Miami Dolphins' Free-Agency and Draft Wish List
We can all agree that the Miami Dolphins have plenty of needs to fill this offseason and that new general manager Dennis Hickey has his work cut out for him.
It's not the most difficult job in the NFL, but it will be a challenge for Hickey (or any GM) to stock the Dolphins' cupboards with talent.
Miami has the same two options that everyone else in the NFL has in terms of acquiring said talent: the draft and free agency. There are plenty of players that Miami can pick up through both options who can help the team improve on its 8-8 record in 2013.
Here's a look at Miami's wish list of talent in both free agency and the draft. For this preview, we will be focusing on the dream scenarios, the prudent possibilities and some cheaper options.
I left this position unfilled in my latest mock draft because I'm a firm believer that the Dolphins should either go big on this position or go home.
By that, I mean this isn't a glaring need for the Dolphins, not when they already have Charles Clay and can bring back Dustin Keller while continuing to develop Michael Egnew and Dion Sims.
The Saints will likely franchise Graham, as reported by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, so the possibility is a pie-in-the-sky option. Miami's best chance is if New Orleans fails to turn in the paperwork on time, similar to what happened with the Denver Broncos and Elvis Dumervil last year.
The other free-agent option would be to re-sign Dustin Keller, and the good news with that is due to his injury last season, Miami likely can afford to wait until after the draft to sign him unless a team is willing to take a flier on him.
This leads to the draft, where if the Dolphins make a few necessary moves in free agency (moves that will be discussed later), they can use their first-round pick on a tight end like Eric Ebron of North Carolina, Jace Amaro of Texas Tech or Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Notre Dame's Troy Niklas and Colorado State's Crockett Gillmore could also be possibilities in the later rounds if Miami chooses to go that route, but by that point, the Dolphins might be better off sticking with what they have.
Does Miami really need a running back?
The Dolphins will have Lamar Miller and Mike Gillislee next season, and to some, that might be a good unit of running backs as long as the offensive line is improved.
Despite that, I wouldn't be against Miami signing or drafting a running back, with the best option being to draft one.
The earliest I'd select a running back would be in Round 3, with Carlos Hyde or Charles Sims being the pick if available. If another need is filled in that round and Miami chooses to wait until Round 4, Boston College's Andre Williams and Florida State's James Wilder Jr. would be solid picks as well.
As for free-agent backs (not my preferred option), the three most intriguing names for the Dolphins are Minnesota's Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and former Dolphin and current San Diego Charger Ronnie Brown.
Each of those veteran backs can give Miami not only a good downfield back but also a good pass protector, eliminating the need for the Dolphins to be predictable.
I can't make this more simple: Re-sign Brent Grimes, and that's it for cornerbacks.
The Dolphins could sign Charles Tillman from the Chicago Bears or Sam Shields from the Green Bay Packers to pair up with Grimes (if they can find the money to do so), but those moves will bump the secondary up from being very good to great.
Miami's cornerbacks were fairly good last season (remember, most teams excelled in the passing game against the Dolphins due to the poor linebacker play), so there isn't much of a need to tinker with something that managed to work. Consider that Nolan Carroll (also a free agent but an expendable one) was not only prominently involved but even starting at times.
If the secondary can work with that situation, it can work with a more seasoned and polished Jamar Taylor as the starter.
If the Dolphins lose Grimes, then cornerback would become a major need. The team could tackle it by either signing one of the two free agents mentioned above or through the draft, where the Dolphins would have good options in Florida's Marcus Roberson, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, South Carolina's Victor Hampton or Auburn's Chris Davis.
This one appears even more simple than cornerback: Just re-sign Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, and that's it, right?
Well, it's not quite as simple as that. Miami likely will only be able to afford one of those players, and Soliai seems like the one who is most likely to stay. On top of that, both Starks and Soliai are both going to be on the wrong side of 30 as of this December, so the team will have to get younger.
If one (or both) of them leave, then Miami must draft either Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, Will Sutton of Arizona State or DaQuan Jones of Penn State in the first or second round of the draft.
On top of that, the team should also sign Seattle's Tony McDaniel, who performed well in Miami in 2012.
If Miami chooses to go the project route in Round 3 or later, Florida's Dominique Easley would be a good pickup, as would Louisiana Tech's Justin Ellis or Cal's Deandre Coleman.
Miami should sign a free-agent guard as well as draft one (and the same goes with the tackle position).
Smith might be the cheapest and probably even the best fit for Miami due to his familiarity with new assistant offensive line coach John Benton, who last season was the offensive line coach for the Houston Texans. However, Smith is not the long-term option that Slauson and Lauvao could be.
Along with signing one of the three linemen mentioned, another option is to re-sign John Jerry for a season as a cheap stopgap.
As for the draft, the best prospect would be Notre Dame's Zack Martin, but other good options include Stanford's David Yankey, Baylor's Cyril Richardson and Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson.
The Dolphins could also sign Lauvao and Smith while re-signing Jerry as a bench player, which could open up the possibility of waiting until late in the draft to select a guard. In that scenario, the best pick would be Miami's Brandon Linder in the fifth or sixth round.
Linder should also be considered if Miami just chooses to sign one and draft two.
That video you see is my pie-in-the-sky hope for Miami's next left tackle: Auburn's Greg Robinson.
By the time Miami gets to pick in the draft, he will likely be gone already, but if he's not, the Dolphins should sprint to the podium.
That is unless they sign Branden Albert. Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post has already said the Dolphins expect to "go hard after a left tackle, with Kansas City's Branden Albert being the biggest target", but he wouldn't (or shouldn't) be the only target.
Miami should also go after Baltimore Ravens' tackle Eugene Monroe, which they should have done back in September or October before the Ravens swooped in and acquired him from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If those two are not convinced that Miami is for them, re-signing Bryant McKinnie wouldn't be the worst idea in the world, provided they draft someone like UNC's James Hurst or North Dakota State's Billy Turner to groom to take over for McKinnie in 2015.
There should be no excuse why Miami can't pick up one (or even two) tackles in the draft, regardless of whether it signs Albert or Monroe. Plenty of first-round talent will be available such as Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Virginia's Morgan Moses and Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio. Miami should also think tackle late in the draft, like the aforementioned Hurst and Turner, or Miami's Seantrel Henderson or Tennessee's Ja'Wuan James.
Those same names mentioned as right picks would also be good possibilities at right tackle, which Miami could also address in free agency by signing either Eric Winston or Zach Strief.