Miami Dolphins' Blueprint for a Perfect Free Agency
This is Jeff Ireland's time to move out of his comfort zone. The Miami Dolphins' general manager needs to be aggressive during the upcoming free agency period.
In what is, now, his sixth season with the team, the fruits of his labor must be made evident. If Ireland would have told team owner Stephen Ross that he had a 10-year plan in 2008, he would have never landed the job.
There is no more patience here. Ireland has the means and now must land the final pieces.
Nothing should be left for the draft to address. The draft should be icing on the cake. If Miami still has a need for receivers and cornerbacks come draft time, Ireland will have failed.
As I have argued all along, the Miami Dolphins could be a complete team before the 2013 draft.
I understand that the free-agency period involves many variables but, in a vacuum, here are the players Miami must sign to have a perfect March.
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This is an easy one. Miami needs a receiver that defenses have to plan for. Mike Wallace will be the home run threat that the Dolphins have lacked for a long time.
Even Brandon Marshall did not have the ability to stretch the defense like Wallace.
Armando Salguero of The Miami Herald reported that Wallace was going to be the Dolphins' top target in free agency. He also suggested that they may be competing with the other cap space giants, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns.
Mike Wallace is the all-important first domino.
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Brian Hartline was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, has a rapport with Ryan Tannehill and is only 26 years old.
Hartline is the fourth-best free-agent receiver in 2013, one notch below Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings. Yes, right now, he is better than Wes Welker.
He wants to remain a Dolphin and can likely be had for $6 million a year.
Miami fans might not know what they have in Hartline but he is a rising star.
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The interior of the Dolphins' defensive line is one of their team strengths, and it is anchored by Paul Soliai and Randy Starks.
Starks is looking for a deal worth $8-10 million a year, and if he does not lower his price, he may simply receive the franchise tag and be paid $8.3 million for 2013.
Starks is one of Jeff Ireland's free-agent finds and the 29-year-old has been a Pro Bowler two of the last three years.
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I believe he can remain in Miami for $7 million a year. While some may argue that is a ridiculous price for Smith, it is the price for immediate wins.
Drafting a cornerback is an option but it should only be for depth behind Smith and our next addition.
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Derek Cox will be Sean Smith's partner in crime because he is 26 years old, is somewhat under the radar and has Pro Bowl potential.
Because Cox has only played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, he is a relative unknown and could be had for $6-7 million a year.
Smith and Cox are still growing as defensive backs and Miami will have them in their prime.
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Jared Cook has the skill set to be a game-breaking tight end. He is only 25 years old, and it seems like he has been underutilized in Tennessee.
Negotiations with the Tennessee Titans are growing sour. Their threat to place the franchise tag on Cook may lose its leverage as, based on where he lined up during the season, Cook may be considered a receiver. The franchise-tag price for a wide receiver is approximately $4.7 million more than a tight end's.
It appears Cook is trying to avoid the franchise tag, which would pay him $6 million for 2013, and the Titans altogether.
There are other tight end options in free agency, so Cook cannot expect the Dolphins to break the bank for him. I believe a long-term contract worth about $4 million a year is fair for an unproven commodity with potential.
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I have argued before that the free-agent offensive tackle market is not as strong as it has been portrayed.
Jake Long is an important piece of the "win-now" puzzle. His production may have waned because of injuries, but I believe Long will return to glory.
Ireland can draft a tackle as insurance for Long.
Long will have to make concessions, and Miami has some leverage as well because of the relationship between Long's wife, Jackie, and Ryan Tannehill's wife, Lauren. Do not underestimate that friendship.
There Is No Tomorrow
You can call my blueprint, "The Magnificent Seven" or "The Youth Revolution."
The bottom line is that this plan is plausible.
This is not the time to be fiscally responsible or to "take it one step at a time." You build through the draft for a future.
Jeff Ireland and the Miami Dolphins need to win now. Miami can be an instant contender, but Ireland cannot miss his window of opportunity.
If the Dolphins are not big players in the 2013 free-agency period, Ireland will not be around to watch the slow growth of this team.
The Miami Dolphins have been mired in mediocrity for too long.