Miami Dolphins Position-by-Position Primer to Free Agency
Why start talking about the Miami Dolphins and their free agency plans now, especially since they're still looking for a general manager?
That's a question that I'm sure many of you have, it's a question that I'm even asking myself.
But it's never too early to take a look forward and prepare for free agency and take a look at any possible moves the Dolphins can make.
Today I present to you a position-by-position primer to free agency. Every position will be addressed, even the two positions that don't need to be addressed in free agency (quarterback and wide receiver).
I will also count the free agents that are coming from Miami in this primer as potential targets for each position, because even though they played for Miami last season, they are free agents and many of them, like Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Brent Grimes, are still Dolphins targets in free agency.
This slide is probably the easiest to write.
Miami is set at starter when it comes to quarterback. Barring an injury in the preseason, it's Ryan Tannehill, plain and simple.
He deserves a third year to prove himself. He showed plenty of flashes in 2013 despite being handicapped by a poor offensive line and a non-existent running game.
The Dolphins are also fairly set at back up quarterback, as Matt Moore is entering the final year of his contract, so there's really no need to bring in someone to compete for the No. 2 job via free agency.
The best way to do that would be through the draft, which is where I would recommend the Dolphins find a third quarterback.
But as for free agency? Nothing to see here, move it along.
My preference at running back for Miami would be to find a true between-the-tackles runner in either the second or third round of the draft.
Such a player will come cheaper than signing a free agent. However, there are a few free agents that pique my interest if this is where the Dolphins will look for a back due to the fact that there are other needs on the team that are much more glaring.
The top back that would fit the Dolphins here would be Maurice Jones-Drew. He is older and heading into the twilight of his career, but he could still prove to be serviceable for the Dolphins not only as a between-the-tackles runner but also in pass-blocking.
Other options I would consider (if Miami goes the free-agent route to find a running back) would be New England's LeGarrette Blount, Minnesota's Toby Gerhart, Pittsburgh's Jonathan Dwyer and a reunion of sorts with former first-round pick Ronnie Brown.
Of those options, both Blount and Gerhart provide the most upside due to their youth (Blount is 27, Gerhart is 26 but will be 27 at the start of the season) and their production in 2013, where Blount ran for 772 yards and seven touchdowns on 153 attempts (averaging 5.0 yards per carry) while Gerhart ran for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 36 attempts (averaging 7.9 yards per carry, remember who Gerhart has backed up in his career).
Miami is probably more set at wide receiver than they are at any other position.
Granted, three of them will be coming off knee injuries (Brian Hartline, Armon Binns and Brandon Gibson), but all three are expected to be back by training camp.
The only player to keep an eye on as it pertains to free agency is Brandon Gibson, who technically isn't a free agent since he signed a three-year deal with the Dolphins.
That three-year deal paid Gibson all of his guaranteed money in Year 1, meaning Miami can cut Gibson with no cap penalties or renegotiate his contract.
The prudent and smart thing to do would be the second option. Gibson proved himself in the first half of the season before he got hurt by grabbing 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns, while showing great chemistry with Ryan Tannehill.
After retaining Gibson, there's not a lot of work free agent-wise to do for the Dolphins, who just need for their wide receivers to get healthy in order to have a good unit.
I only see three palatable options when it comes to the Dolphins at tight end in free agency.
That's obviously not happening.
The second option is to do nothing and either add a Jimmy Graham-type in the draft with either Jace Amaro, Eric Ebron or Austin Seferian-Jenkins (which I will suggest at the top of my lungs all offseason), or do nothing and hope and pray for Michael Egnew or Dion Sims to develop into that type of tight end (not unlikely when you think about it, especially with new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor likely to use them similar to how the Eagles used their tight ends).
Finally, the Dolphins could always re-sign Dustin Keller and hope for the best.
Honestly, either one of these options would work for me, but my preference would be to draft one.
The way that I see it on the offensive line, the Dolphins need a new everything except center (and I'd be alright with them getting a new center as well since it would mean moving Mike Pouncey to guard, which also makes a world of sense).
The best approach would be an idea I've already discussed: Sign either Branden Albert or Eugene Monroe as their left tackle, then sign Cleveland's Alex Mack as their center, then move Mike Pouncey to left guard, then use the draft to pick up a right guard and a right tackle.
The other options Miami has via free agency would be to re-sign John Jerry at right guard and bring back Bryant McKinnie for a year at left tackle, using the draft to pick up a left guard and right tackle (I call this the cheap band-aid approach).
Either way, Miami has to use resources on that line, for there should be at least two fresh faces there (although four would be preferable, I don't think all four should be rookies).
Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are two of the three biggest outgoing free agents for the Dolphins and two of the three biggest targets.
Odds are, one of them will stay, one of them will go, which one is which won't be decided until it later on.
As far as replacing the one that leaves (assuming only one leaves, there is the possibility that both leave that I know fans don't want to think about), Miami will still need to build more depth in the interior of that line, and it can do so by signing Seattle's Tony McDaniel.
McDaniel is my only free-agent target at this position for the Dolphins due to his history with Miami and his relative affordability. Finding the true successor to Starks or Soliai will come in the draft, where the Dolphins will have a slew of targets to choose from.
I'm sorry to report this but, Miami is stuck with who they have at linebacker.
It's not that Miami shouldn't target Brian Orakpo, Donald Butler or *sigh* Karlos Dansby, it's that they can't.
Too much guaranteed money is headed Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe's way. Releasing Ellerbe is a $11.6 million cap hit, and releasing Wheeler is a $10.6 million hit. Miami can't afford that.
The light at the end of the tunnel is they can draft a linebacker in the middle rounds and continue to develop Jelani Jenkins. They could also move Dion Jordan to linebacker. Then after 2014 is up, it wouldn't hurt to release Ellerbe or Wheeler if that's the action the Dolphins must make, as there would be only $4.2 million in dead cap money for Wheeler and no dead cap money for Ellerbe.
But as far as free agents, it looks like Miami attempted to "get younger" a year too early. I would've stuck with Dansby and Kevin Burnett for another year to get a shot at signing Orakpo.
There's absolutely no need to think if you're the Dolphins when it comes to the cornerback position: sign Brent Grimes.
The first thing the new general manager should do is call Miko Grimes, ask to speak to Brent and have the both of them in your office talking contract in order to avoid the franchise tag, which would cost Miami about $11.2 million next season according to these estimates by former agent Joel Corry on CBSSports.com.
After that, the best thing would be to let Jamar Taylor and Will Davis develop while retaining Dimitri Patterson, but you might want to release Patterson due to his health.
If the Dolphins do that, the best bet would be to sign Sam Shields from the Green Bay Packers. He knows the defense well since it is essentially the same defense, and, alongside Grimes, he would create one of the most fearsome cornerback duos in the NFL.
Miami's free-agency plan at safety is simple.
Either they can do nothing and draft a safety (I wouldn't recommend that), or they could re-sign Chris Clemons.
That's really it. They have other safeties on the roster that could step into the starting spot if Clemons does leave (Jimmy Wilson could do that, as could Michael Thomas and Jordan Kovacs), but those players, while capable of starting, would be better suited as backups in 2014.
Keeping Clemons should be treated as a priority for Miami this offseason, especially after the good year he had in 2013.
Dan Carpenter is a free agent.
All kidding aside, I don't see any changes on special teams for the Dolphins, especially not in free agency.
That's really it for our Miami Dolphins free-agency primer. However, I will say this: This thing becomes a lot easier to write once the Dolphins have a general manager in place. Then we'll know what his philosophy will be and if it will come into practice.
Thank you for reading and, if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below.
Statistics provided by pro-football-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
All salary cap information courtesy of spotrac.com.