Miami Dolphins: The Free Agency Approach the Fins Should Take

Robert HoffmanCorrespondent IMay 11, 2011

DENVER - JANUARY 02:  Running back Darren Sproles #43 of the San Diego Chargers rushes against the Denver Broncos at INVESCO Field at Mile High on January 2, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 33-28.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

After the NFL draft, fans and media alike predictably latched on to the next possible way to acquire players.

Free agency.

Just in the last few days, there have been several articles, including ones on this site, of the many players that teams should go after the moment the lockout is lifted, especially players that could "improve" the Miami Dolphins.

Hold on a minute.

Despite the "win now" mandate that seems to dominate both the organization and its supporters' thinking, many realize that any 2011 version of free agency isn't a cure all to the team's remaining holes or problems.

Furthermore, the proper approach to this version of free agency would be to sign one or two quality players at maximum and let most of the Dolphins own free agents, including Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams and Tony McDaniel, sign with other teams.

Keep in mind that the most likely scenario to occur when free agency is finally declared is to implement the 2010 rules which would mean that players would need six years of service to be unrestricted free agents.

Yes, the NFL has apparently been crafting an alternative free agency scenario, but until more details emerge, it's far-fetched to assume the league will agree to less than six years of service for a player to reach free agency.

Fins fans- this means that you can take attractive free agents such as RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Jerious Norwood, G Harvey Dahl, TE Zach Miller, WR Sidney Rice, WR Steve Breaston, CB Jonathan Joseph, LB Stephen Tulloch, G Justin Blalock, S Dawan Landry, OT Willie Colon, WR Santonio Holmes and CB Antonio Cromartie off your wish list.

What's left is simply not that attractive.

Miami unquestionably needs a quarterback to compete with Chad Henne and a veteran running back to pair with rookie Daniel Thomas, right?

How about taking a run at Rex Grossman, Bruce Gradkowski or Charlie Frye? What, that doesn't excite you? Well, it shouldn't, but that's the caliber of talent that's available unless you can convince 12-year veteran Matt Hasselback to uproot his West Coast roots to come all the way to South Florida.

Oh, and you would probably have to promise him the starting job.

Granted, there just aren't many great quarterbacks available period, but the six-year rule does remove the Pittsburgh Steeler's Dennis Dixon from the equation.

At running back, without the perfect fit of speed backs in DeAngelo Williams or Norwood, Miami could settle for a change of pace, third-down back in Darren Sproles or a plodder in Cedric Benson, but it's possible, even likely, that neither player would adequately solve Miami's problems at the position.

Now, consider that even if the Eighth Circuit Court rules to lift the lockout on June 3rd, which seems unlikely, teams are looking at July as the first time they will get new players into camp.

That's the best case scenario, which means new players will have limited time to learn the playbook and make impacts on their new teams. The learning curve for a running back probably isn't too steep, but for a quarterback, or even a wide receiver or linebacker, it will be much more difficult.

So, here is the proper plan for Miami. Pick one or two undrafted free agents that you feel can make an impact. Consider players such as Sproles, DE Marcus Spears and LB Barrett Rudd. 

A depressing but realistically hypothetical list of free agents was provided by the NFL Network's Jason La Canfora. 

Miami's Tyler Thigpen will likely not be an unrestricted free agent due to the six-year rule, so barring a more desirable option through a trade, keep Thigpen as the backup and bring in a "street or undrafted free agent to develop as a third string option”.

Is there a huge difference between keeping Thigpen or spending free agent dollars on Gradkowski? No. Meanwhile, the Dolphins need to invest in a college player such as Pat Devlin or Jeff Van Camp for the future.

Now, the advantage in just signing one or two free agents comes if, as expected, your own free agents walk. Figure that the Dolphins could net as many as three "decent" 2012 compensation picks for losing Brown, Williams and McDaniel.  

While that wouldn't help the Dolphins in 2011 and therefore wouldn't likely be considered by the current brain trust, it could set up Miami nicely in a much better 2012 draft.

Conversely, if Miami goes full bore into 2011 free agency and signs five, six or seven players, it's unlikely that most of these new players will have the necessary acclimation period to make a significant impact this season.

The Dolphins will also be reaching for talent in a thin pool, and the team will have passed up the chance to take advantage of the draft pick compensation system in 2012.