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GM for a day, 2013 Part 1: Free Agency

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Jeff Ireland has a thankless job… and he’s actually pretty good at it.  He doesn’t generally overpay for players, and will let a player walk if they are asking for too much money for their talent level.  He doesn’t sacrifice the good of the whole team to pay one player (No one is looking at you, Joe Flacco!), and makes the shrewd move no matter how popular or unpopular.  He’s following a solid blueprint, and we’re free to question all we want, and in the end he’s going to make the move that he feels is best for the team.Look at the Green Bays, New Englands, San Frans, Giants, Saints and the Denvers of the world.  Name the last player that they truly overpaid for.  Name the last time that they let a player truly extort exorbitant salaries that weren’t “team” friendly.  Everything in today’s NFL, to remain competitive, is a careful balancing act.  Then look at teams like the Jets, Redskins, etc.  Overpaying for overhyped players is a surefire way of rapidly descending your team into mediocrity.  Whether it’s paying in draft picks, salary or a combination of the two, you rarely see the good teams make a move that isn’t a value for the team, or generally the bad teams make the moves that fully make sense and that put the team in a position to lose for years to come. 

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It’s easy for all of us fans at home as we get to be an armchair GM every day if we feel like it.  We can sit in our chair and say what we would or would not do, no matter how impossible or ridiculous.  Living in New England, I hear various extremes on a regular basis: “He’s a bum, they should cut his <expletive deleted>,” “If I were them I’d lock him up for 10 years for <insert ridiculous dollar amount here>,”  “I’d trade <insert mediocre player here> for a 1st and 2nd round pick, plus <insert best player on another team here>,” etc.  Often I’ll hear variations of each of the above, about the same player for each… during the same quarter of the same game.  Opinions are wonderful, and the fans are never wrong and have every right to express these opinions.  I’ve decided to add my own element of the ridiculous, but to attempt to keep it grounded in reality if at all possible…  Please feel free to skewer these with your own opinions and comments, as I would truly relish the opportunity to see what other fans think the team should do.Areas of Need:

Wide Receiver, Running Back, Cornerback, Safety, Tight End, Offensive Tackle

Wide Receiver:

 

Image Courtesy of www.SportsTalkFlorida.com

 

  1. Re-sign Brian Hartline: Hartline was the Dolphins leading receiver this year, and went over 1,000 yards despite starting the year on injured after missing nearly all of the preseason.  He rapidly built a rapport with Ryan Tannehill that is hard to match, and given a plus level talent on the other side of the field, could turn especially lethal in single coverage versus a second or third tier cornerback. Current reports indicate that a deal is nearly completed that will keep Hartline in Miami for years to come.
  2. Do NOT sign Wes Welker or Danny Amendola: The Dolphins have one of the top slot receivers in the NFL in Davone Bess.  People forget how talented he is, even after he gets open and reliably catches the ball for first downs repeatedly.  This team doesn’t need to stock up on good slot guys, they are in good shape here and quite frankly Welker and Amendola don’t match up on the value chart when you factor in that the Dolphins will have to pay them as a number one or number two receiver… in the slot… without them being a significant upgrade over Bess. Welker is a great slot receiver who is a product of the system he is in, and Amendola is a good slot receiver who is a product of a team that plays from behind consistently.Neither represents a significant upgrade
  3. Greg Jennings: The dollar amount that these two are going to command in free agency is not worth the value that you get in return.  Jennings is oft injured, and just isn’t a true #1 Alpha Receiver in my opinion, and I’ll say it here – I wouldn’t.
  4. Mike Wallace: I’m not one of those who is enamored with most of the receiver class, and I was truly skeptical of Wallace at first.  All you hear about is the top end speed and how he can blaze past coverage.  I hadn’t watched much video on him.  I finally caved to see if he was truly the one dimensional player that it appeared…  I watched highlight reel after highlight reel of him blazing past the defense.  Amidst all of that, which he did a LOT, I noticed something.  He doesn’t appear to give up on ANY ball thrown in his vicinity.  When that ball is in the air, if he can get there, it’s his ball.  Period.  He’ll run the short slant, and he’ll get the ball on the fade in the corner.  He’ll use his entire body to ensure he makes the catch, from his fingertips to his feet.  Once he catches it, he doesn’t go down and uses every inch of the field.  He has a pop in his step even before the snap, and he’s lethal on a reverse.  I think a 5-6 yr, $60M-$65M deal gets it done, and I would plead with Jeff Ireland to get this one done.
  5. Analysis: With a number of talented wideouts in the draft, Brian Hartline should be the priority for the team before the free agency period hits.  While close to re-signing him by all accounts (reports have him in the $6M a year range), I’ll feel better when this one is in the books.  Once we enter free agency, an all out assault on Mike Wallace would be a prudent move while ignoring players like Welker, Amendola and Jennings would also be key.  The surest bet here is that Hartline will be back, and I think the ‘Fins take one or two late round wideouts in the draft.  Re-signing Hartline, plus the addition of Jennings to pair with Davone Bess, would truly make for a lethal combination at Wide Receiver.  Pair that with the suggestions at Running Back and Tight End, and the Dolphins have one hell of a nasty looking offense.  This is a position that could make or break the Dolphins opportunity to make a huge leap forward next year.

Image Courtesy of www.bleacherreport.com

Running Back

  1. Reggie Bush: I’d like to personally say thank you for your time in Miami.  If your price is team friendly, I would love to see you stay.  If it isn’t, I appreciate everything that you’ve done in your time with Miami.  As a Dolphin’s fan, and a football fan, I wish you the best.
  2. Ahmad Bradshaw: If he can stay healthy, the Dolphins would have a disgustingly good 1-2 punch in Bradshaw and Miller.  That is a big “if,” and the reason why this probably would not work.  The injury concerns here, when combined with those of Daniel Thomas, could rapidly leave the Dolphins scrambling at a position of strength.  All reports indicate that Bradshaw is healing well at this time, but I just don’t trust his durability.  That being said, his injury potentially brings a discount with it, and a risk that could yield an extremely high reward.
  3. Steven Jackson: If he is willing to take a short term, team friendly deal, I love the possibilities here.  Steven Jackson + Lamar Miller = One helluva happy fan.  I know he isn’t the player he once was, but he has enough gas in the tank to have a few more productive seasons especially when combined with the lightning quick Lamar Miller.  There is nothing that will help the passing game more than this move here.  If Lamar & S-Jax were to start forcing teams to put 7-8 guys in the box on a regular basis, the wide receivers and tight ends are going to eat opposing defenses alive.
  4. Analysis:  I don’t really see anyone else in the free agent pool that I’m particularly enamored with, except to provide depth at the position.  I think if the Dolphins don’t make the big splash, look for them to take a flyer on a player in a later round of the draft, or sign a potential low cost free agent for depth purposes.

Image Courtesy www.bleacherreport.com

 

Safety

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  1. Chris Clemons: He’s a free agent who has been coming into his own over the past few seasons.  Consistency is an issue, but he can be had at a moderate price and he already has some rapport with fellow up-and-coming safety Reshad Jones, who I will not hesitate to admit I have had a gigantic man-crush on at safety since he came to the ‘Fins.
  2. Ed Reed: I respect him and love him as a player, and you’ll hear fans run rampant on how he’d look in Aqua & Orange with the shiny but not-yet-announced new-look logo on his head.  Unless that logo looks remarkably like a Patriot or a Raven logo, I’m not buying it.
  3. Glover Quin: This possibility intrigues me, especially paired with  Reshad. He’s a healthy safety with a great deal of talent, he’s young, and who is dangerously close to Dashon “I want too much money” Goldson, at a fraction of the price.  The ‘Fins may face a lot of competition for his services, though.  They’ll need to jump on this one early.
  4. Dashon Goldson: He’s good, but $8+ million annually good?  Uh, no.
  5. Analysis: Miami may opt to re-sign Clemons, or chase a player such as Quin, but there are also a variety of players between the two that they may explore as potential options.  I don’t expect a huge push for Clemons immediately, so the ‘Fins can afford to wait and see what the landscape looks like before making a push to re-sign him.

Cornerback

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  1. Sean Smith: Looking at Jeff Ireland’s conversation with Vontae Davis last season about consistency when he was traded, I find it hard to believe that the consistency issues with Sean Smith will keep him in Miami.  At the right price, we could see him return, and that may potentially occur with a very deep free agent class at the position.  Additionally, the draft class is rich at the position, and Miami will hopefully finally have a healthy Richard Matthews show up.  Speaking of Vontae Davis, someone mysteriously “hacking” his twitter account and providing inside info ::cough:: tampering ::cough, cough:: seems to support the theory that some mysterious hacker out there believes Sean will be leaving Miami for a team::cough:: Chiefs ::cough,cough:: to be determined.  This may be a case of where the team can get better at a position overall, while still losing their best player at the position.
  2. Brent Grimes: As he returns from injury, Grimes may be a steal for the team willing to take a chance.  I’m leery of pairing him with last seasons oft-injured Marshall however, so this may or may not make sense.
  3. Analysis: I think Miami attempts to re-sign Smith, but if they can’t at the right price, they let him walk.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked the tires on Grimes, but also believe that most of what they will look to do with a deep class of free agents is sign a mid-grade guy with upside (such as Greg Toler of the Cardinals) and stock up in the draft.  This could be one of the more intriguing stories of the off-season.

 

Offensive Tackle:

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  1. Jake Long: The man is a cornerstone of the franchise, but his body has begun to betray him.  Reports are that Long wants a big payday, and while I deeply respect him and all he has done, there are too many question marks around a player that got beat regularly last season and looked like a shade of his former self.  I’m hopeful that he can return healthy this season and return to form at the right price, but if he is looking for that payday, there will be a team in the NFL that will take the risk that he returns to form and overpays for his services.  I’m hopeful to see him return as a Dolphin and return to form.  I think an incentive laden deal here would quell both sides.
  2. Eric Winston: Newly released tackle Eric Winston will be playing with something to prove next year.  He would be a substantially cheaper option than Long, and this would need to be precluded by faith from the Dolphins brass that Jonathan Martin is a fit on the left side of the line.
  3. Analysis: I know I only mention Long and Winston here, but I’m hopeful that Miami puts together a form of incentive laden contract that rewards Long if he truly returns to form and keeps him in Aqua and Orange for years to come while minimizing the risk that 2012 was not a fluke.  If they can indeed sign Long, look for the starting line to remain nearly intact, while a few low cost veterans and rookies are brought in to push the starters.  If they are unable to re-sign Long, we may see a similar scenario with veterans and rookies, only with Jonathan Martin and Nate Garner as the starters at tackle, with the possibility that Winston is brought in to compete with the two of them.  Of the four, Long obviously has the higher ceiling if he can truly return to form.

 

Tight End:

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  1. Anthony “The Bear Jew” Fasano: I will say it here, and I will repeat it until they sign him.  He’s a fairly inexpensive veteran that can thrive in an offense opposite a seam threat tight end and/or H-Back.  He’s not the sexy pic, but I’d love to see him in Miami for years to come.
  2. Martellus Bennett: I’m not sold on Bennett, and I don’t see him being the true consistent seam threat that Ireland appears to want.
  3. Dustin Keller: This one intrigues me.  He was injury plagued last year, but could put up some stellar numbers with Tannehill at Quarterback and a talented team around him.
  4. Brandon Myers: I’m not sold on his one decent season in Oakland.
  5. Fred Davis: An injury plagued receiving threat, he could come at a substantial discount due to injury concerns.
  6. Jared Cook: While the Titans didn’t tag him in an apparent worry over the fact he’d push for the WR version of the Franchise Tag, I’m elated they may have let them slip through their fingers.  A true receiving threat at the Tight End position, he could be a perfect fit in Miami.

    Image Courtesy of www.blog.titansonline.com

  7. Analysis: I love the idea of Fasano pairing with Cook and/or Keller, and I think that could realistically be a possibility.  There are several options available via the draft as well, but I think the key is re-signing Fasano to a multi-year team-friendly deal.  I love the idea of a potential Fasano/Cook or Fasano/Keller combination (Keller/Cook is a bit improbable – someone has to at least PRETEND to block).  The truly dark horse (no matter how improbable or unlikely) in this entire combination, whom people seem to have forgotten about at this point is Michael Egnew.  If he can truly regain the form and potential he had coming out of college and add a level of maturity to his game, he could potentially be a devastating receiving threat in the NFL.  The biggest obstacle in Egnew’s game appears to be in his head, and only he can find his way out.  Right now, he appears to be a gigantic “miss” in last years draft, but he may only be a player that needed a year or two under his belt to become the devastating player his potential screams he can be.  I doubt that happens, but he wouldn’t be the first player to ever have that be the case.

Areas of potential upgrade:

Outside Linebacker, Defensive End

Defensive End

  1. Cliff Avril, Paul Kruger: I’m not sold on either player as a huge upgrade to the team’s defensive end position opposite Cam Wake (My other man crush on the ‘Fins).  They want huge money for being a situational player and a player that has had a short burst of talent on a very talented team.  I’m not buying either with the likely price tag that will be associated, though a bidding war will most likely ensue for their services.
  2. Anthony Spencer: He got slapped with the $10.6M Franchise tag.  He’s not the right fit for this style of defense.  I don’t see this materializing.  This is nearly laughable, if it wasn’t so sad of a soap opera at this point.
  3. Michael Bennett: This one intrigues me.  A solid-but-below-the-radar player, he’s a very complete player and could be the top available defensive end in the class this season.
  4. Dwight Freeney/Osi Umenyiora: I lump the two together as they would only represent a situation where they are pass rushing specialists opposite Cam Wake.
  5. Chris Canty: While he isn’t the sexy pick here, I could see him adding value at the position
  6. Analysis:  I think the Dolphins are more than likely to stick with what they have, but would consider a scenario where adding a situational pass rusher via free agency or the draft is possible.  If Miami were to sign either a Freeney or an Umenyiora to situationally rush the passer on passing downs (or finding a steal of a pass rusher in the draft – I’m looking at you, Trevardo Williams), and pair that with re-signing Tony McDaniel… having that mix combined with Soliai and Odrick and this unit is not only set, but elite, deep and dangerous on any down.

Outside Linebacker

  1. Connor Barwin – A solid linebacker who can also rush the passer, Barwin is coming off an injury and may be available at a discounted price.
  2. Daryl Smith – This is one that intrigues me.  An undervalued player who missed most of 2012 with an injury, Smith is a player that flies under most folks radar.  He is good in both coverage and against the run.
  3. Analysis – While Koa Misi was quietly stout against the run, there wasn’t much he did on passing downs beyond “existing” when on the field.  I see Barwin or Smith as the only pair of the few potential upgrades that can be had at the right price, outside of the draft.  I see far more potential that a potential upgrade could be sought in the draft or amidst a “shared situational role” on the team.  Olivier Vernon and his pass rushing skills also serves as an x-factor here and/or at Defensive End.

 

Areas of potential depth:

Quarterback, Inside Linebacker, Offensive Line

Quarterback

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  1. Matt Moore – with so many teams in need of a quality quarterback, I think Matt Moore gets an opportunity to start elsewhere, which is something he wont get in Miami unless Tannehill goes down.  I like Matt Moore, and personally think he has been a consummate professional in Miami who did a fantastic job when called upon.  I hate to say it, but I think there is a significant opportunity he stays in the division and challenges either Sanchez or Fitzpatrick for a starting gig.
  2. <insert midgrade veteran here> –  There is no sexy name at backup quarterback.  Garrard could get another shot, but this time without a chance at the starting gig.  I think his NFL days are most likely over at this point.
  3. Analysis – I think this is one of those positions that Miami looks for a mid-range veteran that can come in and help groom Tannehill and assist in his development – such as a David Carr or Byron Leftwich.  There is a lesser chance that they look to a “diamond in the rough” candidate, such as Drew Stanton or Josh Johnson, else they turn to the draft or undrafted free agents to mine for gold to back up Tannehill, likely to compete with Pat Devlin for the number two role

Inside Linebacker

  1. Analysis: The only thing that will occur here is possible roster churn for improved depth at the position.

Offensive Line

  1. Analysis: As most teams do every year, whether the Dolphins re-sign Jake Long or not, they will continue to turn over rocks to supplement the talent that they have.  Generally they look for multi-positional flex players and true value players at the positions, allowing them to mix and match for the best set up possible amongst their linemen.

 

Overall Analysis:

Offense:

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The Dolphins have the rare opportunity to become a truly lethal team on Offense over the course of a single off-season.  With cap room to spare, they can make a few bold moves that would assemble an offense that strikes fear into opposing defenses.  If Jeff Ireland is unable to make these moves with this cap space and the right free agents available both internally and externally, it will be time for him to depart after this season.  They already have one of the best slot receivers in football in Davone Bess and several promising young wideouts, and re-signing Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano would be a solid start.  The additions of Mike Wallace and either Jared Cook or Dustin Keller would make for a truly dynamic passing game.  With RB Lamar Miller, FB  Javorskie Lane and H-Back Charles Clay in the fold, the addition of Steven Jackson or Ahmad Bradshaw would add an explosive running game with elements of a dynamic passing game out of the backfield as well as opening up the wide receivers and the tight ends to wreak havoc downfield.  The ‘Fins need to solve the riddle of what to do at the tackle positions to keep Tannehill upright, but they could easily assemble an offense that puts up some of the best numbers in the league and drastically improves upon their win total from a season ago.

Defense:

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This is where it gets interesting.  A unit of strength for the Dolphins for years, the defense appears like it could be the weak link at this point going into next season.  Remarkably, the strongest and weakest positions on the Dolphins happen to be on the defensive side of the ball.  The defensive line is one that I would rank as one of the best in football, but the further back you go the worse it gets.  The Linebackers have a solid nucleus, and some intriguing depth of situational players, but answer me this… who will start in the Dolphins secondary aside from up-and-coming stud Reshad Jones?  Sean Smith appears to be headed to destinations unknown around the River’s Bend (which is coincidentally and myseriously the name of a Bar & Grill in Kansas City), Richard Matthews barely saw the field due to injury, and Chris Clemons may depart in free agency.  On the positive side, there are a plethora of options available to the ‘Fins via free agency and the draft and this could be the most unpredictable area of the entire team this offseason.  With the potential to have an offense that forces teams to throw the ball, and a front seven that can collapse the pocket effectively, the Dolphins do not need to chase the top dollar free agents out there, and could rebuild and restock this area of the team through the draft while adding a mid-grade veteran to assist in the young players development.

 

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