Armando Salguero

Dolphins confident they can find TWO starting guards but history suggests they’re in trouble

Moving Larmey Tunsil, here blocking Pittsburgh Steelers Ricardo Mathews last season, from left guard to left tackle has created a hole for the Miami Dolphins at guard.
Moving Larmey Tunsil, here blocking Pittsburgh Steelers Ricardo Mathews last season, from left guard to left tackle has created a hole for the Miami Dolphins at guard.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will try to seal their acquisition of Branden Albert Tuesday by making his agents perhaps the best offer they have to convince the Miami Dolphins left tackle to accept a trade to Jacksonville.

If that happens, indeed, even if Albert balks and nothing comes of his visit and the trade agreement the two teams have forged falls apart, Albert will not be back with Miami in 2017.

Branden Albert, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman, says the team "got punched in the mouth today", after they were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 4, 2016.

So he’ll either be in Jacksonville or cut by the Dolphins outright.

And that means Laremy Tunsil has already been handed the Miami left tackle job for 2017.

And that means the Dolphins currently have holes at not one but both starting guard spots.

Not great news.

Some of the conversation within the Dolphins organization late last week and early this week included befuddlement over why fans and pundits are sweating Miami’s looming guard need. The belief within the team is the personnel department has a clear handle on what kind of player will fit at guard under coach Adam Gase’s offense.

And, according to sources, the team believes the type of player the Dolphins need is not exceedingly hard to find.

So the Dolphins are confident they will fill both the left guard vacancy -- left by Tunsil’s shift to left tackle -- and the right guard void -- left by the unsigned status of Jermon Bushrod.

The Dolphins believe they can easily take the $7.2 million salary cap boon they will score with Albert’s departure and that will be more than enough to pay for two starters at left and right guard, with the talent coming in either free agency or the draft or a combination of those.

All that confidence and good planning, however, forgets Dolphins history.

And in that history the Dolphins once upon a time had great guard play. But that came in the 1970s with Larry Little, and the ‘80s with Bob Kuechenberg, and the ‘90s with Keith Sims.

This millennium?

Mostly terrible.

Study the guard combinations the Dolphins have put on the field since 2000 and it becomes easy to understand why there is healthy concern the team can figure out one guard spot, much less both.

Consider Miami’s litany of failure at guard since 2000...

2000: Mark Dixon and Kevin Donnalley.

2001: Mark Dixon and Todd Perry.

2002: Jamie Nails and Todd Perry.

2003: Jamie Nails and Todd Perry.

2004: Jeno James and Taylor Whitley.

2005: Jeno James and Rex Hadnot.

2006: Jeno James and L.J. Shelton.

2007: Chris Liwienski and Rex Hadnot.

2008: Justin Smiley and Ikechuku Ndukwe.

2009: Justin Smiley and Donald Thomas

2010: Richie Incognito and John Jerry.

2011: Richie Incognito and Vernon Carey.

2012: Richie Incognito and John Jerry.

2013: Richie Incognito and John Jerry. Yeah, um, Richie played eight games and then his little problem with Jonathan Martin came to light. Then the Dolphins moved on to Sam Brenner and Nate Garner at left guard.

2014: Daryn Colledge and Mike Pouncey.

2015: Dallas Thomas and Billy Turner. And you wonder why this team was 6-10 while Ryan Tannehill was sacked 45 times?.

2016: Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod.

This is a list of the guard combos that played a majority of the games for the Dolphins in any given season. In several of those seasons, including last year, the Dolphins were forced to use multiple guard combinations due to injuries, poor play or some other circumstance.

And so only once in the past 17 seasons have the Dolphins been able to field the same starting guard combo in consecutive years.

So now the Dolphins should understand why folks are skeptical about the team’s ability to fill in capably at guard.

Obviously, the current club brass of coach Adam Gase, executive vice president for football operations Mike Tannenbaum, and general manager Chris Grier bear no scars from the failures. It wasn’t their failure. Last year this trio put a solid guard combo on the field in Tunsil and Bushrod.

But history nonetheless is threatening them like a pair of excellent defensive tackles against an interior offensive front.

And, by the way, the assignment of finding two good guards should not be considered a throw-away project. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill moving forward without surgery to correct the ACL knee injury he had last season, it is possible he will be less mobile than in the past.

Combine that with the fact the most direct route to the quarterback is right up the middle and it should become clear how important the Dolphins finding good guard help should be.

It is not likely the Dolphins will spend extravagantly on two guards. The more likely course, according to those familiar with the team’s thinking, is addressing this issue by signing one free agent with starter potential and perhaps using a third- or fourth-round pick on a rookie.

The Dolphins don’t currently own a third-round pick but hope to get one as a compensatory pick for losing Olivier Vernon in free agency last season. If that pick doesn’t manifest, the Dolphins might need to add multiple guard starters in free agency.

The best available guard likely to hit free agency is Green Bay’s T.J. Lang, who made the Pro Bowl last season at right guard. Lang played injured in the playoffs and missed the Pro Bowl because he required hip surgery. He is also recovering from a broken foot. Otherwise, he’s completely healthy.

Lang is a system fit for the Dolphins.

Chance Warmack (Tennessee) is another right guard, who has been a starter but missed most of last year while on injured reserve. Warmack had a hand injury.

Larry Warford (Detroit) is another right guard with an injury history who is looking to get paid. Warford had a good bounce-back season in 2016, missing only one game because of a hip injury. He was generally effective. But in 2015 he struggled with injuries. Warford is considered more a drive blocker and the Dolphins are a zone blocking team.

Brandon Fusco (Minnesota) would be a major reclamation project because he had such a bad 2016 that the Vikings cut him in a salary cap savings move. But, hey, one man’s trash is another’s treasure.

Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville) is on this list because the Dolphins apparently like some Jacksonville players but he was a washout at tackle and played only 155 snaps at guard last year before blowing out his ACL, MCL and meniscus last October.

Some teams will look at Joeckel and see a player whose career is in jeopardy. Some teams will see a potential one-year bargain in free agency.

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Branden Albert, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman, says the team "got punched in the mouth today", after they were defeated by the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 4, 2016.

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