, I would much rather have a general manager that knew how to build teams that run a West Coast offense and a 4-3 defense, and find the right players for those systems, because right now as it stands (and yes it's only year one), Ireland doesn't have those players, and might not be accustomed to finding those players.
Quick Mock Draft Time
One more slide to add, I decided on a mock draft.
I did one last month, here's a quick one I did for this month. Yes, there will be more as we approach the offseason.
Round 1: Dee Milliner. Cornerback, Alabama
Round 2: Brennan Williams. Tackle, North Carolina
Round 2: Marquess Wilson. Wide Receiver, Washington State
Round 3: Robert Lester. Safety, Alabama
Round 3: Gabe Jackson. Guard, Mississippi State
Round 4: Seantrel Henderson. Tackle, Miami
Round 5: Conner Vernon. Wide Receiver, Duke
Round 6: Bruce Taylor. Linebacker, Virginia Tech
Round 6: Jake Stoneburner. Tight End, Ohio State
Round 7: Caleb Sturgis. Kicker, Florida