The Miami Dolphins head into the offseason with quite a bit of holes on the roster. In addition, they have players they need to make decisions on such as Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, Cortland Finnegan and several others. What moves would make sense for general manager Dennis Hickey and the Dolphins? Let's take a look at the defensive side of the ball below.
To view the recap for the offensive side, please click here.
Defensive Tackle: The defensive tackle position could be the biggest position of need for the Dolphins this offseason. But many factors will determine how the Dolphins choose to attack it. First, rumor has it that Randy Starks could become a cap casualty for the Dolphins. If Starks is cut, the Dolphins will likely make a run at re-signing Jared Odrick. Odrick's rookie contract is up, and he is now an unrestricted free agent. Cutting Starks instantly free’s up $5 million dollars that the Dolphins can use towards Odrick or towards another position of need if the Dolphins wish to go with a defensive tackle early in the draft. The Dolphins also shouldn’t be so fast to discredit guys like AJ Francis, and Kamal Johnson as starting DT’s for next year. Both players were phenomenal in limited time during preseason and could continue to take the strides necessary to become productive starters for this Dolphins defense.
Defensive End: Barring injury, the Dolphins defensive ends should remain the same through next season. Cam Wake will be 33 at the start of next season, but has continued to play at a high level year in and year out. Olivier Vernon will continue to patrol the other side of the line, while guys like Dion Jordan, Derrick Shelby, Terrence Fede and Chris McCain will only grow and getting better this offseason. If anything, expect the Dolphins to continue to keep a close eye on places like the CFL, and undrafted free agents to find their next explosive pass rusher. It seems to be working just fine.
Free Agent Options: I’ll start right at home with Jared Odrick on this one. Odrick is a seasoned vet already, and just turned 27 years old. He possesses a unique skill set of an athletic run stopping defensive end with high grade pass rushing ability. He’s a leader, he’s dynamic and would be priority number one on my Dolphins offseason to-do list.
A guy very similar to Odrick who hasn’t had his fair shot at DT in Atlanta this season iis Corey Peters. Peters was limited as a rotational piece this season due to a late 2013 achilles injury for Atlanta but could be a cheaper version of Odrick that can rotate with Earl Mitchell if the Dolphins fail to retain Odrick.
Draft Options: When looking at the draft talent in this years DT corps, you will realize there is no Aaron Donald type that will likely come in from day one and be a pro-bowler. This alone should make the Dolphins look even harder at Odrick's new contract. The only guy I’d take at #14 overall would be Leonard Williams, but that’s not happening. Williams will go top 5 in this draft. If the Dolphins want a DT, I think they’d be better suited to grab one in the second or third round. Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips (6’6, 335) is a physical specimen who with some technical work could prove to be a steal of the draft down the road. Phillips will likely need to be a second or third round selection for the Dolphins, and could fill a role left by Randy Starks on pure size alone, but will likely need time to develop his technique.
If the Dolphins get themselves in a position where they need to reach for a DT at #14, Washington’s Danny Shelton and Florida States Eddie Goldman could provide a quick fix in the middle of the Dolphins defensive line.
Outside Linebacker: It’s safe to say that the Ellerbe/Wheeler “upgrade” during Jeff Ireland’s time as GM was a complete disaster. It’s almost just as safe to say that the 2015 Dolphins will have moved on from both guys. The Dolphins can save close to $6 million alone by cutting Dannell Ellerbe. With the emergence of Jelani Jenkins this past season, Ellerbe becomes an easy cut for the Dolphins.
Inside Linebacker: The Koa Misi experiment at inside linebacker has been interesting to watch. I’m not saying it was all bad, but it’s obvious Misi is better suited outside in this defense. I think the Dolphins view this issue as a high priority, but the problem is, it’s not an easy fix this offseason. With limited options in free agency and early in the draft, the Dolphins will have their work cut out for them finding a better option than Misi right away.
Free Agent Options: Depending on how the Dolphins view Koa Misi, they could look to free agency to fill the middle linebacker role. One intriguing name is Cowboy’s LB Rolando McClain. Labeled a bust after being selected 8th overall by Oakland in 2010, McClain has come along way since his time with the Raiders. Now anchoring a solid Cowboy’s defense, McClain is earning a new contract every time he steps on the field.
A name that could be a fix from out of left field could be Jets ILB David Harris. Harris was originally drafted by Mike Tannenbaum, the Dolphins new personnel czar. If the money’s right, the Dolphins would love to have David Harris’ production.
Draft Options: A guy who is high on my wishlist is Washington OLB Shaq Thompson. Though not necessarily a need for the Dolphins as an OLB, Thompson is a flat out athlete. He has tremendous speed, athletic ability, pursuit, and ball skills. He would instantly improve the Dolphins linebacking corps even if it means having Koa Misi back at ILB. Thompson is a unique movable chess piece that every team would be lucky to have. My instant comparison would be Bruce Irvin of the Seahawks.
If the Dolphins want to go strictly with an inside linebacker, they could opt for Eric Kendricks, a tackling machine out of UCLA in the second round or Michigans Jake Ryan in the mid to later rounds.
Dolphins GM Dennis Hickey did a great job evaluating players and signing them to one year deals. Louis Delmas and Cortland Finnegan along with Knowshon Moreno all had significant injury histories. Delmas and Finnegan were two of Hickey’s one year rentals and both ended up on the injury report late in the season. Hickey knew the risks involved with both Delmas and Finnegan and the Dolphins got solid production for a majority of the season. But, Hickey and the Dolphins cannot afford to walk this line year in and year out.
Hickey has hopefully learned his lesson on rentals and needs to learn to develop a more in depth process to finding players for long term solutions. That means investing resources to choose high in the draft, or shelling out significant money to solidify the secondary for years to come.
Free Agent Options: I’m a huge proponent of signing a young up and comer to the Dolphins secondary. UFA cornerback Byron Maxwell of the Seahawks fits the mold perfectly. Maxwell is 26, and already well established as a key part of the Seahawks ‘legion of boom’. Maxwell has good size (6’1, 207) and the talent to be a huge contributor opposite Brent Grimes. If there were a position the Dolphins wanted to splurge some extra money into, it would be solidifying the secondary along with Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes by bringing in Byron Maxwell.
Draft Options: The Dolphins have tried recently to bring in a young corps of cornerbacks, but so far to no avail. Will Davis and Jamar Taylor have had up and down injury riddled seasons and haven’t made the leap just yet. Cornerbacks are becoming the new running backs. You can find them later and later in the draft each year, and it often relies on coaching more than just singular ability. That being said, the Dolphins need some Cornerback help. If you’re looking to the draft for the answers, you’ve got to look deep and look at physicality. Physicality is something that often never fails in the NFL.
Kevin Johnson (6’2, 215) from Wake Forest definitely has NFL type size and physicality and would be a good piece to add to this Dolphins aggressive secondary. Another name that will likely move up draft boards in the months to come, is Miami (OH) CB Quinten Rollins. Rollins isn’t well known...yet.
After returning from his four game suspension, Reshad Jones arguably finished the season at a pro-bowl type level of play. Jones was all over the field, finishing the season with 80 tackles, 3 interceptions and a sack. His sidekick Louis Delmas put together an impressive season on a one year deal, but will be tough to bring back next season after suffering a gruesome knee injury late in the season. WIth Jones holding down the strong safety spot, and a lack of quality depth at free safety, the Dolphins will need to address an answer to free safety in the offseason.
Free Agent Options: After that nasty knee injury, it’d be hard for the Dolphins to rely on re-signing Louis Delmas next season. Also, it’s tough to pencil in Jimmy Wilson who is also a FA and unproven Walt Aiken as well. The Dolphins will likely be browsing the FA market for Delmas’ replacement next season.
One guy I’d love to pluck away from another team would be FS Rahim Moore from Denver. Moore is a young, physical safety who knows what winning tastes like. With a lot of money tied up elsewhere this year for the Broncos, Moore could be easily plucked away for the right price. With the money the Dolphins will save without Delmas and Wilson, Moore would make a great Dolphin if they can find a price that’s right.
Draft Options: When discussing draft options to pair with Reshad Jones and Grimes in the secondary, I think size is a crucial element to consider. The AFC is full of oversized tight ends and to combat these types of players, the Dolphins need less Jimmy Wilson and more Cody Prewitt. Prewitt is a guy that has great pursuit, and loves to finish plays. He’ll make any receiver or tight end think twice before going up the seam. Think Troy Polamalu. Prewitt would be a huge addition for the Dolphins in the 2015 draft.
Another guy under the radar currently is Tennessee's LaDarrell McNeil. McNeill is a great ball hawking safety with good size (6’1 205). McNeil can be had in the mid to late rounds for the Dolphins.
This column was written by Jeff Hyde. Follow him on Twitter: @Jeff__Hyde