In approximately six days, the landscape of the NFL will change. Players will break away from current teams and return in new uniforms. Unfathomable sums of money will be exchanged, contracts will be inked and the excitement for next season will burn even brighter.
In approximately six days, the Miami Dolphins will finally have to make good on all the talk that's led up to this point. With roughly $37 million left to play with after tagging Randy Starks this week, Miami has plenty of pennies to pay out for top talent.
Nailing free agency is Miami's first step toward not only playoff contention, but also toward challenging New England at the top of the division in 2013. It is imperative that Jeff Ireland hits on the guys Miami needs.
The Dolphins have missed too many times in the past. They cannot miss this time.
But who should Miami target? It's been the center of discussion for a couple of months, so you likely know most of the people who should be on this list. However, I've taken this opportunity to project the free agents Miami should target in descending order.
In other words, the first slide will contain the player who best fits one of Miami's primary needs, and so on and so forth. The higher the slide number, the less important that player should be to Miami. These slides are also ranked by player, not necessarily by position.
Without further buildup, let's get to it. The Dolphins' top priority in free agency should be...
Come on, you're not the least bit surprised.
Reports are still flooding in confirming that Mike Wallace is Miami's top free-agent target.
And with good reason.
Mike Wallace is hands down the most explosive wide receiver available in free agency. His speed is otherworldly, he can stretch defenses on any play and, most importantly, he commands respect from defenses. Any secondary in the NFL would have to roll to his side of the field and keep him in front of them.
Is Wallace worth the roughly $12 million per year he is looking for? That's a question that cannot be objectively answered at this stage. You can try to judge based on his past stats (which aren't exactly underwhelming), but the fact is that until Wallace suits up as a Dolphin for at least a full season, his worth to the team cannot be truly determined.
But if Ryan Tannehill is going to develop into the franchise savior the Dolphins need, if this offense is going to become more than an occasionally flashy but mostly uninteresting unit, then Miami needs to add playmakers.
Wallace is the premier playmaker at wide receiver this year. He's fast. He has solid hands. He can make plays after the catch. He's young. He doesn't have an extensive injury history.
Pay the man. Get the talent.
If Miami doesn't, someone else will.
Speaking of improving the offense, Miami could do this twofold in free agency by picking up tight end Jared Cook.
Cook is another case in which Miami could snag the best available at the position, although it's less clear-cut in this instance than it is with Mike Wallace.
Anthony Fasano has been a fixture in Miami's offense for a few years now, but despite leading the team with five receiving touchdowns last season, he's not the seam threat the Dolphins would like at the position.
Enter Cook. Cook reeled in 44 grabs for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 2012 despite missing the final three games of the season. His big frame allows him to box out linebackers and safeties in the middle field, providing a nice, hefty target for quarterbacks to throw to.
Tannehill would suddenly inherit a 6'5", 248-pound security blanket that can catch touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Cook may not be on Miami's radar. If you believe Miami Herald writer Armando Salguero, Cook is not a player the Dolphins have looked at.
It would be a shame for Miami to overlook one of the more talented players at a position where the team could use a boost.
There may be bigger names at corner in free agency, but they all come with baggage. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is undoubtedly talented, but his attitude is questionable. Brent Grimes is a great, if undersized corner, but can the 30-year-old recover from the Achilles injury that sidelined him in 2012?
It's those questions that make Sam Shields much more attractive to a team looking for corner help. In just three years with Green Bay, Shields has already recorded 102 tackles and nine interceptions. Even Bleacher Report's Andy McNamara listed the former Miami Hurricane as the third-best available free-agent corner.
With Sean Smith likely on his way out, the Dolphins find themselves stuck with no true starting corners. Shields could come in and immediately take over on one side of the field. With plenty of talented corners to choose from in the draft, Miami could feel comfortable with the addition of a hometown guy like Shields.
Another corner? Already?
While I like Shields as Miami's first priority at corner, Houston is a close runner-up. If Shields isn't an option, Houston should be the immediate fallback.
Houston is an experienced corner with six years under his belt. He had a breakout year in 2011 in which he nabbed five interceptions. He has shown the ability to make plays all over the field as well, with two forced fumbles last season.
At only 28 years old, Houston is the perfect age for Miami. He could take over as a starting corner and provide mentoring to the young corners the Dolphins will likely draft.
Another former Hurricane makes the list.
Winston may have generated a few too many penalties, but the athletic tackle is a stiff blocker. Moreover, his athleticism would serve Miami well as it tries to find linemen who can fit its zone-blocking scheme.
Winston could prove to be a bit too pricey for Miami, as he just signed a four-year, $22 million contract last year with Kansas City. But with the Dolphins likely not bringing back Jake Long, there's no question they'll need help at offensive tackle.
Bennett is a somewhat underrated defensive end who could empower Miami's pass rush.
He's coming off of an impressive 2012 campaign in which he got to the quarterback nine times. Bennett is also an effective defender against the run, as evidenced by his 41 tackles last season.
The Dolphins could benefit from Bennett's time spent under the radar. With a couple of high-profile defensive ends already tagged, and guys like Cliff Avril and Osi Umenyiora likely to command big contracts, Miami could potentially grab Bennett for a bit of a steal.
Of course, with a lot of defensive ends entering the draft this year, Miami could wait to hit this need in the draft. But should they choose to go through free agency, Bennett could prove to be Miami's best bet.
Reggie Bush's almost-guaranteed departure will leave Miami with a bit of a hole at running back next season.
With Lamar Miller slated to take over as Miami's feature back, there remains only one question: Who will be his backup? Daniel Thomas is on the roster, sure, but how much potential has he really shown over the past two seasons to prove that he can even be a reliable spell option?
Felix Jones, on the other hand, has shown plenty of good stuff. While notoriously injury-prone, Jones managed to stay healthy last season and play in all 16 games. He came away with three touchdowns and 402 yards while backing up DeMarco Murray. More impressive are his averages of 4.5 and 4.3 yards per carry in 2011 and 2010, respectively.
Jones could be a cheap and more reliable option than Thomas behind Miller in the backfield next season.