The Miami Dolphins left the 2013 season at 8-8 and with the knowledge that there is a lot of work left to do.
Unfortunately, if NFL.com's Mike Silver's report is correct, Jeff Ireland will be doing the work. On the plus side, it makes writing this article easier. On the minus side, Ireland will once again be in charge of improving this roster.
You can find my thoughts on this as well as a small rant I wrote about it on my Twitter timeline, but now is the time to look at what big free-agent moves the Dolphins can (and likely should) make this offseason.
The Dolphins will likely have around $28 million in cap room in 2014, according to a report from CBSMiami.com, and with some crafty contract adjustments for some players (like Mike Wallace) could get a little bit more, giving them money to re-sign key veterans such as Brent Grimes and Paul Soliai, while also bringing in some much-needed reinforcements.
We'll talk about the veterans on the team later this week, but today we will look at some big free agents Miami could bring in this offseason.
The emphasis this year will be on big, as this list will be ranked from least important possible free agent to most important possible free agent.
We start with a luxury, but one that could be affordable for the Dolphins while helping the offense in two ways.
Maurice Jones-Drew is no spring chicken, as he will be turning 29 in March (which is probably 40 in running back years), but in 2013, he was still effective.
Let's start with his rushing performance, where he delivered 803 yards and five touchdowns on 234 carries for an average of 3.4 yards per carry. The average isn't great, but he also contributed by grabbing 43 catches for 314 yards.
What Jones-Drew will add that's most important to the Dolphins will be in pass protection. Pro Football Focus had MJD graded as the most efficient pass-blocking running back in the NFL.
This would be a blockbuster signing for the Dolphins to make, but only for the right price (i.e., not a blockbuster price). Any Jones-Drew signing should come with the caveat that Miami drafts a running back in 2014 (which it should do regardless).
MJD could also share carries with Lamar Miller, who was ranked seventh in pass blocking in that same list. Really anything that results in Daniel Thomas leaving will help the Dolphins out.
A fullback might be a better idea, as according to the list cited in the last slide, Miller was actually the seventh-best pass-protecting running back in the NFL.
Anthony Dixon would work well as that fullback, but he can also provide Miami with a back who can gain that one-yard on 3rd-and-1.
Dixon could also be effective blocking that stretch play Mike Sherman likes to run, assuming he's coming back (we all hope he won't, but you never know with this team).
Dixon provides Miami with a good lead blocker out of the backfield and will be turning 27 at the start of next season, giving Miami some youth in the backfield.
This one is a reunion made only for financial and depth reasons.
I understand why the Dolphins got rid of Tony McDaniel last season (Jared Odrick moving inside would've taken snaps away from McDaniel), but this season his return would help the Dolphins on two fronts.
First off, it gives them more depth up front (cheap too), which will be needed since odds are either Soliai or Randy Starks will be shown the door this offseason.
The second reason is simple: He knows this defense. Just plug him in, and he will know his role.
This season, McDaniel was part of a tremendous Seattle defensive line, and on that line he amassed 52 tackles and two sacks. In 2012 while with the Dolphins, McDaniel had six tackles and half a sack while battling injuries, but in his best year with Miami in 2010, he had 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Depth-wise and when it comes to how the system fits, this would be a great move for Miami.
Last week, I named Miami not trading the second-round pick that became Mr. DNP Jamar Taylor to Kansas City for Branden Albert as one of its big mistakes of 2013.
Here's a chance to rectify it, and the good news is, the Dolphins won't have to trade their 2014 second-round pick in order to do it.
Pro Football Focus had Albert as 2013's sixth-best pass-blocking left tackle (per Rotoworld), which one thinks might make Kansas City hesitant to let him go. However, with the drafting of Eric Fisher in last year's draft, the Chiefs likely won't put up much of a fight to retain Albert.
Can Miami sign him? It will be expensive, but it would be the smart move to make. Miami has to address the offensive line in the draft in 2014 (best thing to do would be to use two out of its first three picks on a tackle and a guard), but free agency can be used to acquire a tackle and a guard.
But what if Miami already has a pretty good guard on the roster already? Then what?
So maybe using a picture of my No. 1 free-agent priority (or 1A since Albert would be pretty important too) kills any suspense I tried to create in my Albert slide.
Yes, I'm suggesting Miami sign a center. Not just any center mind you, but one of the best in the NFL.
But Miami already has one of the best centers in the NFL you say, to which I say yes, but Mike Pouncey will make a better left guard, which I've believed since he was drafted back in 2011.
With Albert, Pouncey and Alex Mack, Miami's left side and interior becomes that much tougher to penetrate. The Dolphins could then use their first-round pick to chose the best player available (which Matt Miller claims will be tight end Eric Ebron), then in the second round they can draft Michigan's Taylor Lewan to play right tackle while now-second year player Dallas Thomas can replace John Jerry at guard.
Or Miami could go guard in Round 2 (Cyril Richardson of Baylor is mocked in Round 2 and would be my choice), then tackle in Round 3 (North Carolina's James Hurst would fit this system very well).
Either way, Miami's goal in 2014 offseason should be to get bigger in the trenches, and this mission starts in free agency.