The Dolphins have a glaring need for a starting linebacker and a rotational defensive tackle, but here’s the quandary:
Do you pay big money at that position when you could potentially find a better — and cheaper — option in the first two days of the draft?
To this point, the Dolphins have been reluctant to do so.
Where things stand at each position:
▪ Defensive tackle: The big issue is not only how to replace Ndamukong Suh’s production (he graded out among the NFL’s best defensive tackles) but also how to replace his 877 snaps, which were the sixth-most among NFL defensive tackles last season.
William Hayes will pick up some of those; the Dolphins plan to play him at both defensive end and defensive tackle, according to a Hayes associate briefed on the team’s plans.
Jordan Phillips’ snaps will rise at least somewhat from 401 a year ago. He averaged 31 snaps in his 13 games.
Phillips, even before Suh’s release, told me he wants to prove he’s worthy of being a three-down player, and the Dolphins like how he played in the second half of last season. They also believe he will be highly motivated in the final year of his rookie contract.
Davon Godchaux (500 snaps) and Vincent Taylor (185) also will be given a chance to earn larger roles.
The Dolphins are comfortable with Phillips, Godchaux and Hayes — and see upside in Taylor — but know there must be an addition here.
That player could come in the draft. Washington’s Vita Vea is in the mix for Miami at No. 11, and Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne, Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, Florida’s Taven Bryan and Stanford’s Harrison Phillips are being studied closely by Miami.
“I think interior defensive line at the high end is outstanding,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said. “I think at least four are going to go [in the first round] — Vita Vea, Payne, Maurice Hurst, and Taven Bryan. Harrison Phillips from Stanford is an interesting player. B.J. Hill from North Carolina State.”
The Dolphins don’t want to spend big money at defensive tackle and they weren’t in the mix for Dontari Poe or Sheldon Richardson.
Two starters who were cut by AFC South teams over the weekend — Jonathan Hankins and Sylvester Williams — warrant consideration, but only at the right price.
As of late last week, the Dolphins hadn’t inquired about free agent starters such as Minnesota’s Tom Johnson or Cincinnati’s Pat Sims. Along with Bennie Logan, those five are pretty much the extent of clear-cut starters available at defensive tackle in free agency.
Veteran backup types available include Arthur Jones, Clinton McDonald, Ahtyba Rubin, Cedric Thornton and Shamar Stephen.
Veteran defensive tackles are seemingly always available during the summer. So a case could be made to see what the draft yields before investing a lot of money on a player who might not crack their top three rotation at tackle.
▪ Linebacker: The Dolphins know they need to find a third starter alongside Kiko Alonso and Raekwon McMillan, preferably one who excels in pass coverage.
That player could come early in the draft, if the Dolphins land Georgia’s Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds or Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch or Alabama’s Rashaan Evans. They also like South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard and will spend time with his this week.
That’s why Miami hasn’t bid for the top free agent linebackers who have signed elsewhere — from Tahir Whiteside to Zach Brown to Preston Brown.
There are plenty of others available with starting experience: NaVorro Bowman, Conner Barwin, Kevin Minter, Ramon Hubner, Jon Bostic, Junior Galette, Pernell McPhee, Michael Wilhoitte and Paul Worrilow.
The Dolphins like what they saw from Chase Allen and Stephone Anthony and they will be given a chance to earn playing time. Mike Hull, who was tendered, remains valuable on special teams.
The Dolphins are set at defensive end but will add a third safety (they haven’t re-signed Michael Thomas, who visited the Steelers on Monday and left without a contract) and likely will add another cornerback to join the emerging top four of Xavien Howard, Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain.
Young defensive backs Maurice Smith (safety) and Torry McTyer (cornerback) will get a look, and Walt Aikens — who can play safety or corner — was resigned to remain a key cog on special teams.