What's Next for Miami Dolphins After Initial Wave of Free-Agent Signings

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What's Next for Miami Dolphins After Initial Wave of Free-Agent Signings
Ed Zurga/Associated Press

The visits have been made, contracts have been signed, and the Miami Dolphins roster has been upgraded over the first wave of NFL free agency.

So now the first question that comes to every fan's mind is: What's next?

As I've previously mentioned, the Dolphins still have plenty of needs that must be filled over the rest of the offseason.

But how they go about filling these remaining holes will ultimately determine how good they will be next season.

Let's take a look at where the Dolphins go from here after their initial wave of free-agent signings.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Nate Garner and Sam Brenner both started a handful of games last season, but can they be counted on next year?

 

Offensive line starters

The offensive line still has plenty of question marks, even after the team signed Branden Albert and Shelley Smith.

Namely, how good can Sam Brenner, Nate Garner and Dallas Thomas be, and can they be counted on to be starters next season?

Based off their play of last season, that answer would seem to be no.

Thomas couldn't even get on the field despite the fact that the Dolphins had the worst offensive line in all of football.

Garner, on the other hand, continued to prove why he is a reliable and versatile backup, bouncing around the interior of the offensive line.

However, he was exposed as a run-blocker over the course of the season, grading out as the second-worst on the offensive line just behind John Jerry, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Brenner, meanwhile, graded out as the worst offensive lineman on the team.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old still has plenty of time to grow and develop, but there's no way he can be relied on as anything more than depth heading into next season. 

As the above video shows, it wouldn't be too hard to improve upon the 58 sacks the offensive line allowed.

There are still a few players available on the free-agent market who can step in and ensure the offensive line improves from where it was in 2013.

Davin Joseph, Wade Smith and Bryant McKinnie are just a few names that come to mind, but the Dolphins have shown little interest thus far in signing another free-agent lineman.

That could change, but it seems clear right now that general manager Dennis Hickey has his sights set on filling in the rest of the holes on the offensive line through the draft, and with good reason.

The draft is loaded with top-level offensive linemen the Dolphins can find anywhere from Round 1 through Round 5. 

At guard, Zack Martin, Xavier Su'a-Filo, David Yankey, Gabe Jackson, Brandon Thomas and Cyril Richardson are just a few of the many options Miami will look at.

Meanwhile, Taylor Lewan, Cyrus Kouandjio, Morgan Moses, Antonio Richardson, Jack Mewhort, Billy Turner and Joel Bitonio are all capable of becoming the permanent starter at right tackle.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

 

Is Moreno the answer at running back?

According to Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post, former Denver running back Knowshon Moreno visited with the Dolphins on Friday but left without a contract.

According to Spotrac, the Dolphins are currently $19.1 million under the salary cap and could easily afford to sign Moreno.

The 26-year-old would be a clear upgrade over Daniel Thomas and is coming off a season in which he was tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 rushing touchdowns, fifth in the NFL with 1,586 yards from scrimmage and 12th in rushing yards with 1,038.

He's also a very effective pass-blocker and a dangerous receiving weapon out of the backfield as well.

However, it's tough to say whether or not Moreno could play at the same level without Peyton Manning as his quarterback and not playing alongside such a high-powered offense.

Moreno would be a good fit for the Dolphins at the right price, but considering Hickey's success in drafting running backs over his careerLeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin, for examplefinding Thomas' replacement in April is certainly a good option as well.

 

Fixing the linebacker issues

There's no question that the Dolphins have a serious issue to deal with when it comes to fixing what was wrong with their linebackers last season.

However, there is a major question of how they should go about fixing these problems.

In breaking down game film from 2013, the first thing that stood out was the hesitancy that both Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler showed when reacting to plays.

That hesitancy is likely a result of playing in an unfamiliar system and having to think instead of just reacting on instincts.

Heading into the draft, the Dolphins must decide whether or not Ellerbe and Wheeler will naturally improve next season with another year under their belts in Kevin Coyle's defensive system.

If that answer is no, then upgrading at linebacker becomes a top priority in the draft.

If that's the case, then C.J. Mosley should be the Dolphins' No. 1 priority.

Mosley is the best inside linebacker in the draft and is an incredibly instinctual player who is always around the ball.

He could step in right away as the starting inside linebacker, sliding Ellerbe over to the outside and forcing Wheeler to the bench.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Restructuring Mike Wallace's contract is one way for the Dolphins to free up some more cap space.

 

A need to restructure?

As previously mentioned, the Dolphins currently sit at roughly $19.1 million under the salary cap.

Unless they plan on making another big signing or two, they will likely just let that money roll over to next year.

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However, if they did want to free up some more cap space, they could do it in a variety of ways.

The two easiest solutions can come by looking at Mike Wallace and Matt Moore.

The Dolphins' top receiver has a $17 million cap hit for the 2014 season according to Spotrac—a number that could be lowered by spreading that money out over the next few seasons.

Moore, meanwhile, is on the hook for $5.5 million against the cap next season, and the Dolphins could save $4 million by cutting him.

It's very likely that if the Dolphins were going to do either of these things, they would have done it already, but the option is always on the table if Miami chooses to go that route.

 

Andrew Tornetta is the Miami Dolphins' featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Check out his B/R archive and follow him on Twitter @AndrewTornetta.

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