New general manager Dennis Hickey has a lot of work to do and he will make a lot of very significant decisions over the next couple of weeks. However, he needs to exercise some caution with a good but not great free-agent pool, as he may be tempted to make a splash in his first offseason as a GM.
The first decisions concern Miami's own impending free agents. There are four guys whose futures will need to be addressed in the coming days.
Chris Clemons is the most expendable of the three. He'll ask for a pretty sizable deal after a solid 2013 season, but the Dolphins may not feel like he's worth that money. I wouldn't be surprised if he tests the market and that would be fine if he won't accept a little less money up front to stay in Miami.
30-year-old defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Randy Starks have been mainstays on the interior for years, and both of them could hit the open market.
Starks wasn't thrilled about playing under the franchise tag last season and I think he's likely going to play for someone else in 2014. While I originally thought Soliai would be brought back, if you read his agent David Canter's Twitter feed, that looks like it may not end up happening.
Everyone seems to forget about Jared Odrick, who actually is a very similar player to Starks and could easily replace him moving forward.
345-pound Soliai is a rare talent, however, and Hickey needs to make an effort to sign him before free agency begins.
According to ESPN.com's James Walker, the Dolphins locked up Brent Grimes to a four-year deal on Monday. He likely won't play up to his $32 million contract by the end of it, but it was absolutely the right move.
After trading away Vontae Davis and letting Sean Smith walk, only to have them excel on their new teams, Miami simply could not let Grimes go. He will also be able to help along 2013 draftees Jamar Taylor and Will Davis, which is valuable as well.
Spotrac.com indicates that the Dolphins still have roughly $31 million in cap space after signing Grimes. That's a good chunk of money, but Hickey needs to be smart with it because there are plenty of positions to upgrade.
With that said, just because they will have some money does not mean they have to go out and spend it all. This free-agent class is not at all outstanding and players will—as they usually do—be overpaid to join a new team.
Just two days ago, I wrote about Miami needing to stay patient and not overpaying for a left tackle. The offensive line has been the subject of most conversations surrounding the Dolphins recently, but there's an entire team to worry about here.
The defensive line is the first issue, assuming that Starks is gone. If Soliai is also out, then it becomes a primary need. Thankfully, defensive line may be the strongest group in free agency.
There are a number of big names out there who could be great fits in Miami. Michael Bennett, Henry Melton and Linval Joseph would all be awesome signings, but will come at really high costs. If Soliai re-signs, then the Dolphins won't need to spend that kind of money on another defensive lineman.
Three players I'd love to see Miami pursue are Tony McDaniel, Alex Carrington and Jason Hatcher. McDaniel, a former Dolphin, has been very solid for the Seahawks and would be a lot cheaper than Starks.
Carrington is an intriguing player who tore his quad in Week 3 of last season and missed the remainder of the year. At 26, he still has a lot of football left in him. He's a versatile presence on the line who can rush the passer and would make for a really nice acquisition.
Finally, Hatcher would be the biggest signing of the three. He was outstanding playing inside in 2013 after Dallas switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3, registering 11 sacks. He's already 31 years old, which is the only reason his price tag won't be sky-high.
The secondary continues to need work. If Clemons is gone, Miami will undoubtedly look to acquire a safety. People will clamor for Jairus Byrd, but John Wawrow of the Associated Press reported that Byrd turned down a deal that would have paid him $30 million for the first three years of his contract.
Byrd is good, but he's not that good. Moreover, he'll clearly be trying to get even more than that out on the open market.
According to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, one guy who would be an ideal fit just happened to be visiting the Dolphins recently. Louis Delmas isn't an overly exciting player, but would be a nice complement to Reshad Jones.
Malcolm Jenkins is a quality cover safety who has played all over in the secondary for New Orleans and would make for a nice pickup.
If the team can't get a starting-caliber safety in free agency, Miami will have to use a high pick in the draft, which is not ideal considering its myriad of needs.
Cornerback should not be a need since the Dolphins re-signed Grimes. Dimitri Patterson is solid when healthy—although he could be cut if he doesn't take a pay cut—and one would have to hope that Taylor and Davis can step up in their second seasons. Nolan Carroll could also be brought back
Now let's switch back to the offensive side of the ball and the inevitable offensive line discussion. While I mentioned that I already delved into left tackle in another article, I'll mention my two preferences again.
Anthony Collins would be a nice fit on the left side despite his lack of experience and Michael Oher would come at a reasonable price, although he'd have to play right tackle.
Unfortunately, the Dolphins desperately need help at guard as well. However, they don't need to break the bank and sign two starting guards because there are a number of good ones in this draft and Sam Brenner was decent as a reserve last year.
They do need to lock up at least one very good guard. There are a few big names—for a guard—in this class, with Geoff Schwartz heading the pack.
The 340-pound Schwartz may not be an ideal fit in Miami's zone-blocking scheme, however, and I think he will end up being overpriced and not what the Dolphins need.
Instead, they can look at the man Schwartz replaced in the starting lineup for Kansas City: Jon Asamoah. Asamoah is only 25 years old and will likely not be re-signed by the Chiefs, who have to reserve money for their other pending UFAs.
Asamoah is a really nice player who is very athletic and would fit in perfectly with Miami. He'd also come at a decent price and I might go so far as to say that he should be the Dolphins' top priority this offseason.
The Chargers' Chad Rinehart is another name to keep in mind. He shouldn't be a primary target because he's been injury-prone, but he's a guard who can play either side—even filling in at left tackle for SD—and would be a solid short-term option.
Finally, they will undoubtedly at least take a glance at the running back and tight end market. I would stay away from injury-prone talent Ben Tate at all costs and Maurice Jones-Drew would only be worth a small one-year deal at this stage.
Consider me content with the current tight end situation. Charles Clay, Dion Sims and Michael Egnew are surely a ragtag bunch, but I think they can actually all continue to develop together and form a solid trio.
Vonta Leach is the last player who is worth taking a look at. He's a mauler of a fullback who could help alleviate some of the run-blocking issues that plagued Miami last year. Lamar Miller wasn't great, but he needed a lot more help than he got.
Clearly, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do and the entire plan can change depending on which of the remaining three defensive players they re-sign.
Let's just hope that Stephen Ross stays out of Hickey's way.
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