Assessing the Value of Miami Dolphins' Upcoming Free Agents
The Miami Dolphins were one of the most active teams in free agency in 2013, and if they want to maintain some players that became the nucleus of their team, they'll have to be active with a long list of internal free agents.
The Dolphins have 13 unrestricted free agents, nine of whom were starters for at least eight games in 2013. Even after spending all that money last year, the Dolphins still will have roughly $30 million in cap space with which to retain key players and possibly bring in others.
Here's a primer of each Dolphins player who's due for a new deal this offseason.
Snap data and advanced statistics, unless otherwise noted, provided by Pro Football Focus' premium section (subscription required).
Role: Starks played 742 snaps (63.6 percent) as part of a three-man rotation that featured Starks, Paul Soliai and Jared Odrick. Starks spent most of his time on the field as a pass-rusher, but was fairly close to split between rushing the passer and playing run defense.
Production: Starks finished the 2013 season with 30 hurries, six hits and four sacks, making him the 12th-best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Need: The Dolphins' need at defensive tackle depends on whether they end up keeping Paul Soliai, who is also set to hit the open market. They will likely need to keep one or the other to avoid some serious questions about the interior of the defensive line headed into next season.
Injuries: Starks is the very definition of dependable. He hasn't missed a game since 2007.
Value grade: B+
Role: Like Starks, Soliai was part of a three-man rotation at defensive tackle. He was the team's principle interior run-defending lineman. In the 15 games he played, he participated in 526 (48.1 percent) of the defensive snaps, with 290 of those snaps coming on run defense.
Production: Soliai had just one sack in 2013, but according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he missed just two tackles all season long. Of his 35 tackles, five were for a loss.
Need: With Starks and Odrick firmly entrenched in the defense, the need for Soliai is marginalized. He is valuable on running downs, and the Dolphins could certainly use him to improve in run defense, but Soliai was originally brought in as a 3-4 nose tackle.
Injuries: Soliai missed the Dolphins' Week 3 win over the Falcons with a knee injury.
Value grade: B-
Role: Grimes was the Dolphins' No. 1 cornerback in 2013, playing more snaps and more coverage snaps than any other cornerback on the team.
Production: Grimes finished with a team-leading 16 passes defensed and four interceptions, including one he returned for a 94-yard touchdown. Despite playing primarily on the outside, Grimes was able to find his way into 60 total tackles (52 solo, eight assists). He was almost exclusively used in coverage, but rushed the passer on six of his defensive snaps, logging a quarterback hit and two hurries in the process.
Need: Grimes was clearly the Dolphins' best defensive player in 2013, but Dimitri Patterson was playing well as the team's No. 2 cornerback before he was injured against the Chargers. The Dolphins' other top options at cornerback were Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson.
Injuries: Grimes missed 15 games of the the 2012 season with an Achilles injury, but he signed a one-year stay-healthy deal with the Dolphins, and returned to start all 16 games in 2013, managing to avoid a single injury in his contract year.
Value grade: A
Role: Keller did not play in 2013, but is viewed as a receiving tight end, rarely contributing much as a blocker. That was his role for the New York Jets from 2008-2012, and it was presumably going to be his role in 2013.
Production: After four years of trending upward to start his career, Keller was on and off the active game-day roster due to injuries in 2012. From '08-'11, Keller averaged 53 receptions for 640 yards and four touchdowns a season—and he would have come close to the numbers if he had played 16 games in 2012.
Need: The Dolphins' need for a receiving tight end diminished over the course of the year as second-year tight end Charles Clay emerged as one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill's favorite weapons. Clay also excels as a receiving tight end, so having Keller on the roster might be considered redundant, especially since neither of them are particularly well-versed as blockers.
Injuries: Keller was injured in a preseason game against the Houston Texans. A low hit by rookie safety D.J. Swearinger resulted in a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and a dislocated right knee; Not surprisingly, he was quickly placed on season-ending injured reserve. His injuries in 2012 were to his ankle and his hamstring.
Value grade: C
Role: Incognito was the Dolphins' starting left guard for the first eight games of the year, and is known best (on the field) for his run-blocking abilities. The 6'5", 319-pounder has also earned a reputation as an "enforcer" for his physical (sometimes dirty) style of play.
Production: According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Incognito allowed six sacks, three hits and two hurries to quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and was charted for two sacks allowed against the Patriots. Despite his limited action, he still graded out as one of PFF's most efficient pass-protecting guards.
Need: The Dolphins' offensive line was one of the league's worst in 2013, so they could use all the help they can get. That being said, Incognito was part of the group that struggled, so maybe the time has come for some wholesale changes up front—especially considering the number of Dolphins starting offensive linemen that are set to hit free agency.
Injuries: Incognito suffered a neck injury in Week 9, which ended up being his last game of the 2013 season, but only because he was suspended shortly thereafter.; It was reported after his injury he would be ready to go for the next game.
Value grade: Incomplete; We simply cannot separate Incognito's on-field value with the firestorm of controversy around the s scandal between and Incognito, and we won't know exactly what to expect until the investigative report is released.
Role: The Dolphins signed Tyson Clabo on a one-year deal last offseason after being released by the Falcons in April. He immediately became the team's starting right tackle, with Jonathan Martin swinging over to the left side.
Production: Clabo was victimized on some key sacks in 2013, and gave up two sacks in four separate games. In allowing 52 total pressures of Tannehill, Clabo finished as one of the worst tackles in the league in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency, but in his defense, he is one of the only ones who played better at the end of the season (three pressures combined in the final three games; averaged 3.3 per game in 2013).
Need: Right now, the Dolphins' top backup offensive tackle is Will Yeatman, a former tight end and former lacrosse player prior to his football days, which gives you some indication of his size and experience at the position. Clabo is one of four Dolphins' starting offensive linemen who are set to hit the open market, and they will have a lot of decisions as to whether they should keep certain players or blow it all up. Clabo showed some promise at the end of the year.
Injuries: Clabo missed time in 2012 to a hip injury, but has been healthy for almost the entirety of his playing career.
Value grade: C+
Role: Clemons was the Dolphins' starting free safety from 2012-13. Clemons' strong suit is in deep zone coverage. He came to the team as a fifth-round pick in 2009, and has quickly ascended to the starting spot on the back end, playing over 90 percent of the snaps in 2010, 2012 and 2013.
Production: Over the years, Clemons has been a tackling machine, with at least 90 total tackles and 60 solo tackles in each of the past two seasons. He hasn't been a big playmaker, however, with just three interceptions in that time.
Need: If the Dolphins don't bring back Clemons, they'll need a starting safety, but they may need to upgrade the position even if Clemons is brought back; he was signed last year on a one-year, $2.75 million contract, and did little to prove himself as a top-flight safety.
Injuries: Clemons dealt with knee and hamstring injuries in 2010 that kept him off the field for a time, and he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 1 of the 2011 season that kept him sidelined until mid-October. He has been injury-free over the past two years.
Value grade: C+
Role: The Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie prior to their Week 8 game up in New England, and immediately became the team's starting left tackle. At 6'8" and 352 pounds, McKinnie is considered more of a road-grading offensive tackle than a savvy, light-footed pass-protector.
Production: McKinnie did not provide the upgrade the Dolphins wanted, playing just as poorly as any other offensive tackle on the roster in yielding seven sacks, nine hits and 23 hurries in his 10 games with the Dolphins.
Need: This goes back to what will become the theme of the Dolphins' free agency decisions: do they think there are some pieces that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the 2013 offensive line, or do they want to blow the whole thing up? They have four starters who are free agents, although one is Incognito. The Dolphins shouldn't have too much faith in backups Will Yeatman or Dallas Thomas.
Injuries: McKinnie was a healthy scratch for the first six games of the 2013 season, and prior to that, the last time he missed any action was for four games in 2008.
Value grade: C-
Role: After being placed on injured reserve, Owens was picked up off waivers by the Dolphins from the Cleveland Browns at the end of the 2013 season. He was primarily a slot cornerback in his three years (2010-12) with the Atlanta Falcons, but played on the outside for the Browns.
Production: The Browns used Owens on some cornerback blitzes, and he capitalized by finishing with 2.5 sacks. He has not logged an interception since his rookie year, and his coverage numbers have been relatively unimpressive; according to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed completions on over 70 percent of throws into his coverage in two of the past three years.
Need: The Dolphins have some depth at cornerback, but depending on whether they are able to keep Grimes and whether they decide to also keep Nolan Carroll, the Dolphins may not have a pressing need for more depth at cornerback.
Injuries: As mentioned previously, Owens suffered a knee injury that ended his 2013 season. Concussions and other minor injuries have led to him missing time in each of the past three seasons.
Value grade: C
Role: John Jerry was the Dolphins' starting right guard from 2012-13. Like Incognito, Jerry was a player added to the team during a period in which they were molding their offensive line in the image of "bigger, stronger" men that could execute a man-blocking scheme.
Production: Jerry played nearly every snap for the Dolphins over the past two years. He allowed five sacks this year, tied for seventh-most in the league, but in yielding just 25 total pressures on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Jerry finished the year ranked 12th in Pro Football Focus' pass-blocking efficiency.
Need: Jerry is not a top-flight guard and will probably not command a heavy market, so the Dolphins could bring him back on the cheap for a year and have him compete with his future replacement—if they should draft one. Right now, however, the Dolphins do not have a feasible replacement on the roster.
Injuries: No major injuries to report for Jerry.
Value grade: B-
Role: Austin Spitler is almost exclusively a special teams player; He is listed as a linebacker, but he hardly plays any defense, with just 15 defensive snaps in his four-year career, and with nine of those snaps coming in one game in 2012.
Production: Spitler logged eight special teams tackles in 2013.
Need: The "need" for a special teams ace can be underrated, but the Dolphins don't need to go to the ends of the Earth to make sure they keep Spitler.
Injuries: Spitler has yet to suffer any dramatic injuries in his career.
Value grade: C
Role: Marlon Moore is primarily a special teams player, but has found his way onto the field as a backup wide receiver as well. The 6'0", 190-pound receiver lines up primarily on the outside when he is on the field.
Production: Moore hasn't made much of an impact in his four years in the NFL, and logged just seven catches for 62 yards in 2013.
Need: The Dolphins are pretty much all set at receiver, with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Rishard Matthews taking up a majority of the depth chart. With wide receiver Brandon Gibson recovering from a knee injury, the Dolphins should at least be mindful of their depth, but they're far from desperate at receiver.
Injuries: Moore's 2011 season was cut short by a foot injury, but he has remained mostly healthy.
Value grade: C-
Role: Carroll might have been listed third, or even fourth, on the Dolphins depth chart at cornerback if everyone had been healthy, but the circumstances of the season led to him playing significant snaps. He played 75.3 percent of the snaps on the season, but in three of the final six games of the season, he came off the field for just one snap.
Production: Carroll gets a bad rap, but according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he allowed completions on just 47.8 percent of throws in his direction, yielding just two touchdowns while intercepting three passes and breaking up another seven. Carroll rushed the passer just seven times, but managed to come up with two sacks.
Need: The need for Carroll will either be enhanced or diminished by what happens with Grimes, who is clearly the higher priority of the two free-agent cornerbacks. Carroll is the more economic option, but he is not a top-flight cornerback like Grimes, and would have been the No. 3 option if Dimitri Patterson had been healthy for 16 games. If he does not return, the Dolphins could turn to Jamar Taylor to be their new No. 3 cornerback.
Injuries: Carroll has dealt with some minor injuries throughout his career, but he has missed just six games in his four-year career and did not miss a single game in 2013.
Value grade: B
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.