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The Best Gifts Joe Philbin Can Give Ryan Tannehill in Free Agency, NFL Draft

Jeremy SickelContributor IIIMarch 1, 2013

The Best Gifts Joe Philbin Can Give Ryan Tannehill in Free Agency, NFL Draft

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    Leading the Miami Dolphins to a 7-9 record in his rookie season, Ryan Tannehill showed enough promise under center in 2012 to provide this organization with the belief that his lofty draft status (eighth overall) was no mirage.

    Though Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson stole the show last year, Tannehill can possibly join that group should Miami provide him with a fitting supporting cast.

    Whether via free agency or the draft, the Dolphins must acquire players who will help make Tannehill’s job easier with the ultimate goal of consistently competing in the AFC. Retaining their own players is also vital to achieving this goal.

    There is no question that Tannehill struggled at times last year, but all rookies do in the NFL. The key, however, is to learn from those mistakes and mitigate them moving forward. Consistent production from his teammates will only expedite the process.

    Here are some players who could help Tannehill grow as an NFL quarterback in his second season and well into his career.

Jake Long

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    The Miami Dolphins drafted Jake Long No. 1 overall back in 2008 to anchor their offensive line. After five seasons with the team, the left tackle has put together a very productive career and was selected to four Pro Bowls.

    Injuries have played a key role in the decline of his production and overall perception over the past two seasons. At just 27 years old, however, Long is just now settling into the prime of his career. He is expected to draw serious attention on the free-agent market.

    Should the Dolphins risk losing the veteran left tackle, there will be options for his replacement. But bringing him back would provide less of a transition for the protection of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    Miami can either sign Long to a long-term contract or buy another year by placing the franchise tag on him. Though both would be expensive options, left tackle is a premium position in this league and should receive proper attention when filling out rosters.

    Long recently had this to say about a return to the Dolphins (via NFL.com): “It’s essentially on them.”

Branden Albert

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    Left tackle Branden Albert is in the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs as Jake Long is with the Miami Dolphins. But if he hits the free-agent market, Albert could serve as a potentially cheaper option to protect Ryan Tannehill’s blindside.

    Albert spends most of his offseason in the Miami area, so his personal transition would be rather smooth.

    His back injury could be preventing the Chiefs from committing to Albert. Having the top pick in this year’s draft also plays a part, in that both Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher could be options for Kansas City at the left tackle position.

    Should the Chiefs allow him to walk in free agency—and the Dolphins do the same with Long—Albert would be a logical choice for Miami.

Lane Johnson

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    Though the Miami Dolphins have plenty of options at left tackle (in-house or via free agency) before resorting to the draft, the team could look to save toward the salary cap and groom a rookie to take over for Jake Long.

    Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller has both Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher being drafted in the top five in his latest mock draft but has Lane Johnson slotted just ahead of the Dolphins at No. 11 to the San Diego Chargers. There is a definite possibility the Oklahoma product could be there for Miami with the 12th pick.

    Like all teams, the Dolphins have needs up and down their roster. But if they escape free agency without a viable starting left tackle, protecting Ryan Tannehill becomes this team’s biggest concern heading into the draft.

Brian Hartline

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    Wide receiver Brian Hartline had a career year in 2012 (74 receptions for 1,083 yards and one touchdown) and proved to be Ryan Tannehill’s go-to target during his rookie campaign under center. But with a bevy of top wideouts potentially available this offseason, Hartline could be the odd man out in Miami.

    While the Dolphins will almost surely target the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings, not retaining Hartline could prove costly for a team in need of production out of its wide receivers.

    When developing a young quarterback, teams must provide a solid foundation to build on. Bringing back Hartline does just that for the Dolphins.

Mike Wallace

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    With the Miami Dolphins expected to make a huge splash in free agency—particularly at wide receiver—there may be no bigger name available than Mike Wallace.

    Wallace could be Miami’s top target and might command a contract in the range of five years and $60 million (via SunSentinel.com).

    Whether he is actually worth that much or that the market is actually dictating the price is the question. The fact that the Dolphins need to add playmakers at the wide receiver position indicates that Wallace might eventually land that type of deal.

    Wallace can stretch the field, having averaged 17.2 yards per catch in his four years in the NFL. He also has 32 career touchdowns, which is three more than all Dolphins wide receivers combined since 2009.

    Ryan Tannehill would benefit greatly from having Wallace around for the next few seasons.

Percy Harvin

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    Percy Harvin only played in nine games in 2012 due to injury, but he was a productive wide receiver when on the field—catching 62 passes for 677 yards and three touchdowns.

    While the Minnesota Vikings appear to want Harvin wearing purple next season (via 1500ESPN.com), he is after a new contract and could demand top dollars. The wide receiver’s base salary of $2.9 million is a steep discount in comparison to other top wideouts around the league.

    Should the Miami Dolphins come calling, Harvin would step right in as the team’s top target and give Ryan Tannehill the home-run threat this offense needs.

    Harvin’s versatility will allow Tannehill to use the entire field in the passing game, opening up Miami’s playbook in the process. The big question would be just how much the Dolphins are willing to part with in a trade.

Tavon Austin

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    One of the NFL draft's top wide receivers, Tavon Austin is very similar to what Percy Harvin brings to the table on the football field. Should the Miami Dolphins covet that skill set and want a cheaper option, Austin could be their guy.

    An all-around threat, Austin dominated the college game in 2012, hauling in 111 passes for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added another 652 rushing yards and three scores on the ground, while scoring another two on special teams.

    At 5’8” and 174 pounds, Austin may never be more than a complementary slot receiver in the NFL. The Dolphins are looking to surround Ryan Tannehill with as many playmakers as possible, so he would certainly fit right in.

Johnathan Franklin

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    With Reggie Bush unlikely to re-sign with the Miami Dolphins (via NFL.com), this team will need to find a viable replacement this offseason. Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller could share the featured role, but losing Bush’s playmaking ability will be missed.

    Miami could look to the free-agent market for bodies in this spot, but the draft features plenty of options for a potential third-down back for this team. And UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin could be a good fit for the Dolphins.

    If Miami uses more of a running-back-by-committee approach, Franklin’s emergence as a pass-catcher last season (33 receptions for 323 yards and two scores) could help Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins offense become more balanced.

Martellus Bennett

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    If a team’s goal is to become more dynamic through the air on offense, having a pass-catching tight end is imperative in the NFL. Seeing how important players like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have been to their respective team is definitely creating a trend in this league.

    Stuck behind Jason Witten his entire career with the Dallas Cowboys, Martellus Bennett had a very productive 2012 season with the New York Giants—catching 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns. While he is not on the level of the guys mentioned above, that type of production would be welcomed by the Miami Dolphins.

    Though the tight end position may be last priority when it comes to surrounding Ryan Tannehill with viable options, we saw what Bennett was able to do in an offense that also featured Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.

    Miami would do well to explore this option.

Upgrade the Defense

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    All three phases—offense, defense and special teams—work in harmony to decide the outcome of football games. Balance is key for teams to be successful in the NFL.

    While the Miami Dolphins will look to provide Ryan Tannehill with as many reliable weapons on the offensive side of the ball as possible, improving on defense will be just as vital for this team.

    The Dolphins finished the 2012 season ranked 21st in the league at 356.8 yards per game while giving up a seventh-best 19.8 points per game. It was Miami's pass defense that failed this team the most, however, giving up 248.4 yards per game.

    Though the Dolphins only allowed 18 touchdown passes and tallied 42 sacks, mitigating the long pass play might have been the difference between this team finishing above .500 in 2012. Miami allowed 60 plays of 20-plus yards through the air last season.

    Being more aggressive at the point of attack on defense would do well for the Dolphins. Adding bulk in the trenches and a press cornerback will certainly shorten the time Miami's defense is on the field and give Ryan Tannehill and the offense more chances to put points on the board.

     

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