NFL free agency appears to be rapidly approaching, and once that happens you'll see hundreds of players, including a handful of former Miami Dolphins, changing teams and donning new uniforms for the 2011 season.
But where will those Dolphins with expiring contracts end up? Who (if anyone) will be retained and stay in Miami, and who will be starting a new chapter in their NFL career?
Excluding the Dolphins' two restricted free agents (Nate Garner and Joey Haynos) and three exclusive-rights free agents (Lex Hilliard, Lydon Murtha and Kory Sheets), who I all expect back with the Dolphins in 2011, I think we could be looking at quite a changeover when it comes to the Dolphins' free agents.
So who will end up where? It's impossible to say for sure, but I'll do my best to fearlessly predict where each of the Dolphins' unrestricted free agents ends up, as well as explain my rationale in placing a player where I did.
Obviously, this is going to be an extremely difficult exercise, and I'll be happy if I get even one of these predictions correct. Still, it's certainly fun to speculate, so let's get to it...
The Dolphins appear to be moving on from the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, having selected rookie Daniel Thomas in the second round and poised to look for a true complementary back in free agency.
So where does that leave Brown, who is a great talent with a troubling injury history, as he approaches the the dreaded age of 30? It's hard to say, but without question Brown still has the talent to be a starting NFL running back and platooning for all those years in Miami should help the wear on his body.
I like him in Cincinnati because the team is without a starting running back. They don't seem to trust Bernard Scott to carry the load, while the man drafted two spots after Brown in 2005—Cedric Benson—is a free agent and recently had his second arrest in as many offseasons.
The Bengals will certainly be in the market for a starting running back in free agency, and they'd be wise to consider Brown over an inferior, overpriced talent like Benson.
It's hard to imagine the Dolphins without Cobbs, who has been one of the team's best special teams players in recent years and has also developed into an unquestioned leader in the locker room due to his work ethic and football IQ.
That being said, it appears the Dolphins may be ready to move on as they overhaul their backfield, and the reality is that Cobbs, while certainly a likable player, doesn't have the talent to carry the load on offense.
Cobbs' special teams ability and hard-working attitude could benefit all 32 teams in the league, but I think Cleveland may be a specifically good fit. They have a young, talented backfield made up of Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, which would allow Cobbs to slip into the number three role and help tutor the other backs.
Acquired for a seventh-round pick in 2009, McDaniel had a pretty uninspiring performance as a reserve in his first year with the Dolphins. Injuries to Phillip Merling and Jared Odrick, as well as the related position shuffling of Randy Starks allowed McDaniel to see extended playing time in 2010, and he did not disappoint with a career year as a rotational lineman.
The Dolphins remain stacked on the defensive line and McDaniel earned the right to start after his 2010 performance. Plenty of teams around the league need help up front, and McDaniel offers the versatility to play tackle in a 4-3 scheme or any of the three positions in a 3-4.
The Broncos, transitioning to a 4-3 scheme under John Fox, have very little talent at defensive tackle with only Louis Leonard and Kevin Vickerson under contract. Signing McDaniel would instantly upgrade their run defense and give them a legitimate start in the front seven.
Acquired toward the end of the preseason from the Dallas Cowboys, McQuistan started eight games and appeared in all 16 for the Dolphins in 2010 after numerous injuries and the disappointing lack of development by third-round rookie John Jerry.
It's almost impossible to say where McQuistan will end up because he profiles almost solely as a backup and thus could end up basically anywhere. However, I'm going to stick him in Houston with new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who knows him from their time in Dallas.
The Texans had an almost unstoppable run blocking line in 2010 and certainly don't need much help, but McQuistan's experience and versatility could be useful off the bench.
I guess you could call 2010 a "career year" for Moses, as he did appear in a career-high 15 games and record a new personal-best 18 tackles to go along with one sack. Of course, he's largely been a disappointment since being drafted in the third round in 2007 and doesn't offer much in special teams either.
The links between the Dolphins and Cowboys are well-documented, and they've never been shy about sharing players. In Dallas, Moses would also be reunited with former Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and could compete for a backup outside linebacker job in Dallas' 3-4 scheme.
Acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in September 2009 after Chad Pennington suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, Thigpen has spent nearly all of the past two seasons as a backup for the Dolphins. He threw just eight passes in 2009, and started one game in five appearances in place of an injured Chad Henne.
Thigpen's biggest career success is certainly his 2,600-yard, 18-touchdown performance with the Chiefs in 2008, but he has yet to fully translate his superior athleticism and fiery demeanor into a successful career as an NFL starter.
The Dolphins will likely move on from Thigpen after he was unable to supplant an inconsistent Henne, and Buffalo is certainly a logical landing spot for him. He has a history with head coach Chan Gailey from their time in Kansas City, and the team is in need of a backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also have a somewhat unsettled quarterback situation despite Fitzpatrick's productivity, which could at least make Thigpen think he has a reasonable shot to compete for a starting job.
Coming off a rebound season in 2009 with 1,121 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, Williams struggled a bit due to poor run blocking and totaled just 673 yards and two scores. That being said, Williams is fairly durable, in top physical condition, has always had great talent and is probably one of the more fresh 34-year-old running backs in the NFL thanks to his time away from the game.
While I don't expect anyone to hand Williams a true starting job due to his advanced age and his unreliability in the past, there is no doubt he can still be an effective rusher in the NFL.
It might seem like an odd fit, but if Le'Ron McClain walks for greener pastures and the overpaid Willis McGahee is released, the Ravens will certainly need a capable backup for Ray Rice. Williams is at the point in his career where he wouldn't get in the way or overshadow the younger star, but could still contribute when called upon.