Once NFL free agency approaches, rampant speculation usually dominates team coverage nationwide. This year is a little bit different due to the lockout, but most of us have shifted our attention towards free agency nonetheless.
That chatter and buzz is slowly starting to build around Miami. Even though we don't know when the period will actually start, the Dolphins figure to be major players, thanks to Stephen Ross and his bank account.
It's difficult to decipher who will actually be free agents due to some restricted free agency clauses in the old CBA (which might be reused for 2011), but let's just assume all of the following players are unrestricted free agents.
Assuming DeAngelo Williams enters unrestricted free agency (if the NFL runs by 2010 rules in 2011, Williams will be a restricted free agent and likely stay in Carolina), he will be atop Miami's radar. He said so himself.
But just because Williams and the Dolphins have engaged in this public love affair does not mean he will automatically sign with the 'Fins. The former Pro Bowl will demand a lucrative contract—possibly a price too steep for Miami's liking. The Dolphins just used a second round pick on Daniel Thomas, so they might prefer to allocate their funds elsewhere.
Still, Williams would give Miami one of the league's deadliest rushing attacks, and that prospect might entice the team into signing that big check.
If the Dolphins don't pursue DeAngelo Williams, they will have plenty of funds at their perusal. Now that Daniel Thomas is on the roster, Miami might prefer to use their cap space to bolster the offensive line, anyway.
Right guard is a glaring weakness along the offensive front. John Jerry and Nate Garner will compete for the job, but neither have proven to be anything more than serviceable. In order to upgrade the position and fortify the line, Miami could target Tampa Bay's Davin Joseph, arguably the best available guard on the market.
This will be a matter of money and progression. If Joseph doesn't demand outlandish money and John Jerry doesn't show any significant improvement from his rookie season, the team should pursue him.
Miami might not be willing to pay the steep price for Carson Palmer or Kyle Orton, so free agent-to-be Tarvaris Jackson could be the perfect target.
Jackson's career has been marred by disappointment, but his struggles are far overblown. In 2007, Jackson's only season as a true starter, he led the Vikings to an 8-4 record and a playoff berth. Although his stats were unimpressive, he had virtually no receiving weapons at his disposal. Since then, Brett Favre has robbed Jackson of an opportunity to build off of his one promising season.
Jackson has already voiced his desire to leave Minnesota, and the Dolphins make a mutually great fit. He could come into camp with a great chance at seizing a starting job, and Miami could likely sign him at a minimal price.
Earlier this offseason, Jeff Ireland made a big deal about the Dolphins' intentions to pursue speedy, electric players to enliven the team's lethargic offense. However, the only true speed-oriented player Miami drafted was Edmond Gates, so the team might target more in free agency.
San Diego Chargers scatback Darren Sproles might be the perfect player for Miami to target. He will likely come at a low price due to his age (27) and overall lack of involvement and production last season. Sproles is basically a third-down back, but he provides the breakaway speed that Miami's offense lacked this season.
He is also one of the most lethal return men in the NFL, which allows the Dolphins to hit two birds with one stone.
Miami's desperation for a quarterback is well documented. But are they desperate enough to knowingly overpay for an aging, injury-prone quarterback?
That's the question the team would have to answer if they were to pursue Matt Hasselbeck. His miraculous performance in the NFC Wild Card Game boosted his stock, but his struggles during the regular season are a better indicator of what he will bring in 2011.
Although age and durability issues lessen Hasselbeck's value, that could work in the Dolphins' favor. He may come at a somewhat discounted price, and if he can consistently play at the level he did in the 2010 playoffs, Miami will have a bargain and, more importantly, an upgrade at quarterback.
Mike Sims-Walker has made his desire to play for the Dolphins loud and clear, and his friend Brandon Marshall has vouched for the Jaguars' No. 1 wide receiver as well.
However, the team has virtually no space for him, and even if there was a vacant roster spot at wide receiver, Miami probably wouldn't want to roll the dice with Sims-Walker. He has been wildly inconsistent and struggled with off-the-field issues in Jacksonville.
Plus, Sims-Walker would probably demand a contract out of the team's price range.
Darren Sproles will be the most coveted scatback on the free-agent market this summer, so he will subsequently have a list of suitors. If the Dolphins lose out on Sproles, they could pursue Atlanta Falcons running back Jerious Norwood.
Norwood provides a similar skill set to Sproles. He specializes as a third-down back and a kick returner, but has repeatedly struggled with injures throughout his career and has not been quite as productive as Sproles.
Still the Dolphins need speed, and if they can't grab Sproles, Norwood should be atop their targets.
Former Florida State standout Ernie Sims was initially on track for stardom after his first two seasons in the league, but his play has since declined in the last two years buried on the Eagles depth chart.
Sims is now headed for the open market where he probably won't draw much attention, if any at all. Even though Miami is really in the market for pass-rushing specialists, they also need bodies to fill the depth chart. Sims is still only 26 and might benefit from a fresh start under a coach like Mike Nolan.
Assuming he doesn't demand an outlandish contract, the Dolphins would be wise to investigate in Sims' services.
Athe beginning of the 2010 season, Dennis Dixon beat out veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich for the right to serve as Big Ben's temporary replacement. Dixon was hardly spectacular, but he did lead the Steelers to a Week 1 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Although he is yet to prove he can be an effective full-time starter, Dixon has performed extraordinarily well in the handful of games he has played in. His durability is also a concern (torn ACL while a senior at Oregon; injured in Week 2 last season), but assuming the Steelers don't place an outlandish tender on him, Miami might only have to surrender a low-value draft pick for the mobile QB.
Dennis Dixon, like Tarvaris Jackson, is a low risk-high reward option who could provide competition at the very least.
The Cowboys-to-Dolphins pipeline that has formed since Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano departed Big D makes any former Cowboy a target for Miami, but the Fins have actually shown interest in defensive end Marcus Spears before.
When Phillip Merling went down with an Achilles injury last summer, rumors about Miami trying to trade for Spears hit the web. Bill Parcells drafted Spears in the first round of the 2005 draft, but he has been a bust thus far.
The circumstances were different last year. Merling was sidelined and Spears would have played his contract year in Miami. But now that Kendall Langford is slated for free agency next year and Merling has yet to fully prove his worth, Spears might make for a very nice, low-priced depth/insurance player.