Free agency is coming up quickly, and the Miami Dolphins have a lot of work to do.
A lot of talk has centered around the offensive line, and rightfully so. But the two players mentioned most often are left tackles Branden Albert and Eugene Monroe, who aren't necessarily the best targets for Miami.
Albert will almost assuredly hit the open market, while Baltimore will try their best to retain Monroe after trading for him in the middle of the 2013 season.
Both are good players, and both are in their primes (Albert is nearing the end of his), but neither will be worth the money they will receive on the open market with at least four or five other teams also bidding hard for their services.
While I'm not saying that having a good left tackle is irrelevant, there is a lot of evidence out there that having an "elite" left tackle isn't important.
I made this same point after the Dolphins didn't acquire Albert last year, and there is one really important stat that bears repeating here.
There have been 12 left tackles drafted in the top 10 since 2004. Those 12 players signed deals that collectively total over $500 million, yet just three of them have won even a single playoff game.
But don't just take it from me. Pete Dougherty of USA Today Sports has asked if left tackle is the most overrated position in football. Andy Benoit of the New York Times did his part in debunking the "blind-side myth."
Steve Palazzolo at Pro Football Focus wrote this exceptional article that crunches the numbers and finds that having an elite left tackle is not at all necessary for success, and that right tackle is way overlooked because of the emphasis on the blind side (which actually isn't all that blind).
Arguably the most important point Palazzolo makes is that it is more fruitful for a team to build at "good/good" instead of "elite/poor" or even "elite/average."
These different writers and analysts basically all help to make one greater point: the left tackle position is overrated in the NFL, and Miami should not fall into that trap.
The Dolphins themselves are a case study for this theory. With Jake Long, one of the best left tackles in the league, Miami won more than seven games just once.
And then even this past year, things could not have gone any worse for the offensive line. They had to deal with the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation, were rotating out undrafted free agents and backups and just had about as awful of a year as possible.
Yet the team still won eight games, which they were unable to do in five of Long's six seasons.
Teams have proven over the years that raw talent on the offensive line doesn't at all equate to success. This year's Super Bowl Champions, the Seahawks, were known for shuffling their line around even during the playoffs, and the unit as a whole had an up-and-down year.
The year before that, the Ravens won the Super Bowl with Bryant McKinnie at left tackle after he came in during the playoffs to help a struggling line. In 2013, he was replaced as the starter and shipped to Miami.
This past season, Ryan Clady went down early in the season for the Broncos, but they still had no problem steamrolling their way into the Super Bowl with a backup left tackle.
Peyton Manning knew how to run the offense, slid protection left when needed and also ran a ton of short plays in which he threw the ball so quickly that the pass rush was negated anyway.
The Packers made the playoffs despite having fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari get rushed into the starting role after Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL in the preseason. Aaron Rodgers also missed seven games, yet the Packers lost just four of them in his absence, which is impressive in its own right.
The coaching staff knew how to adjust. They got the ground game going and rode Eddie Lacy while figuring out how to still keep the team competitive with play-calling.
This is what good teams and good quarterbacks figure out how to do. The Dolphins are a better team than people realize, and GM Dennis Hickey needs to realize that.
Albert and Monroe will both get overpaid. Albert has struggled some with weight issues in the past, and has been injured in each of the past few seasons. That's not the kind of guy I want to invest a lot in.
Monroe has been one of the better left tackles in the league for the past three seasons, but he is in the thick of his prime and would be extremely expensive if he hits the open market.
There are, however going to be a few very good players who should make less money and still be quality pickups.
The most promising of the alternative options is Jared Veldheer. The 26-year-old is one of the league's most intriguing talents at the position, but Oakland has yet to re-sign him for some reason.
CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair reported that Veldheer was displeased with the lack of "urgency" in the contract negotiations early last month, and still no progress has been reported.
The Division II Hillsdale College product is a behemoth at 6'8", 312 pounds, and although he's still a bit raw, he could be a great signing. He missed all but five games last year with a torn triceps, which may slightly diminish his stock.
The problem is that if the Raiders don't re-sign him, that could mean he's leveraging his relative youth and asking for a huge chunk of money, which would obviously make him less desirable from my perspective.
That leaves two candidates for Miami to pursue: Michael Oher and Anthony Collins. Oher is the more famous of the two, but he's actually the worse player.
He struggled at left tackle for Baltimore before getting moved over to the right side in 2013 and looking like an entirely different player. According to Adam Schefter, Dennis Pitta has been re-signed for over $6 million per year, and one has to think the Ravens will try their hardest to lock up Monroe.
That would leave Oher as the odd man out. The 28-year-old hasn't lived up to the hype, but he could come in and be a solid right tackle for Miami.
That would leave them pursuing a left tackle in the draft, which would likely come in the form of their first-round pick.
Or Miami could go after Collins, a solid tackle who has played both the right and left side over the past few years. He has never been a full-time starter, however, and at 28 years old that will give some teams pause.
But it could also keep his asking price from being too high, although 2013 was his best year on the blind side and his camp could demand a sizable deal because of that.
It'll also depend on how much the guys ahead of him make. There are also options out there like Roger Saffold and Charles Brown, but both have struggled with injuries and aren't talented enough to take a shot on.
This is what Miami is left with. Obviously, it's not too pretty and it'll be very difficult to marry talent with a reasonable price. But Hickey needs to be frugal and err on the side of caution next week.
The worst way to build an offensive line is through free agency. But when the only offensive linemen you draft in the past two years are Jonathan Martin and Dallas Thomas, who are both awful, this is what happens.
Hopefully, Hickey knows what he's doing and doesn't just throw money at the biggest names. There's plenty of research which says that approach is the wrong one.
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