Miami Dolphins' Blueprint for Winning Free Agency
Over the past couple of weeks, we've examined a wealth of possible paths the Miami Dolphins could take in free agency.
Considering Miami's substantial amount of needs, it is hugely important that the team finds itself on the right path come Tuesday, March 12.
Make no mistake: The Dolphins cannot afford to botch free agency this year (or the draft for that matter, but more on that later).
By doing their homework, Miami's various talent scouts and front office personnel can make signings that benefit the team the most. But free agency is a tricky endeavor, as any long-time NFL executive will reveal.
If the Dolphins fail to highlight their most pressing needs and make the signings necessary to address those needs, they will effectively "lose" free agency.
To help ensure Miami doesn't turn the next two weeks into a massive blunder, here's a blueprint that lays out how the Dolphins can "win" free agency.
Don't Miss out on a Game-Changing Receiver
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Dolphins have already taken one step to strengthening their receiving corps in 2013. By re-signing Brian Hartline to a long-term deal, Miami knows it has at least one proven receiver and one who has a rapport with the team's young quarterback.
But that's not enough. Not by a long shot.
The Dolphins still need a playmaker at receiver. Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings are realistically the only players left who fit that bill.
While Jennings was initially thought to be the favorite for Miami to land, the Dolphins have since let it be known that Wallace is their top priority. Recent rumors suggest that the Dolphins have an early edge in landing the receiver thanks to Miami's tropical climate and gobs of cash.
The signs may be pointing towards the Fins to hook Wallace, there will still be competition. If someone else snags the former Steeler, Miami must make a push for Jennings.
Pulling in one of these two receivers is imperative for a successful free agency period.
Address the Tight End Position
The Dolphins cannot continue to scrape by with average tight end play.
No disrespect to hard-nosed Anthony Fasano, who is a fine player in his own right. But make no mistake--the Dolphins have experienced decidedly average tight end play for the past few seasons.
Consider the fact that you could easily make a list of at least 10 current tight ends who are as dangerous as a wide receiver. Fasano is not on that list. Neither is Charles Clay, Michael Egnew or any of the other failed experiments Miami has at the position.
For Miami's offense to evolve, it must add a dynamic tight end who can split the seam. Jared Cook has long been a favorite name to throw around as a possibility. Indeed, with his remarkable size, speed and hands, Cook would be a good acquisition.
Bennett is a more complete package than Cook, offering comparable receiving skills as well as superb blocking abilities. The largest question mark surrounding Bennett is will he be a one-year wonder? And how much money will he be expecting (i.e. how much financial risk is involved for Miami)?
These are the difficult questions raised by free agency. Miami must find a way to answer them.
Fix the Wounded Secondary
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
When the Dolphins traded Vontae Davis just weeks prior to the 2012 season, they rid themselves of a starting cornerback.
With Sean Smith's very likely impending departure into free agency, the Dolphins are about to find themselves down two starting-caliber corners.
That leaves Miami in somewhat of an unenviable position heading to free agency.
While this year's batch of free agent corners is impressive in its depth, it lacks a lot of top-end talent. Brent Grimes is a fair lock as the best available corner, but even he comes with a question mark—how will he recover from an Achilles injury that sidelined him for a full season?
With a lack of jaw-dropping talent, the Dolphins should focus on more reliable cover corners, like Detroit's Chris Houston. Pro Football Focus ranked Houston as the second-best available corner, citing his sound fundamentals and tendency to make receivers work for every yard as reasons for the high placement. Houston even found himself tracking his opponent's top receiver, a rare status for corners.
He may not be an elite corner, but Houston is a very good one. Signing him and drafting a young, hungry corner in the early rounds may be the best possible route for the Dolphins to go.
Give Cameron Wake Some Help by Adding Another Pass-Rusher
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Cameron Wake probably doesn't mind carrying the load as the Dolphins' primary pass-rusher. He finished 2012 with 15 sacks, good for fourth in the league.
The Dolphins would benefit hugely from grabbing an additional outside threat, however. It may be rare that it happens, but if teams can eliminate Wake, Miami's pass rush is effectively negated.
Keeping with the overall trend of this year's free agency, the defensive end pool isn't very top heavy, but it does contain a number of very intriguing players.
One player the Dolphins should pay close attention to is Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett. The older brother to Martellus Bennett (who I've already suggested Miami should make a play for), Michael racked up nine sacks in 2012. Additionally, Pro Football Focus lists Bennett as the best defensive end available.
If Miami looks to go a bit cheaper, guys like Israel Idonije or Juqua Parker could be temporary solutions. A player like one of these two would give Miami a chance to draft a young defensive end and develop him into a dominant pass-rusher.
Explore the Running Back Options, but Don't Necessarily Commit
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
The news many Dolphins fans feared has finally been crystallized. Reggie Bush is not coming back to Miami. This is still technically just a reported rumor, but with Bush fielding attention from multiple teams (Arizona and Detroit have both reportedly shown interest), it's unlikely the Dolphins will attempt to match his market value.
That leaves Miami with Lamar Miller, the young, exciting back from the University of Miami, and Daniel Thomas, the injury-prone, two-year runner who has been lukewarm at best so far.
Therefore, it's not beyond consideration that Miami could have an eye on free agent running backs. Stephen Jackson is the biggest name available, but he'll likely be too expensive and he still wants to start somewhere.
That leaves a handful of players for Miami to peruse. Rumors say the Dolphins are interested in Rashard Mendenhall, but as I pointed out in January, that would be a mistake. Mendenhall was a decent back before suffering a serious knee injury two years ago. He hasn't been the same since. Thanks, but no thanks.
Meanwhile, I caught a bit of flak with readers last week when I suggested the Dolphins take a look at Felix Jones, and perhaps rightly so. Jones is known for his questionable durability and has never quite lived up to his potential.
However, he was injury-free last year and was a solid complement to DeMarco Murray. I still believe that if he can remain healthy, Jones could be a beneficial backup to Lamar Miller.
It should be noted, though, that if Miami truly wants to find a second running back to split time with Miller, or even just a guy who can provide a change of pace, then it should wait until the draft. This year's draft class of running backs may not be that much more impressive than free agency's, but the rookies would at least be younger and have a chance at a fresh start.