Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, the 2010 team has come up short of a playoff appearance. Who's to blame? That's not a very sure answer, but a logical one would be everybody. We all can't forget that football is a team sport, and the success or failure of a team is based on many variables.
Miami comes into the offseason with a heaping of players to re-sign, many holes on offense, and uncertainty on the coaching front. Tony Sparano has been retained, but there are changes coming for other offensive coaches.
Now, the long term key to any team building a successful franchise is through many strong drafts. However, given the hole that the Miami Dolphins are in, they may have to sign several more free-agents than they originally planned. Even with free agent acquisitions, it doesn't negate the fact that Miami still needs to have a strong draft to come into 2011 as a contender.
Let's take a look at Miami's free agents, team needs, and potential free agent signings at positions of need.
Free Agents - These players can be outright signed, as they are no longer contractually obligated to stay with their current team.
Tyler Thigpen (Quarterback)
Ricky Williams (Running Back)
Chad Pennington (Quarterback)
Quentin Moses (Defensive End)
Pat McQuistan (Offensive Guard)
Tony McDaniel (Defensive Line)
Paul Soliai (Nose Tackle)
Ronnie Brown (Running Back)
Restricted Free Agents - Players that can be signed by other teams. However, the team that offers a contract to a restricted free agent must abide by the compensation chosen by the original team. The original team also has a choice to match the contract offered by the potential signing team, which would allow the original team to retain that player.
Joey Haynos (Tight End)
Nate Garner (Offensive Line)
Patrick Cobbs (Running Back)
Exclusive-Rights Free Agents - These players are still free agents, but if their original team offers a contract, it is mandatory that they accept that contract.
Lydon Murtha (Offensive Tackle)
Kory Sheets (Running Back)
Lex Hilliard (Running Back)
Miami has many decisions to make this offseason, and each one will help or hurt Tony Sparano a little more in keeping his job.
Tyler Thigpen (Quarterback) - It is hard to think about Thigpen being let go. This can go either way though, because Miami might choose to keep Chad Henne. It should also be expected that Miami goes after a quarterback in free agency and/or the NFL Draft.
Ricky Williams (Running Back) - After Ricky Williams openly criticized the Dolphins organization and certain players, it is unlikely that Miami will re-sign Williams. He said "I was drafted in 1999, and this is the first time I’ve been a free agent. I’m excited to see what happens." All signs point to Ricky Williams hitting the market.
Chad Pennington (Quarterback) - Pennington has been a model citizen his entire career, and especially with the Miami Dolphins. However, given Pennington's injury history, his playing days are most likely behind him. He would make a great coach one day.
Quentin Moses (Defensive End) - Moses will be re-signed. He has played well enough this season to all but guarantee a roster spot next season. He has been with the team for several seasons, and he is also a solid contributor off of the bench and on special teams.
Pat McQuistan (Offensive Guard) - McQuistan's status is likely up in the air. He didn't play lights out, and seemed to be a liability on the offensive line when he needed to make a crucial block. Miami would not be worse off if he hit the market.
Tony McDaniel (Defensive Line)- Both the Dolphins and McDaniel have expressed interest in working out a deal. McDaniel has played well this season, and Miami feels like he is an important part of the defensive line rotation. He will likely be kept.
Paul Soliai (Nose Tackle) - Soliai is Miami's most important free agent player. He is the future at nose tackle, barring a relapse of his past ways. Soliai had a hard time getting motivated in his first several seasons with Miami, but he has gotten his act together, and has been playing at a high level all season. He will likely cash in on a big contract.
Ronnie Brown (Running Back) - Brown's status is also up in the air. If Ricky Williams leaves for free agency, Brown could be re-signed to a smaller contract. He hasn't lived up to his hype as the #2 pick of the draft, but Miami would like at least one veteran in the backfield when they likely bring in a younger running back during the offseason.
Lydon Murtha (Offensive Tackle) - Murtha provides solid depth on the offensive line, but don't expect Miami to make a big push to re-sign him. He is expendable at this point, and as a restricted free agent, he likely won't get much attention from other teams around the NFL.
Kory Sheets (Running Back) - Sheets was injured during the 2010 offseason, and would have provided a speedy option on kick returns. He hasn't really gotten a chance to shine here in Miami, but if speed is what they desire, he will likely be kept.
Lex Hilliard (Running Back) - Hilliard is another guy who hasn't been given a chance. Hilliard is the same type of runner as Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, which is why I expect him to hit the market. It is uncertain whether he will get attention or not, and if he doesn't, Miami could place him back on their practice squad or bring him in to compete during training camp.
Joey Haynos (Tight End) - Joey Haynos is a huge tight end, and he could have been effective this year with Anthony Fasano. Expect Haynos to be re-signed, while Miami will also likely draft another tight end or pick one up via free agency.
Nate Garner (Offensive Line) - Garner will be re-signed by Miami. He entered the 2010 offseason as a favorite to start at right guard, but injuries forced him to be placed on the Injured Reserve List. Garner has value, because he can play both guard and tackle. He will be an asset to Miami in the future.
Patrick Cobbs (Running Back) - Cobbs has become less valued to this team, and while he still may not have been 100% since his ACL tear in 2009, he likely won't be retained. The only reason Miami would bring Cobbs back is because of his special teams contributions.
1. Quarterback - Miami has yet to find a suitable quarterback since Dan Marino retired. They have made many attempts to find their guy, but they really haven't done what it takes to find a true franchise quarterback. Chad Henne was getting praise during the offseason, but all of those expectations came crashing down after Miami finished the season 7-9.
Now, Miami is in a bit of a hole. They are sitting at pick #15 in the NFL Draft, and their next pick doesn't come until the third round. There are many teams that need a quarterback ahead of Miami in the draft, so it is possible that Miami could be stuck waiting another season to draft a quarterback.
Miami also has several options through free agency, which will be addressed further along in the slideshow.
2. Offensive Line - One of the NFL's best units in 2009, the Dolphins' offensive line regressed during 2010. The only consistent lineman Miami had was left tackle Jake Long, who was voted to his third pro bowl in three years. Other than Long, there is an immense amount of doubt surrounding the line.
Vernon Carey was overweight and injured. Nate Garner was injured, which gave way to John Jerry and Pat McQuistan, who were very inconsistent. Joe Berger is a decent lineman, but he is better as a backup. Richie Incognito was playing guard, when he should have been playing center all season.
This was not a unit that played well together during the entire 2010 season.
3. Running Back - Were Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams really that bad this year? That question is not so easy to answer, considering how badly the offensive line played all season. Since Ricky Williams is likely to explore free agency, Miami will have a hole at this position. All of their running backs are going to be free agents.
There are many free agents available, and the draft has a few playmakers at the top that could come in and contribute right away.
4. Tight End - It isn't that Miami was lacking at tight end, it is more of the fact that the quarterback couldn't get any tight end the ball. Anthony Fasano is solid all around, but Miami needs another athletic tight end in order to keep defenses guessing. Miami's two tight end formation in 2008 with Chad Pennington was so effective because Miami had two receiving threats at the position.
Miami needs a big, fast tight end and they can likely find a guy like that in either free agency or the draft.
5. Wide Receiver - Miami has a pretty good receiving corps with Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Brandon Marshall. However, the problem for the entire offense was speed. Miami needs to get a fast receiver to play on the opposite side of Brandon Marshall. Hartline possesses pretty decent speed, but he has yet to show that he can consistently win the battle on deep routes. If Miami could find a guy with a good set of hands that could run past defenders, they would be set at receiver.
6. Inside Linebacker - Karlos Dansby was a great addition last year. Dansby is not the problem. The combination of Channing Crowder and Tim Dobbins has left some undesirable outcomes, especially when Dansby got injured towards the end of the season. Miami has rookie A.J. Edds, who was on the injured reserve list all season long, so many there is already a player on this roster that can start making plays.
There are many other holes on this team, and this will be one of the last areas of concern for the current and new staff. If Miami can get around to this issue, it will mean that they fulfilled most of the other areas of need, and Miami should have a good roster in place. However, that is easier said than done.
Miami has many options when it comes to quarterback. There are several players that can be acquired, either through the draft or free agency. Players likely to hit the free agency market include Matt Hasselbeck and Alex Smith. Other players' statuses are uncertain, like Vince Young, Donovan McNabb, Kevin Kolb, and Kyle Orton.
The quarterbacks that will likely be available for trade are Kolb and Orton, while guys like McNabb and Young may be released due to conflicts with their current teams.
Miami is also sitting with the 15th pick in the draft, where there should be a quarterback available. Since Andrew Luck decided to stay at Stanford for his senior season, Miami will be sitting just out of reach for a guy like Blaine Gabbert, quarterback out of Missouri, whose stock has been rising. Gabbert is regarded by many as the best quarterback in the draft.
Other quarterbacks that are first-round talent are Cam Newton out of Auburn, Ryan Mallett out of Arkansas, and Jake Locker out of Washington.
There are also several options in the second or third round (although Miami doesn't possess a second round pick). Quarterbacks like Pat Devlin from Delaware have the potential to be good players in the NFL.
Any one or two of these players could be Miami Dolphins by the end of April.
Since Miami has five free agent running backs, they could possibly sign one or two of them. With that being said, there are uncertainties for each player. Given the market for running backs, Miami could strike gold.
This deep free agency pool features DeAngelo Williams, Arian Foster, Cedric Benson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Mike Tolbert, Tim Hightower, Michael Bush, and last but not least Pierre Thomas. Miami should be licking their chops at the depth of this market.
Whether Miami signs a free agent running back or not, there are also a few running backs in the draft that could come in and contribute immediately.
Mikel Leshoure from Illinois is a name you should get comfortable with, because he is an incredible runner. He has averaged over six yards per carry in his career at Illinois. He possess speed and quickness, while standing a stout 6'1, with a 230 pound frame. Other running backs that have huge potential are Mark Ingram from Alabama and Ryan Williams from Virginia Tech.
There are a ton of options for Miami this offseason at running back.
For how Miami's offensive line played during the 2010 season, you can expect them to make at least one signing during free agency to address the issue.
Miami will likely take this route instead of drafting a lineman, because young lineman are prone to mistakes and must learn how to play at a higher level than they were used to in college. An example of that would be rookie John Jerry, who was doing well in training camp.
Jerry was turning heads, but once he got on the field during the regular season, he was not playing up to the level of his potential. Who knows if Jerry will turn things around, but that is the project that Miami cannot afford to take during 2011.
There are a ton of players that will hit the market. A notable list that Miami would likely be interested in would include Tyson Clabo (Atlanta), Logan Mankins (New England), Ryan Kalil (Carolina), Willie Colon (Pittsburgh), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans), Carl Nicks (New Orleans), Harvey Dahl (Atlanta), and Justin Blalock (Atlanta).
Teams like Atlanta and New Orleans, who have several key lineman hitting free agency, will likely sign several of those players listed. However, it is expected that both Atlanta and New Orleans will have to part ways with at least one of their free agent lineman.
Most of those players listed will be expecting a huge contract, so if Miami does target one of them, you can expect them to spend less money elsewhere in free agency.
If there is one thing Miami lacks on offense, it is speed. They do have many needs, but a lot of their issue on offense was due to not having a playmaker. Brandon Marshall can make plays, but there is only so much a player can do when he is being double and triple teamed on a consistent basis.
The market for free agent wide receivers isn't very deep, so it will be interesting to see if Miami puts a heavy emphasis on this position. There could be some mid to late round receivers that Miami takes a chance on, but again, Tony Sparano wants to win now considering the recent events.
Miami will be looking for speed, and there are several names that come to mind that would fit their needs. Those receivers are Steve Breaston (Arizona), James Jones (Green Bay), Jacoby Jones (Houston), and Mike Sims-Walker (Jacksonville).
If Miami isn't interested in those four players, you can expect a late round pick to be spent on a speedy receiver. The only problem with late round receivers is that they are usually extremely inconsistent. Inconsistent receivers who have a ton of speed usually have a problem hanging on to the ball. An example of that would be Ted Ginn Jr.
Getting a receiver should be one of the last things Miami worries about. They need quarterback, offensive line, and running back help more than they need a receiver.
This is also another area that may or may not be addressed by the team. Anthony Fasano quietly had another solid year, though it was overshadowed by poor quarterback play and an anemic offense.
Miami's main threat in 2008, when they made their playoff push, was calling plays that utilized two tight ends. That was the last time Miami's offense played inspiring football. Miami was forced to settle with Anthony Fasano and several other inexperienced tight ends, which did not help the offense.
Also remember, Joey Haynos was placed on injured reserve before the season began. Haynos is a huge target, standing at 6'8. He has the size and potential to be effective, but it didn't help his case that he couldn't get on the field.
Apart from several options in the draft, there are a few free agent tight ends that will get a lot of attention once the signing period begins.
Among those big name tight ends is Zach Miller (Oakland), Marcedes Lewis (Jacksonville), and Owen Daniels (Houston).
Mentioning all of these names is merely speculation, but if Miami is serious about going after a tight end via free agency, these will be their targets. All possess great skills in all areas. These three players are very well rounded tight ends.
After Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has openly committed himself to doing anything it takes to get Miami to a Super Bowl, you should expect to see at least one big move from Miami.
Miami only has two picks within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft, so they will have to fill several needs through free agency.
There is still a lot that can happen between now and the end of NFL season. Remember, the NFL has yet to reach an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Tony Sparano's job rides on the performance of his team in 2011, so it should be interesting to see the events unfold from now until the end of the NFL Draft.
Don't forget to follow Jason on twitter here: http://twitter.com/#!/JClaryUCF