It begins Monday. By the time you read this, NFL teams might have already begun contacting players they’re interested in signing as free agents.
Free agency signings will begin on Wednesday starting at 4 p.m. But the negotiations for those looming contracts begins Monday, with NFL teams permitted to contact and enter into negotiations with the players scheduled to become free agents on Wednesday when the new league year begins.
And although contracts cannot actually be signed or executed until 4 p.m. on Wednesday, teams are very good at starting those talks now and, if possible, charging right up to that line that signifies they’ve added a free agent without, you know, actually crossing it.
So what does that mean for the Miami Dolphins?
It means they are going shopping in areas of need.
Those areas are:running back, guard, right tackle, strong-side linebacker, cornerback, tight end and possibly backup quarterback. Those all need an explanation.
The Dolphins want to do as much work as possible during free agency so as to free themselves up to draft the best available player on their board regardless of position rather than being slaves to filling obvious holes first. (This sometimes backfires, as it did last year with Andre Branch, but that’s how the Dolphins like to do it).
Aside from negotiating with free agents from other teams, the Dolphins can still sign any of their own 16 free agents. That list is generally not going to be very popular early in free agency league-wide. The fact is the Dolphins had perhaps one priority player as a free agent — receiver Jarvis Landry — and he was franchised and then traded.
The rest of the list: Walt Aikens, Nate Allen, Jermon Bushrod, Jay Cutler, John Denney, Anthony Fasano, Terrence Fede, William Hayes, Koa Misi, Matt Moore, Cody Parkey, Mike Thomas, Alterraun Verner, Damien Williams and Sam Young.
The Dolphins are definitely interested in re-signing Young, Denney, Parkey and possibly Aikens. Fasano would be a good add if the Dolphins cannot find a better blocking tight end and Fasano wants to keep playing.
Interestingly, the team wants Young back quite badly because he played well as a starter late last year and is a valuable backup if he doesn’t crack the starting lineup. Pittsburgh’s Chris Hubbard is also a possibility here because he played well down the stretch as a starting right tackle in 2017.
What about some others from other teams the Dolphins might have studied?
Running back Dion Lewis: He wants to return to New England where he gained 896 yards, averaging 5 yards per carry, and scored six touchdowns. But the Patriots have a cutoff point for paying players they see as interchangeable parts — like running backs.
Lewis would be a very good fit with Kenyan Drake in the backfield because both can score from anywhere on the field, both can catch the football, both can be mismatch problems on all three downs. No, he’s not 225 pouncs. He’s 5-8 and 195 pounds. I’m told that is not a deal-breaker for Miami.
Signing Lewis enjoys the added benefit of taking a player from New England.
Tight ends: Help! The Dolphins have been notoriously awful finding pass-catching tight ends in recent years. Jordan Cameron was a two-year free agent bust. Julius Thomas was a bust as a minor trade last year. So back to the drawing board.
Tyler Eifert? No, always hurt.
Jimmy Graham? No, too old and too expensive. (Come to think of it, those traits make him a very likely candidate for Miami). But I hope not.
Trey Burton of the Eagles is the player who makes sense. He’s only 26, he was solid for the Eagles in part-time duty. He won’t be expensive. And he’s from Venice, Florida, and played for the Florida Gators.
Burton caught only 23 passes last season. Five of them went for TDs.
Dolphins tight ends had four TDs combined in 2017.
A dark horse to keep in mind is Dion Sims if he’s cut by the Chicago Bears. The Dolphins love the Bears. They had the Bears starting QB last year. And the Bears backup quarterback. They hired the Bears offensive coordinator this offseason. They’ve brought in a couple of Bears backup running backs the past two years.
I must check my reference books to see when it was the Bears won that Super Bowl that made Miami is so in love with adding their guys.
Anyway, Sims left the Dolphins to go to the Bears last season. That happened because the Bears gave Sims a three-year, $18 million deal.
And then Chicago found out Sims is a blocking tight end and nothing more. And blocking tight ends should be getting about $3 million per year. So the Bears are “likely” to cut Sims before March 16 when $4 million of his contract becomes guaranteed, per the Chicago Tribune.
So why Sims? He’s a good in-line blocker. The Dolphins wanted to keep him last year until the price got too stupid to match.
Guard: The name that is on everyone’s list because he’s the best guard expected to hit the market is Andrew Norwell of the Carolina Panthers.
He was an Pro Bowl player last year. He did not allow any sacks. He did not allow Cam Newton to get hit at all. ProFootballFocus.com (which the Dolphins despise) ranked Norwell the third-best guard in the NFL.
What does this all translate to? He’s going to get paid. I mean crazy paid.
There’s a reason the Panthers haven’t re-signed him and it isn’t because he isn’t good. It’s just that he wants gobs of money — as in maybe $12 million per season.
I would be shocked if the Dolphins sign him.
A year ago this team was minimizing the importance of guards. It would be a stunning 180-degree change to go an sign the most expensive one on the market.
But, as I’ve written multiple times, the Dolphins just added $15.9 million from the Landry franchise tag back onto their cap. They could easily fit both Norwell and, say, a good linebacker under the cap for that $15.9 million.
The Dolphins continue to be tied to Lions center Travis Swanson. I have no idea why. I’m just a humble immigrant slaving over a hot keyboard trying to earn some scraps for my dinner table.
I suppose Swanson could be a backup type because he definitely is not a top-tier player and probably not even starter material. Just passing it along.
Speaking of linebacker to go with that guard ... Anthony Hitchens is a name that continually pops up and I guess that’s good because he’s not going to be overly expensive. He’s not exactly premier at anything but is good against the run and reportedly has improved against the pass. The Dallas Cowboys have other salary cap issues to manage so he’s likely to be available.
Nigel Bradham is another native Floridian who happens to be a good speed linebacker who does good work in coverage. All reports are the Buffalo Bills will be interested.
Zach Brown visited last season but the Dolphins didn’t want to commit significant money or years to him. No one did. He went to Washington and played well. Perhaps the Dolphins take another look at him this offseason, but again, likely not early in free agency.
The Dolphins want to sign a backup cornerback. They showed that card when they hosted Vontae Davis on a free agency visit a couple of weeks ago. He doesn’t need to start because the Dolphins have Cordrea Tankerley and Tony Lippett. But you can never have enough cornerbacks.
The Dolphins may be tempted to sign a veteran backup quarterback. That would signal all those sweet glances the team has been throwing at Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen in draft meetings were probably not all that serious because both those guys would take a first-round draft commitment to get.
And it is hard to pay a veteran starter, a quality veteran backup and draft a rookie in the first round.
On the other hand, if the Dolphins don’t show interest in a backup quarterback outside of a David Fales type, then we’re going to be full bore on the drafting of a quarterback.
Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero