Last summer, the Miami Dolphins made a splash by reigning in NFL superstars Brandon Marshall and Karlos Dansby. But in their effort to stud the team's roster with stars, Stephen Ross and his staff failed to fill a whole slew of positions suffering from their own respective issues.
Namely, the Dolphins failed to address an aging running back corps, an inexperienced offensive line, a shady crop of complements to Dansby, and an offense lacking any explosiveness and speed.
But with the 2011 offseason comes a fresh batch of free agents, and a chance for the Dolphins to patch the many holes and leaks plaguing its current roster. Not all of the following 15 players will hit the open market, but those who do should and could be targets for Miami.
Ricky Williams' public outburst against Tony Sparano and the Dolphins all but ended his tenure as a Miami Dolphin. Meanwhile, 29-year-old Ronnie Brown will head into unrestricted free agency if the Dolphins opt not to re-sign the oft injured running back.
The Carolina Panthers' DeAngelo Williams headlines the list of potential 2011 free agent running backs. While splitting time with backfield mate Jonathan Stewart, Williams still racked up a combined 2,632 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2008 and 2009.
However, Williams, like Ronnie Brown, struggles with durability. He played in only six games in 2010, missed three in 2009, and missed the entire 2007 season. Williams' injury issues might scare Miami away, but he is two years younger and much faster than Brown. Assuming he does not demand an outlandish contract (and the Panthers don't re-sign him), DeAngelo Williams could solve Miami's running back conundrum.
Two years ago, Darren Sproles was headed for NFL superstardom. The Chargers' 5'6" running back burst onto the scene while spelling LaDainian Tomlinson in 2008. Sproles racked up eight touchdowns, showing unbelievable agility and a knack for the end zone.
However, the drafting of Ryan Mathews and the emergence of Mike Tolbert might signal the end of Sproles' reign in San Diego.
If Sproles hits the free agent market, the Dolphins must make a run at the running back, who will likely come at a discounted price due to his absence from the Chargers' game plan this past season. Sproles provides the runaway speed that has been missing from Miami's offense. He is also one of the most lethal return men in the NFL, allowing the Dolphins to hit two birds with one stone.
If the Dolphins choose not to pursue Darren Sproles, they may pursue another Chargers running back. In relief of an injured Ryan Mathews, Tolbert had a breakout campaign in 2010, rushing for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.
At 5'9", 243 pounds, Tolbert hails from the "bowling ball" breed of running backs, a family which includes the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Michael Turner. Tolbert is headed into restricted free agency this summer, but San Diego will likely do their best to retain him even though Ryan Mathews is bound to breakout.
Tolbert could be a workhorse, and if the price tag is not too high, Miami could be in the mix for his services.
Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano's approach to their offensive lines has been marred by arrogance. Perhaps Sparano's background as an offensive line coach leads the duo to believe that they can successfully plug any journeyman into their system.
Last season, the team parted with three proven starters (Jake Grove, Justin Smiley, Donald Thomas) in favor of three unknowns (Joe Berger, Richie Incognito, John Jerry). By no coincidence, the Dolphins rushing attack dipped from fourth best in 2009 to 21st in 2010. They also surrendered four more sacks.
Patriots guard Logan Mankins was entrenched in a messy contract dispute for the first half of the 2010 season, which could foreshadow his departure when his current deal expires this summer. Mankins is of of the NFL's elite offensive guards, and he will likely demand a contract that reflects so. Although he may carry a heavier price tag than the Dolphins are willing to pay, he would instantly bring an immeasurable upgrade to both the running and passing games.
If Logan Mankins proves to be an unrealistic option for the 'Fins, they could pursue a very nice consolation prize in Saints center Jonathan Goodwin.
Goodwin boasts a 6'3", 318 pound frame, which makes him an ideal fit for Miami's massive core of offensive linemen. The former Michigan Wolverine earned a Pro Bowl nod and Super Bowl ring in 2010, but that recent success might persuade the Saints to hold onto Drew Brees' trusted center.
With both Jonathan Goodwin and starting guard Carl Nicks headed into free agency this summer, the New Orleans Saints might have to let one go, depending on the allotment of money they wish to invest into their offensive line.
Nicks is eligible for restricted free agency this summer, and if the Saints do not pin a hefty price tag on their starting guard, Miami should jump at the chance to grab an experienced, proven offensive guard who can help provide a boost to a slacking running game.
Although he might come at a heftier cost than players like Carl Nicks and Jonathan Goodwin, Tampa Bay's Davin Joseph could be worth the cost for the Dolphins.
Joseph, a fifth year offensive guard, will be one of the most heralded run blockers if he escapes the Bucs' grasp and enters free agency this summer. Although they relied on castoffs to assemble their interior line last season, the results were terrible, and Miami must resort back to spending money on such a vital part of the offense.
This regime splurged on Jake Grove and Justin Smiley in the past, and a guard of Joseph's caliber would be a tremendous upgrade for the 'Fins.
The likelihood of the Dolphins pursuing a high priced inside linebacker to accompany Karlos Dansby hinges on the development of Tim Dobbins and A.J. Edds. At this point, Channing Crowder should be nothing more than a back up, seeing as though he cannot stay healthy and is largely ineffective when healthy.
Dobbins carried hype during the preseason, but did little to garner the excitement during the regular season. Meanwhile, Edds, a fourth round pick last season, was also starting to generate hype but suffered a season-ending ACL tear prior to the regular season.
If Miami's staff does not believe that either Edds or Dobbins can do a suitable job of playing alongside Dansby, Minnesota's Chad Greenway could be an ideal suitor for the job. The Vikings have a slew of defensive players they must re-sign this summer, and Greenway, a tackling machine, could slip through the cracks and enter free agency.
Chad Greenway's solid production over his four year career might rise his free agency price tag out of Miami's reach. But there is another linebacker likely headed for free agency who will come at a cheaper price with similar production.
Philadelphia's Stewart Bradley racked up 108 tackles in 2008, his sophomore season in the league. Bradley seemed bound for stardom but missed the entire 2009 season with an injury, opening the door for rookie Jamar Chaney to (probably) steal his job.
Bradley had only 48 tackles in 13 games this season, which will likely make him a bargain this summer, and a very realistic target for the Dolphins.
There are many trends amongst the league's elite teams, but one that stands out is the presence of an athletic, receiving-oriented tight end. The Colts have Dallas Clark, the Patriots have Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the Falcons have Tony Gonzalez, the Chargers have Antonio Gates, the Steelers have Heath Miller, and so on.
The Dolphins have lacked this dynamic since Keith Jackson in the early 1990s, and whether or not this regime wants to admit it, Anthony Fasano does not fit the bill. He has sub-par speed and his 39 receptions for 528 yards were both career highs.
The Texans' Owen Daniels was on the road to stardom in 2009 before suffering his third ACL tear, which also kept him out for part of the 2010 season. But despite playing in only 11 games this year, Daniels still managed to match Fasano's production, catching 38 passes for 471 yards.
Daniels' injury history is frightening, and might deter most potential suitors, but if he retains the athleticism that allowed him to reel in 133 passes for 1,630 yards from 2007 to 2008, Miami should absolutely court him.
According to reports at the finale of last season, Cardinals defensive tackle Gabe Watson played extremely overweight for much of the year. This may have been one reason Arizona spent their first round pick on nose tackle Dan Williams, but regardless, Watson seems likely to hit the open market this summer.
Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai had a breakout season in 2010, which will allow him to demand a big contract when he becomes a free agent this summer. If Soliai bolts, and the Dolphins believe they can discipline Watson into shape, he could make for a fine, run stuffing replacement.
If Owen Daniels' knee scares the Dolphins away, the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis could prove to be another enticing, but more expensive option.
Lewis caught 10 touchdowns this season, setting a career high and tying Jacksonville's record for touchdown receptions in a season. The Jaguars will likely pursue a contract extension with Lewis considering he just seems to be finding his stride.
It is unlikely, but if the Jags lose him to free agency, Lewis could be a huge addition to Miami's passing game.
The possibility of Brad Smith landing in Miami this summer hinges primarily on the team's future usage of the Wildcat. Now that incumbent offensive coordinator Dan Henning is gone, the team's new coordinator might deem the decreasingly prevalent gimmick unnecessary.
Smith is a deadly athlete who specializes as a utility man, returning kicks, playing wide receiver, and running a pseudo-wildcat formation for the Jets. He starred as a quarterback at Missouri, but has found a niche doing odd jobs, and running the Wildcat for the Dolphins would be right up his alley.
Smith also returns kicks and brings great speed to a team lacking the personnel for both.
The single most important theme that must comprise both the Dolphins 2011 Draft and Free Agent classes this offseason must be speed. Before his departure, Dan Henning said so himself, "We need speed, and we need it in the areas where when you play something loose, and somebody's got a chance, he can take it to the house."
Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston wreaks of speed, and he could be the solution to many of the Dolphins problems. Besides his speed and agility, Breaston could provide the deep threat that the offense lacked so notably this season. He has also been a deadly returnman in the past.
Breaston is already 27 and he struggles with injuries, but a change of scenery might be all he needs to reach his potential.
Packers wide receiver James Jones has long been tagged as a player seething with potential who is simply yet to fulfill his talents. Jones had career highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns in 2010, setting himself up nicely for free agency.
Jones is speedster who could become a star given ample targets. He would provide an excellent complement to Brandon Marshall given his speed and generally sure hands (Forgive him for his drop against the Eagles), and would allow Davone Bess to return to the slot.