The Miami Dolphins are entering into the most important offseason since Dan Marino retired. They have a number of key pieces that give them a solid foundation but don't have the firepower to push them over the top.
GM Jeff Ireland has a ton of cap space to work with this offseason. He also has five draft picks in the first three rounds. This is the offseason where big moves need to be made.
There are also a number of solid players who could walk in free agency. Jake Long, Reggie Bush and Sean Smith will all get overpaid, and hopefully it's not Miami doing the paying. Matt Moore will go elsewhere to compete for a starting spot.
Randy Starks was given the franchise tag and could still get locked up long term. Chris Clemons and Anthony Fasano are not outstanding talents but should be re-signed at reasonable prices.
This leaves the roster in a state of flux heading into the start of free agency, when we will get a clearer picture of how the Dolphins will attack the draft. But for now, it's time to look at exactly what needs the Dolphins have to fulfill and what their best options are between free agency and then the draft.
This is a need only because I think Jake Long will be playing football somewhere other than Miami next season. But it becomes an extremely pressing need if Long moves on.
Johnathan Martin can play both the right and left sides, but Miami should look to play him on the left and search for a right tackle in free agency.
There are a number of options here. Newly released right tackle Eric Winston is one of the better natural right tackles in the league and would be a great pickup.
Andre Smith was arguably the best right tackle in the league last season and will be very intriguing even though he will command a pretty big deal. He has had some weight problems in the past, though, and would likely have to slim down to be able to play quick in the Dolphins zone-blocking scheme.
Sebastian Vollmer would be my personal favorite option, although he very well could remain in New England. But if the Dolphins could somehow pry him from the Patriots, it would get them one of the best tackles in the league who could play either side, thus giving Martin even more value.
Another potent option is Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who has been a little inconsistent and struggled with injuries but still has a lot of talent. If Miami got him at a reasonable price, it could be a steal.
But if none of these tackles are signed by the Dolphins, they would have to turn to the draft, where I think they'd target someone in the second round. If D.J. Fluker dropped there, he would be the ideal selection. Other guys who could fit in well include Justin Pugh, Menelik Watson and Oday Aboushi.
This is another need which is slightly dependent on Sean Smith's free-agency status, although even if he stays in Miami, the Dolphins still would do well to pick up another quality corner. But I think Smith will walk, creating the need for two new cornerbacks in Miami.
Their top target should be Jacksonville's Derek Cox. He's been a little injury-prone but has also flown somewhat under the radar and should be had at a reasonable price.
The Atlanta Falcons have yet to offer Brent Grimes a contract, and he could be a potentially great deal for Miami. Grimes tore his Achilles this past season and now hits the open market at a discount.
Two other free-agent corners worth looking at are Keenan Lewis and Chris Houston. Both are comfortable in the No. 2 corner roles and would ideally be picked up by Miami alongside one of the previous two players or signed to contracts, with Miami intending to draft a top talent.
There are a number of ways Miami could go with cornerbacks in the draft. Xavier Rhodes and Johnthan Banks are big, athletic, potential shutdown talents who could be there at the 12 slot. Unless Cox or Grimes is signed, Miami should take a long look at Rhodes and Banks.
But if they choose to wait, they'll find a plethora of talent in the second and third rounds. Guys like Jordan Poyer, Logan Ryan, Robert Alford and Darius Slay are all solid prospects.
David Amerson, Blidi Wreh-Wilson and B.W. Webb all come with a lot of potential but also some question marks, although Miami may feel that they'd be worth a third-round selection.
This is the most talked-about need for Miami, although it's also probably the least complicated. Even with Miami signing Brian Hartline, they really still need that standout receiver.
Dwayne Bowe is off the market, and Greg Jennings will probably seek too much money for what Miami would be willing to pay him. Mike Wallace is really the only guy in free agency who would make sense for the Dolphins.
I'm not the biggest Wallace fan, especially at the price tag attached to him, but there is no denying how much excitement he would bring to the offense. If Miami lures him to South Beach, it would allow it to look at another position with its first-round pick.
But the Dolphins would still need to target another receiver for depth, optimally in the third round. Guys like Ryan Swope, Da'Rick Rogers, Aaron Dobson and Stedman Bailey may be around.
There are also some late-round options that Miami may want to take a look at. Conner Vernon, Cobi Hamilton, Marquess Wilson and Aaron Mellette all carry a significant amount of intrigue with them and would definitely be worth considering in the fifth or sixth round.
But what if Miami does not sign Wallace? Then they would be truly pressed to add talent through the draft, and that probably means targeting Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round.
If Patterson is not an option for whatever reason, Miami would have to consider using both of its second-round picks on receivers. Justin Hunter and Terrance Williams both have No. 1 receiver potential, and Quinton Patton, Robert Woods and DeAndre Hopkins would all make great No. 2 options.
This is the one need that I think should be filled exclusively with the draft. This is a spot where the Dolphins really only need one guy who they think can step in and be that compliment to Cam Wake.
Jared Odrick simply did not get it done last year, and while Olivier Vernon has some potential, he's better suited right now to be a rotation player.
So who should Miami circle on its draft board? First and foremost would be Dion Jordan from Oregon, the 6'6" freak athlete who has seen his stock soar after the combine. It's likely that Jordan will be taken before the Dolphins pick at No. 12.
There is one other defensive end I would consider with that 12th pick: Bjoern Werner. He had an underwhelming combine, but his tape shows a hard-working, natural end who gets good bend around the edge and knows how to get to the quarterback.
It is worth noting a few players who I would not consider for Miami: LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, along with BYU's Ezekiel Ansah. Mingo is better suited as a 3-4 OLB, and Montgomery and Ansah don't have the speed Miami needs on the outside.
If Miami doesn't get Jordan or Werner, they could look to see if anyone falls into their lap in the second round, as Johnathan Martin did last year.
Damontre Moore is a technician whose lack of elite athleticism has seen his stock fall from the top five to out of the top 20. Datone Jones is a great athlete who has intriguing upside. Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins are two FSU products coming off injuries who are immensely talented and could be had at a decent price.
Any of those four would look great in a Miami uniform, as long as they come in as second-round picks.
Lastly, we come to the spot where Miami has just refused to improve in the last decade: tight end. Anthony Fasano is a serviceable option, but he just doesn't cut it as the primary receiver in today's NFL.
There is one big free-agent option whom I think Miami should vigorously pursue. Jared Cook is a fast, long, 6'6" tight end who is able to split out wide because he is so athletic.
He has not even come close to reaching his ceiling, and I think Miami would be foolish to let him realize his potential elsewhere. He'd give Tannehill a great option over the middle and in the red zone, and it would take a lot of pressure off Miami to get an elite tight end in the draft.
The Dolphins are in a bit of a pickle when it comes to the draft as far as tight ends go. If they don't sign Cook, they will really be pressed to go after Tyler Eifert or Zach Ertz, the top two tight ends in the draft.
The problem is, most people wouldn't consider them worthy of the 12th overall pick, but they will almost definitely not be available when Miami picks again in the second round.
Optimally, if this situation unfolds as such, Miami would trade down into the 20s and then scoop up one of the two then (preferably Eifert, as I find him to be a clearly superior player to Ertz). This would let Miami add an extra pick while still filling a big need with a big talent.
If that doesn't work, and the Dolphins are left without Cook, Eifert or Ertz, they could look at Vance McDonald or Gavin Escobar in the third round, but that would not be optimal. The only way Miami could afford not to get one of those top three tight ends is if it really stocked up on receivers via free agency and the draft.