Well, it's that time of year again.
Now that the Miami Dolphins have been officially eliminated from playoff contention and discussion has shifted toward next season, we are officially in "offseason mode."
Here in Miami, it seems as though we're perpetually in offseason mode—constantly speculating who will replace our futile head coach or which quarterback will finally emerge as the savior.
But with every offseason comes the possibility that management will finally make all of the right moves. Perhaps the Dolphins will finally find the next Don Shula and Dan Marino this offseason, and perhaps they will patch up the remaining holes on the roster, leaving the team primed for a Super Bowl run.
If the 'Fins address the following seven needs, a turnaround season could be in store for 2012.
Neither Chris Clemons nor Reshad Jones managed to emerge as reliable starting free safeties in 2011, so the position should be a top priority for the 'Fins heading into the 2012 offseason.
Ever since Miami failed to acquire blue chip free agents Ryan Clark and Antrel Rolle two summers ago, the team hasn't invested much into the free safety spot.
Jeff Ireland spent a pair of fifth-round draft picks on Clemons and Jones, and while both have shown flashes, neither are long-term solutions.
The Dolphins need a player who can serve as the safety blanket for the defense, and they might have to use a high draft pick or shell out some cash to reel one in.
Vontae Davis and Sean Smith haven't ascended to stardom quite yet, but both still possess infinite potential.
However, the rest of Miami's cornerbacking corps is shoddy.
Will Allen will be 34 next season, and Nolan Carroll has barely progressed from his rookie season.
On the bright side, rookie Jimmy Wilson has impressed, but we can't expect a seventh-round draft pick to fulfill a major role until he has ample time to develop.
The NFL is a pass-happy league right now, and every defense needs at least three or four quality cornerbacks to compete.
Miami will definitely be in the market for a serviceable corner during free agency.
The Dolphins have amassed 32 sacks this season, which ranks them 14th in the NFL.
But do not be fooled by this number.
Only three players—Cam Wake, Jason Taylor and Jared Odrick—have consistently generated a pass-rush.
With Taylor possibly headed for retirement after the season, the Dolphins must find another pass-rusher who can divert attention away from Cam Wake.
The door is still open for Koa Misi to fill that role, but he has struggled to make in impact this season.
On August 1st, the Dolphins announced the signing of former Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Marc Colombo.
The transaction drew a puzzled response from the public.
After all, long-time right tackle Vernon Carey was healthy.
But Sparano soon announced that he planned to move Carey inside to right guard and install Colombo at right tackle.
The move, like many of Sparano's, proved disastrous.
Colombo was a huge liability in pass protection—although he did become stable as the season progressed—making right tackle a huge area of need for the Dolphins.
The 'Fins could move Carey back to right tackle, or they could move the suddenly solid John Jerry out there.
However, Miami should pursue a top-flight tackle who can help protect whichever quarterback the Dolphins bring in.
One of these days, Jeff Ireland is going to pursue a seam-threat tight end, right?
Anthony Fasano has been serviceable, but he is not a viable No. 1 tight end.
While the NFL's best offenses have invested high draft picks into tight ends (Patriots with Gronk and Hernandez, Saints with Graham, Packers with Finley, etc.) and reaped tremendous benefits, the Dolphins have completely neglected the position.
Perhaps a new coach will force Ireland's hand, but regardless, Miami absolutely has to target a tight end this offseason.
No sane person could have possibly predicted that Matt Moore would dig the Dolphins out of a winless season and turn them into a formidable playoff spoiler.
Despite Moore's success, Miami will draft a "quarterback of the future."
There is a case to be made for Moore, but he simply lacks the tools of an elite quarterback.
He doesn't have a rifle arm or pinpoint accuracy. Instead, Moore relies on craftiness and a well-rounded game.
Stephen Ross knows how badly this franchise needs a centerpiece quarterback, and we should all expect the Dolphins to roll the dice on a rookie during the 2012 draft.
The list of potential candidates is long and wide-ranging.
We could attempt to pinpoint a few noteworthy suitors, but Jeff Ireland and Stephen Ross have sent mixed messages regarding whom they would like to hire.
It seems like Ross used the "young Don Shula" moniker in public to reassure Jeff Ireland that he will, in fact, keep his job.
However, according to Barry Jackson's story (second link), Ross privately plans to pursue star head coaches, which suggests names like Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher are in the running for the position.
These prominent coaching names would most likely demand the right to overhaul the staff, and Ireland would probably be a casualty.
In other words, let's hope Ross reels in one of these big-name coaches.