Sign or Walk: Judging the Miami Dolphins' 2013 Free Agents
While other teams are preparing for the divisional playoffs this weekend, the Miami Dolphins are preparing for what could be the franchise's most important offseason.
And while the Internet is aflutter with talks of Miami's new logo, I think it's important we focus on something a bit more substantial for now.
To that end, let's look at the first item on the Dolphins' checklist for the offseason: Determining what to do with all these free agents.
Like most NFL teams, Miami's roster is loaded with players whose contracts are at their end. And like many teams, Miami's decisions will not be easy ones to make. Key contributors are in need of new deals; whether or not those deals will come from Miami is yet to be seen.
Miami GM Jeff Ireland will be busy over the next month or so making decisions relating to the Dolphins' list of free agents.
For now, let's see what GM Alan Hubbard has to say. Here's how I would break down Miami's 2013 free agents.
2012 Cap Hit: 4,500,000
Reggie Bush is perhaps Miami's most illustrious free agent. He's received most of the attention that isn't paid to Jake Long.
That's probably because he's Miami's most electrifying player.
The Dolphins have plans to boost their offense this offseason by adding players.
By re-signing Bush, the Dolphins guarantee a level of dynamism that few teams possess. Bush is a revitalized runner who finished just shy of 1,000 yards this year (986), but his 4.3 average is impressive. Oh, and he's a nightmare when lined up at receiver.
Ireland would like Bush to return, but only for the right price. Bush has stated before that he would like to stay in Miami, so maybe that would convince him to take a possible pay cut.
Either way, consider this: If Bush is allowed to walk, Miami's running back corps next year will consist of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. That's half good, half mediocre.
But Bush and Miller in the backfield? The sales of Advil to defensive coordinators would skyrocket.
2012 Cap Hit: 1,308,000
Brian Hartline was more or less asked to shoulder the load at receiver this year. How did he respond?
With a career-high 74 receptions for 1,083 yards. Is this really the kind of receiver that Miami would let walk?
Not with GM Alan Hubbard in charge. Even with Miami in pursuit of an elite receiver in free agency and probably an additional young receiver in the draft, Hartline is too valuable to not re-sign.
If he can put up at least half those numbers as the No. 2 guy behind an elite receiver, then he's earned his money. Considering the rapport he's built with Ryan Tannehill, half of those numbers shouldn't be an issue for Hartline.
2012 Cap Hit: 10,700,000
Jake Long's next contract is going to have a lot of zeros on the end of it. He's a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro; why shouldn't he command a huge salary?
While Long is certainly in a position to pull a lot of money for his next deal, the Dolphins should not be the team that comes up with the money.
Long's play has significantly dropped over the last two seasons. Coincidentally, Long has battled with multiple injuries during that time frame. Durability concerns are now an issue with the former No. 1 overall pick, and those concerns appear to be affecting his play.
Simply put, the Dolphins should not dole out huge sums of cash to a guy who may not even play the full season because of another injury.
Furthermore, even if Long overcomes his injury bug and his production climbs back up to that of his early years, the Dolphins don't need an elite left tackle to succeed. They can get by with one who is simply good, which is what they have in Jonathan Martin. Save that money for people who actually put points on the board.
2012 Cap Hit: 565,000
As a No. 1 cornerback, Sean Smith is a proven liability.
As a No. 2 cornerback, Sean Smith is a reliable defender.
That's the dilemma Miami faces with Smith. While operating in the comfortable shade created by Vontae Davis, Smith found success as the Dolphins' second corner. But with Davis traded to the Colts prior to this season, Smith was thrust into the top role.
Smith struggled to shut down premiere receivers and was continually burned. His stats (59 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions) resembled those of a secondary corner.
Upgrading at cornerback is a priority for the Dolphins this offseason. A number of top-tier No. 1 corners exist for Miami in both free agency and the draft, but the Dolphins already have a solid No. 2 on their roster.
2012 Cap Hit: 3,725,000
After nine seasons as a pro, Randy Starks has established himself as a human mountain at defensive tackle. His performance this year helped earn Miami a top-15 rush defense.
Starks is often overlooked on Miami's defensive line thanks to Cameron Wake's presence, but his contributions should not be overlooked. He finished the season with 27 tackles, 4.5 sacks (third highest on team), and even an interception.
I examined a scenario in which Miami could potentially release Starks and reform its defensive line last week. The possibility is certainly there. Instead, however, Miami should just bring back Starks and not risk fragmenting the defensive line.
2012 Cap Hit: 1,308,000
Reshad Jones may have been the breakout star of Miami's secondary this year, but Chris Clemons quietly had a good season.
He finished with 99 tackles, good for 12th in the NFL among all defensive backs. With only six deflections and two interceptions, his pass defense could use some shoring up. But his run support and ability to make tackles in the open field make him a valuable safety.
If Clemons and Jones continue to improve, they could eventually become one of the league's more formidable safety duos.
2012 Cap Hit: 3,600,000
Anthony Fasano has been a tricky one to diagnose.
His occasional spike in production raises the question: Does Fasano have the skill set to be a dominant tight end and he's just misused by Miami, or is he simply not good enough to be the type of player the Dolphins want at the position?
Unfortunately, I think it's the latter more than the former. This is not a knock on Fasano's abilities so much as it is saying he just doesn't fit the mold for the type of tight end Miami wants. Fasano is a solid blocker and a viable red zone threat, but his salary doesn't match his situational abilities.
The Dolphins will have the chance to sign a guy like Jared Cook or Dustin Keller in free agency and vastly improve the tight end position. To do that, they must part ways with Fasano.
2012 Cap Hit: 2,750,000
In 2012, the Dolphins had a unique benefit that most teams would envy. If Ryan Tannehill had been injured, Matt Moore could have stepped in with almost no drop off at the position. In fact, considering Tannehill's momentary struggles this season, Moore could have possibly been an improvement at times.
It's that reason alone that Moore will not be a Dolphin in 2013.
Moore proved to be a talented quarterback in 2011 when he stepped in for an injured Chad Henne. He led Miami to a 6-7 record, throwing for 2,497 yards and 16 touchdowns. He did all this with little talent surrounding him. Moore also stepped in for Tannehill in Week 8 and had a solid game to seal a Miami victory.
Moore will likely want to go somewhere he could compete for a starting job. Those chances will be available for Moore, and he should have a good shot at landing a good deal elsewhere. The offers he'll receive will be more than what Miami will want to pony up for a backup, so Moore has put on a Dolphins uniform for the last time.
2012 Cap Hit: 490,000
Marlon Moore has had three years to develop into a viable receiving threat. That's a long time in the NFL. How has Moore fared?
Sadly, not well enough to justify a new deal in Miami. Moore had arguably his largest chance to show off this year, but too many dropped passes showed that he still has work to do.
The acquisition of Armon Binns hurt Moore's cause in Miami. Binns only played a few games for Miami at the end of the season, and while his numbers are minimal, his on-the-field performance displayed promise.
The Dolphins will likely add at least two more receivers this offseason in free agency and the draft to go along with Hartline and Davone Bess. For depth, Miami could keep either Binns or Moore. Binns has shown better stuff, so Moore gets the boot.
Pat Devlin, QB
2012 Cap Hit: 390,000
With Matt Moore departing Miami, Devlin should be kept around as a backup to Tannehill. With a full season in the offense, Devlin should be fairly familiar with the system and be able to fill in if his number is called.
Jonathon Amaya, CB
2012 Cap Hit: 540,000
Amaya is pretty low on the depth chart for Miami and doesn't get much game time, despite playing in every game this season. With a handful of more talented corners ahead of him, Amaya doesn't seem likely to return to Miami.
Nate Garner, OT
2012 Cap Hit: 1,400,000
Garner filled in at right tackle when Jonathan Martin switched to left tackle this season. Garner performed decently, which is about as much as you can hope for from a backup. Garner should be brought back in that capacity, not as an expected starter.
R.J. Stanford, CB
2012 Cap Hit: 540,000
Stanford is a promising young corner who could end up being a reliable nickel or dime corner. Even once Richard Marshall returns to full health and enters the starting lineup, Stanford could find the field in rotating packages.
Tony McDaniel, DT
2012 Cap Hit: 3,000,000
McDaniel is a solid defensive tackle, but in Miami he's just a backup. Sure, he's part of a rotation and sees the field fairly regularly, but should the Dolphins really pay him millions of dollars not to start? I don't think so.
Austin Spitler, LB
2012 Cap Hit: 540,000
Spitler's youth will be his biggest boon in Miami. As the backup to an aging veteran (Karlos Dansby), Spitler has the chance to learn from one of the NFL's better linebackers and possibly position himself as the future replacement for Dansby. The Dolphins should wrap Spitler up now while he's still cheap.