Forget March 14. Free agency begins in earnest Tuesday in Indianapolis.
Many of the moves that will be announced middle of next month will get hammered out at next week’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Expect the Dolphins to be as busy as anyone. They huddled with the Eagles to lay the groundwork for the trade that brought Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to town at the 2016 Combine.
Expect plenty of surprises in the days and weeks to come. With that being said, here are five of the many angles to watch as the NFL world descends on the Hoosier State.
1. Where will Jarvis Landry land?
At this point, it would be a stunner if the Dolphins do not trade Landry in the next few weeks. As Armando Salguero explained, his $16 million franchise tag figure is crippling to the Dolphins’ salary cap and, should it remain on their books, would make it all but impossible for them to be players in free agency.
The Dolphins are still open to hammering out a long-term deal with Landry, but it’s hard to see how either side comes off its respective number. So a trade is the likeliest outcome here.
But to whom? A trade partner has to have a need at wide receiver, plenty of cap space to write Landry the extension he wants, and be a team with which the Dolphins are willing to work.
That would presumably (although not definitely) eliminate the AFC East teams and, unless relations between Adam Gase and John Elway have thawed, the Broncos. Also, Mike Tannenbaum might be uneasy about doing another deal with the Eagles after helping Philadelphia win a Super Bowl. Trades with the Dolphins, either directly or indirectly, brought Carson Wentz and Jay Ajayi to Philly.
Per NFL.com’s handy list, teams with need at wide receiver include the Browns (although admittedly they have needs everywhere), Bears, 49ers, Packers, Cardinals, Ravens, Panthers, Saints and Jaguars.
Ranking those teams by available salary cap space (according to Over The Cap): No. 1. Cleveland, $110 million; No. 2. San Francisco, $74 million; No. 3. Chicago, $41 million; No. 4. New Orleans, $32 million; No. 5. Arizona, $22 million; No. 6. Carolina, $20 million; No. 7. Jacksonville, $18 million; No. 8. Green Bay, $17 million; and No. 9. Baltimore, $10 million.
Despite their financial limitations, the Ravens seem like a real option; the two sides reportedly were talking terms on a Landry trade last year, and safety Eric Weddle has been begging Landry to sign in Baltimore on social media.
The Browns make sense, too, as Landry’s receivers coach at LSU, Adam Henry, would be his position coach in Cleveland. They have picks to trade, too, owning six of the first 65 selections of this year’s draft. The Niners, meanwhile, surely want to surround their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, with assets.
Postscript: While some ripped the Dolphins for franchising Landry, there is logic to the move. Both the free agent and draft classes are bereft of top-line talent at receiver, so the Dolphins are holding an asset that is more valuable than it might be in other years.
2. How will the quarterback derby shake out?
Unless Lamar Jackson makes an unexpected leap during the next two months, there are probably four quarterbacks the Dolphins would consider at 11: USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
Darnold seems unlikely to slip out of the top 5, but Mel Kiper stoked growing speculation that Rosen and Gase would be a good fit when his mock draft linked the Bruin to Miami earlier this week.
Could the Dolphins trade up to land the quarterback they want? Perhaps — especially if they get good value for Landry.
Interviews and workouts in the coming weeks should sort the field for us, so will Kirk Cousins’ future. Cousins is the prize quarterback in this year’s free agent class, and if a team drafting in the top 10 signs him, that only helps Miami.
3. If not a quarterback at 11, then whom?
The Dolphins are all but guaranteed to get their quarterback of the future or a really good player at 11. If four QBs go in the first 10 picks, talented prospects at positions of need will then slide down the board — and into their lap.
Expect Miami to take a close look next week at Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Alabama wide receiver (and Cononut Creek Monarch grad) Calvin Ridley, Notre Dame linemen Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey and UTSA defensive end Marcus Davenport.
All could — and probably should — be in play.
4. How about the nine Miami Hurricanes invited to Indy?
Only four schools will have more players at the Combine.
Here’s UM’s long list of participants, with their projected draft round, per NFL Draft Scout: defensive tackles R.J. McIntosh (second) and Kendrick Norton (third), tight end Chris Herndon (fourth), defensive end Chad Thomas (fourth), running back Mark Walton (fourth), kicker Michael Badgley (sixth), wide receiver Braxton Berrios (seventh), cornerback Dee Delaney (undrafted), guard Kc McDermott (undrafted).
5. What free agents will the Dolphins pursue?
Well, that’s a question for Tannenbaum, Gase and Chris Grier. Gase is expected to meet with reporters on Wednesday, and Grier usually has an availability in Indy as well.
But here, via Rotoworld, are the three best players at each Dolphins position of need:
▪ Running backs: Le’Veon Bell (Steelers), Dion Lewis (Patriots), Carlos Hyde (49ers).
▪ Tight ends: Jimmy Graham (Seahawks), Tyler Eifert (Bengals), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jets).
▪ Offensive tackles: Nate Solder (Patriots), Justin Pugh (Giants), Cameron Fleming (Patriots).
▪ Guards: Andrew Norwell (Panthers), Weston Richburg (Giants), Jack Mewhort (Colts).
▪ Linebackers: Avery Williamson (linebacker), Navorro Bowman (Raiders), Nigel Bradham (Eagles).