The Miami Dolphins have been active so far in free agency. Although they have added a lot of talent during the past month, it's difficult to overlook how many quality players they let go in the process.
Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe, Lance Louis, Brent Grimes, Philip Wheeler and Dustin Keller will all be starting for the Dolphins next season—and each player should make a significant impact right away.
But losing Jake Long, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, Anthony Fasano, Reggie Bush and Sean Smith is no small thing either. Dansby, Burnett, Fasano and Smith are going to be replaced by the additions mentioned above, but Long leaves a huge hole on the offensive line.
He was their captain, their leader and one of the best left tackles in the game since being drafted first overall by the Dolphins in 2008. But his play had declined over the past couple years as injuries took their toll and kept him off the field more than one would expect with a player in their mid-20s.
So when the time came this offseason for the Dolphins to re-evaluate their priorities and figure out how to use the huge amount of cap space they had, they felt that Long was simply asking for more than he was worth, and he is now in St. Louis.
Last year, the Dolphins drafted Jonathan Martin, a left tackle who protected Andrew Luck's blind side at Stanford. Martin started on the right side before being switched to the left when Long went down, and although he struggled at times, there is definite potential for him to be a very good NFL starter on either side.
While the market for left tackles was relatively sparse this spring, more than a few high-quality right tackles entered March without a contract.
Sebastian Vollmer, one of the best in the business, went unsigned for a couple weeks before ultimately inking a deal to remain in New England. Gosder Cherilus, an injury-prone but talented starter, got a surprisingly large five-year, $34 million deal from Indianapolis.
So that leaves one quality right tackle left: Eric Winston. The 29-year-old visited the Dolphins a couple weeks ago and has expressed his interest in playing for the organization.
He attended the University of Miami, played under current Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman in Houston for six seasons, and has a brother who is a scout for the team.
Winston is a solid veteran right tackle with connections to the program and city who would step right in and fill a spot of significant need for the Dolphins. Seems to make perfect sense, right? So why is Winston not in Miami right now?
The answer is, as it always seems to be these days, with the money. Winston's market right now, for one reason or another, is pretty dried up. He has been released two offseasons in a row now, and he is clearly just asking for more money than anyone—including the Dolphins—is willing to pay him.
So Jeff Ireland, in surprisingly shrewd fashion, has been waiting. And waiting, and waiting, and Winston is still available, without much news from any other teams pursuing him.
And finally on Thursday morning, news surfaced out of Atlanta that gives the possibility for Ireland to make his best move as Dolphins general manager since drafting Ryan Tannehill and Martin in the first two rounds of last year's draft.
Ireland's patience, and his underratedly smart workings of the contracts he made this offseason, could now pay off in a big way. The Dolphins still have more than enough cap room to make a real run at Clabo, and they most likely won't have too much competition for him.
Even if some team comes out of nowhere and lands Clabo with a big deal, that will just be one less team out there for Winston to sign with, thereby pushing his price tag down even further.
But signing Clabo needs to be Miami's focus right now. If they can throw everything they have at him and get him to take his talents to South Beach, it would be the perfect ending to a monumental offseason for Ireland and the entire organization.
Clabo would complete an overhaul of the right side of the line, potentially starting next to a healthy Louis, as Martin moves permanently to left tackle. It would also give the Dolphins extreme flexibility in the draft, essentially letting them take the best player available with each of their first few picks.
Signing Clabo would be one of Ireland's best moves of his tenure with Miami, not just because of the addition to the roster, but because of the foresight used that put him in a good position to make this final deal.