Dolphins Free Agency | Part One

Dolphins Free Agency: Miami’s top 10 needs

 

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

Free agency starts on March 12. Are you ready?

With more than $45 million in salary cap space, the Dolphins are expected to be big players. Over the next week, we'll take you through what the Dolphins need, and who they might target. Wide receiver will be priority No. 1, but it's not the only hole on a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008.

In part one of a nine-part series, we delve into the Dolphins’ top ten needs:

WIDE RECEIVER
Synopsis

This was the Dolphins’ weakest position in 2012 — and that was with Brian Hartline, whose contract soon expires. The Dolphins got just three touchdown catches from their wideouts last year — or 11 fewer than Green Bay’s James Jones had by himself. Luckily for Miami, this is one of the deepest positions in free agency.

Three options

Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh: His dynamic speed and big-play ability are exactly what the Dolphins lack. Greg Jennings, Green Bay: Familiarity with Joe Philbin and proven productivity are pluses. Age, recent injury history are minuses. Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City: Norland graduate has averaged at least 12 yards per catch in all but one season.

CORNERBACK
Synopsis

First they traded Vontae Davis. Now the Dolphins risk losing both of their top picks in the 2009 draft if Sean Smith walks. The secondary needs help. There are some big names out there (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, Nate Clements), but they’re all coming off poor years.

Three options

Chris Houston, Detroit: While undersized (5-11, 178), Houston surrendered just 3 TDs in 94 passes thrown his way. Brent Grimes, Atlanta: Former NFL Europe star-turned-Pro Bowler who’s coming off a torn Achilles he suffered in the first game of the season. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo: He’s the right age (27) and allowed just 9.5 yards per completion last year, 10th best in NFL.

More options

Adam Jones, Cincinnati: The bad boy seems to have gotten his act together and would be intriguing in return game. Cary Williams, Baltimore: After a slow start to the season, Williams came on late. Picked off Tom Brady in the AFC title game.

TIGHT END
Synopsis

Anthony Fasano led the Dolphins with five touchdown catches in 2012, but his 2.2 yards-after-catch average was third-worst among NFL tight ends. Fasano is an unrestricted free agent, Charles Clay is coming off injury and Michael Egnew has shown little to warrant his third-round draft status. Translation: Fresh blood needed.

Three options

Martellus Bennett, N.Y. Giants: Strong blocker in the run and pass game, Bennett also averaged 11.4 yards per catch in 2012. Dustin Keller, N.Y. Jets: Could the Dolphins get better and make the Jets worse? Red flag: Keller did miss half the season with injury. Jared Cook, Tennessee: Joe Philbin doesn’t like attitude problems, but could make an exception for Cook (44 catches, 4 TDs a year ago).

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Synopsis

What to do with Jake Long? The answer to that question will frame the team’s entire offseason. The Dolphins have until Monday to place the franchise tag on Long, but assuming they don’t, he’ll leave a giant hole on the left side if he signs elsewhere. Denver’s Ryan Clady is the best of the class, but he has been franchised.

Three options

Sam Baker, Atlanta: He’s big (6-5). He’s strong (307 pounds). And he surrendered just nine quarterback hits in 1,204 snaps in 2012. Gosder Cherilus, Detroit: Plays the right side, but might be worth flipping Jonathan Martin to left. Per PFF, he is league’s eighth-best tackle. Branden Albert, Kansas City: The former first-round pick has battled a back injury, but strong in pass protection when healthy.

PASS-RUSHING DEFENSIVE END
Synopsis

Let us get this out of the way up front: Dwight Freeney and Osi Umenyiora are aging, and in decline. Umenyiora’s six sacks last year were his fewest since 2006, while Freeney has seen his sack total drop in each of the last four years. The Dolphins need to find help opposite Cameron Wake, but they might look younger.

Three options

Michael Johnson, Cincinnati: Picked the perfect time to have a career year. His 11 1/2 sacks equaled his total in his first three seasons combined. Cliff Avril, Detroit: Considered by many the crown jewel of this position, Avril can rush the passer (9 1/2 sacks in 2012), but struggles against the run. Anthony Spencer, Dallas: Jeff Ireland had a role in drafting him in Dallas, and he’s coming off career-best pass rushing year (11 sacks).

More options

Paul Kruger, Baltimore: An outside linebacker with the World Champions, Kruger made himself some serious coin in the playoffs (4 1/2 sacks).

SAFETY
Synopsis

Could Ed Reed return to Miami? Signs are the future Hall of Famer will either re-sign with the Ravens or join long-time admirer Bill Belichick in New England. But if the Dolphins wanted to put a Band-Aid on the position (particularly if Chris Clemons doesn’t re-sign), they could do worse than bring back a legend.

Three options

Jairus Byrd, Buffalo (possibly franchised): Simply the best cover safety in all of football — and by a fair amount. Quarterbacks had a rating of 56.9 when throwing against him. Dashon Goldson, San Francisco: Another safety who’s excellent in coverage, Goldson allowed just 54.3 percent of passed thrown in his area to be completed. William Moore, Atlanta: Moore’s consolation prize for losing a heartbreaker in the NFC title game: A trip to Honolulu for his first Pro Bowl. Glover Quin, Houston (if Byrd gets tagged): The Texans are loathe to lose Quin, and here’s why: he missed just seven tackles all of last year.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Synopsis

It has been an effective combination on the inside for Miami. Paul Soliai the muscle; Randy Starks the speed. But with Starks destined for free agency, Big Paul might need a new dance partner. Could Jared Odrick move from end to tackle? Or will the Dolphins look elsewhere?

Three options

Henry Melton, Chicago: Despite being a little undersized for his position (6-3, 295), his 24 hurries in 2012 were sixth among all defensive tackles. Vance Walker, Atlanta: Walker used his 6-2, 304-pound frame to anchor the Falcons’ defense in 2012. Amazingly, he didn’t miss a tackle the entire season. Justin Bannan, Denver: Excellent against the run last year, Bannan’s biggest concern is his age. He turns 34 in April.

BACKUP QUARTERBACK
Synopsis

Matt Moore wants to be an NFL starter, and odds are, he will get a chance to compete somewhere. Joe Philbin loves third-stringer Pat Devlin, but does he love him enough to make a guy who has never taken an NFL snap the team’s insurance policy? Even if he does, the Dolphins could still add a vet.

Three options

Jason Campbell, Chicago: Struggled when he subbed in for an ailing Jay Cutler last year, but did play well in stretches earlier in his career. Luke McCown, Atlanta: Here’s what can be said about Luke McCown (who has 9 career touchdown passes): He’s seasoned, and would come cheap. David Garrard, out of football: Wouldn’t that be something? Garrard missed the entire season after hurting his knee in Dolphins camp, but wants a comeback.

KICKER
Synopsis

After a brutal start to the season (missing game-winners against the Jets and Cardinals), Dan Carpenter got his season on track, making 16 of his last 17 kicks. Still, he is due to earn $2.7 million this fall — steep for any kicker. The Dolphins are expected to bring in competition, if not a replacement.

Three options

Phil Dawson, Cleveland: Ageless wonder (and South Florida native) made 93.5 percent of his kicks last year — second best in the NFL. Lawrence Tynes, N.Y. Giants: Can handle the heat. Tynes made game-winning kicks in each of the Giants’ two recent NFC Championship Game appearances. Shayne Graham, Houston: Ranked in the bottom half league-wide in FG percentage in 2012, but is still the seventh-most accurate kicker in NFL history.

RUNNING BACK
Synopsis

Reggie Bush will almost certainly look — and probably sign — elsewhere come March 12. And while the Dolphins have two capable backs, neither Lamar Miller nor Daniel Thomas was particularly effective in short-yardage situations. Help needed there.

Three options

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh: Was never right after a torn ACL ended his 2011 season, rushing for 182 yards on just 51 carries last season. Shonn Greene, N.Y. Jets: Another likely Jets cap casualty, Greene has missed just three games in four seasons. Felix Jones, Dallas: Couldn’t carry the Cowboys’ run attack after DeMarco Murray got hurt, but could be effective as a change-of-pace threat.

Read more Dolphins Free Agency stories from the Miami Herald

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