Miami can keep its preferred in-house free agents while adding other top free agents and high-round draft picks. The Dolphins are staring at the fast lane, and Jeff Ireland is in a lightning-fast car.
The problem is that there is no guarantee that he will put the pedal to the metal.
There are advantages to building through the draft, but it is difficult and requires time. With approximately $45 million in available salary cap space, Miami can immediately fill many of its holes with proven commodities.
With that said, let's take a look at free agency moves they should avoid.
There is no reason to go into the 2013 draft with no starting cornerbacks. Miami and Jeff Ireland will have plenty of free-agent choices in their search for starting corners. Here are some candidates:
|Sean Smith||25||6'3"||218||Miami Dolphins|
|Brent Grimes||29||5'10"||183||Atlanta Falcons|
|Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie||26||6'2"||182||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Chris Houston||28||5'11"||178||Detroit Lions|
|Cary Williams||28||6'1"||190||Baltimore Ravens|
|Derek Cox||26||6'1"||195||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Chris Gamble||29||6'1"||205||Carolina Panthers|
|Nnamdi Asomugha||31||6'2"||210||Philadelphia Eagles|
Because of the depth of the position in free agency and the amount of salary cap space Miami possesses, the Dolphins can and should land two starting cornerbacks.
With Richard Marshall expected to be the slot cornerback, the question is whether Miami is comfortable with Dimitri Patterson as a starter. Cutting Patterson would create $4.6 million in cap space and Miami could potentially land anyone on the aforementioned list for $6 million to $7 million a year.
Releasing Patterson and adding two starter-caliber cornerbacks makes sense.
Anthony Fasano has been a serviceable tight end but is now a free agent. Miami has an obvious need to fill this position but can also improve it with a game-breaking option.
In the 2013 tight end draft class, Tyler Eifert is the player with the fewest question marks, solidifying his status at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Dolphins will not reach for him as the 12th selection of the 2013 draft and he will likely not escape the first round.
There is no need to draft a project while using a draft pick in the process when there are tight ends that fit the bill for "playmaker" in free agency.
|Dustin Keller||28||6'2"||250||New York Jets|
|Jared Cook||25||6'5"||248||Tennessee Titans|
|Martellus Bennett||26||6'6"||265||New York Giants|
|Fred Davis||27||6'4"||247||Washington Redskins|
While Finley is not a free agent yet, there is a good chance he will be released (NFL.com). Joe Philbin is already familiar with Finley, so if there are "character issues" with him, Miami will not be duped.
Fred Davis has been cleared to play following an Achilles tear but may not be affordable for the Washington Redskins, who are in a dire cap situation. There is risk with Davis as the Washington Examiner's Rick Snider stated: "Davis could find other buyers in free agency willing to gamble that he won't receive a one-year suspension for a second positive drug test and that his torn Achilles has fully healed."
The New York Giants may have to allow Martellus Bennett to test the free-agent market.
The Tennessee Titans may place the franchise tag on Jared Cook, but not if he is deemed a receiver. Cook lined up as a slot receiver for the majority of 2012. If he wants to play elsewhere, this may be his ticket out, as Tennessee is not going to franchise him for $10.7 million.
The New York Jets arguably have the NFL's worst cap situation, meaning Dustin Keller will likely be playing for someone else in 2013. As the most proven tight end of this group, he will likely be the most expensive.
I have argued that the free-agent tackle market is a sham.
Ryan Clady has been franchised by the Denver Broncos. Sebastian Vollmer will likely remain with the New England Patriots thanks to Tom Brady's reduced cap number. Andre Smith may also be franchised and is not the type of player cherished by Jeff Ireland and Joe Philbin.
How about Gosder Cherilus, Winston Justice, Sam Baker, Jermon Bushrod or King Dunlap? The Dolphins are better off drafting a tackle than throwing money at any of these players.
This leaves Kansas City's Branden Albert and Jake Long as the top eligible tackles in free agency. Albert will likely be more expensive than Long.
Long is underappreciated by the Miami fan base and the Dolphins cannot be too frugal because the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and San Diego Chargers are all viable suitors.
Without Long, Miami may be forced to use their first-round selection on an offensive lineman. The idea of letting Long walk and then drafting a tackle in the middle rounds is not a very good one.
The 25-year-old Brian Hartline is the fourth-best receiver in the 2013 free-agent market. He will ultimately sign for a little less than his estimated hometown price of $6 million per year. In the open market, Hartline would easily fetch more than that.
It is also important to have some continuity for Ryan Tannehill.
Landing a big-name receiver will be for naught if Miami allows Hartline to walk.
Detractors point to his single 2012 touchdown, but anyone who watched all of the Dolphins' games last year knows that Tannehill missed a streaking Hartline multiple times.
In 2013, Tannehill and Hartline will connect for more scores as their chemistry improves.
More than anything Miami needs to improve Ryan Tannehill's weapons, starting with a No.1 receiver.
Mike Wallace appears to be Miami's top free-agent target (per the Miami Herald). A five-year, $60 million deal is in the realm of possibility.
While some fans believe that price is too steep for Wallace, know that it is cheaper to pay $60 million to a proven game-breaking receiver like Wallace than to miss on a high first-round pick.
Cordarrelle Patterson and every other receiver in the 2013 draft are not immediate answers to the Dolphins' passing game. As much as some Miami fans wish it were true, there is no Calvin Johnson or even A.J. Green in this draft.
Greg Jennings and Dwayne Bowe are fallback options, but Bowe is likely to be franchised and Miami's interest in Jennings is becoming dubious.
The pass-catching duo of Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will be one of the best in the league. Throw in Davone Bess and a tight end, like Jared Cook or Dustin Keller, and watch out!