The Dolphins kept their promise this free agency.
They showed restraint.
Granted, Mike Tannenbaum did not have the cap space this year to be a free spender, but even if he did, the organization’s philosophy has changed. Value over splash.
But that newfound discipline comes with a cost:
They have lost 12 starters or key rotation players (including kicker Cody Parkey) since October.
As of Wednesday morning, they had replaced them with just five: Robert Quinn, Josh Sitton, Daniel Kilgore, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson.
And while free agency is far from over, the best players are gone. Of Pro Football Talk’s top 100 free agents, fewer than 20 remain unsigned. And of those available players, just a handful would fit a Dolphins need: defensive tackle Bennie Logan, and linebackers Navorro Bowman, Pernell McPhee, Junior Galette and Connor Barwin.
Yes, the Dolphins might find value after the draft, but it’s hard to see how anyone they sign at this point would be an upgrade over who they have lost. (An example: NFL Network reports the Dolphins have interest in backup linebacker Emmanuel Lamur.)
So, what is Miami’s plan to get better? We will find out more next week when decision makers speak at the annual league meeting in Orlando.
But here’s our guess:
1. Develop the young players already on the Dolphins roster.
2. Ace the draft.
Let’s start with the first point.
The Dolphins have high hopes for their young defensive players. But is linebacker Raekwon McMillan the same player after tearing up his knee? And can defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor together make up for the loss of Ndamukong Suh?
How about offense: Coaches keep talking up tight end A.J. Derby, but he has 37 career catches. If the staff thought MarQueis Gray and Thomas Duarte were dangerous weapons in the passing game, Miami would have used them after Julius Thomas got hurt last year.
As for running back, the two on Miami’s roster not named Kenyan Drake have a combined eight carries in their careers.
And the quarterbacks currently under contract started zero combined NFL games a year ago. (Yes, Ryan Tannehill is expected back healthy, but that was also the plan last year.)
Plus the Dolphins need to replace Parkey, who had the most accurate season ever for a Dolphins kicker.
And keep in mind, these are holes the Dolphins need to fill from a 6-10 team. They expect to be better in 2018, and could use upgrades at cornerback and hybrid safety.
So the draft will be key.
But here’s the problem: They probably do not have the resources to confidently address all of these deficiencies.
The Dolphins own the 11th pick, and as we wrote over the weekend, the odds of them taking a defensive player have never been higher.
The ideal scenario is either Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds or Georgia’s Roquan Smith available at 11, and the Dolphins plug the one they take at starting strong-side linebacker.
But that is no sure bet. What if both are gone? Or what if a Laremy Tunsil situation happens, where a highly graded player not at a position of need slips out of the top 10? Would Chris Grier go with need or his board? (The Dolphins still are very much interested in Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, as ESPN reports they had a private on-campus workout with him Wednesday.)
And by taking a linebacker, the Dolphins would miss out on the top four quarterbacks in this year’s incredible class. Again, Tannehill’s health is no sure thing, and the team does not want to again go into the season without a real Plan B.
The good news: There should be options available for the Dolphins with their second pick, particularly if they move up from 42. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph could enter the equation.
But to trade into the late first round or up in the second, the Dolphins would obviously need to part with an asset — perhaps their third or two fourth-round picks.
And if they do that, it makes it that much harder to plug holes, particularly if they want to trade for Broncos running back C.J. Anderson.
Then there is this sad reality: The Dolphins do not have a great batting average when it comes to finding starters beyond the first round.
Forget their checkered history during the past decade. Simply zero in on the time since Mike Tannenbaum joined the staff in 2014.
In those four drafts, the Dolphins took 26 players between Rounds 2 and 7. Of those 26, just seven are expected to start games for Miami in 2018, while nine are no longer on the roster. (In fairness, Jarvis Landry will start for Cleveland this year, and Jay Ajayi might do the same for Philadelphia.)
Can the Dolphins complete their roster overhaul through the draft? Yes.
But Grier would need to have a great weekend — and it might be at the cost of landing their quarterback of the future.