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 Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and several others. What moves would make sense for general manager Dennis Hickey and the Dolphins? Let's take a look at the offensive side of the ball below. Please note that a defensive analysis will be posted tomorrow so please check back for that.
The Dolphins finally have the luxury of a franchise Quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. The doubters will always be there, but the fact is, the kid gets better and better each week, every year. His ceiling continues to rise and I for one am excited to see him improve upon his successful 2014 campaign with another year in Bill Lazor’s offensive system.
However, the issue the Dolphins will need to deal with in this offseason is the backup to Ryan Tannehill. Matt Moore is an unrestricted free agent, and the Dolphins will want to add a younger, much cheaper version of Matt Moore to take the reigns if necessary.
Draft Options: The Dolphins could opt to go with a rookie in the upcoming draft. If they do go this route, don’t expect them to spend a high draft pick on a backup quarterback with so many other glaring needs. But the Dolphins could find themselves looking at guys in the 4th-6th round range that could fit their system. Guys like Brandon Bridge or Garrett Grayson, big armed athletic quarterbacks that resemble Tannehill's skill set could be cheap, reliable options that will be able to pick up on Lazor’s system from the start of training camp.
Free Agent Options: With the likely shuffling around of veteran signal callers in the league this year, the Dolphins could opt to look at a quarterback in the free agent market too. Former starters Mike Glennon, Jake Locker, EJ Manuel or Mark Sanchez could all become available in the coming months with their teams likely moving on to other options.
The Dolphins boasted one of the best rushing attacks in the league this year. The only problem? They hardly ran the ball! The Dolphins finished 2nd in the league in rushing yards per attempt behind Seattle, with 4.7 YPA, but only ran the ball 399 times. Some of the problem was the Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor relying too much on the passing attack, but a lot of the blame can be put on the lack of depth the Dolphins had at the position. Lamar Miller surpassed 1,000 yards for the first time in his young career, but when Knowshon Moreno went down with an injury early in the season, the Dolphins were strapped for attempts out of the backfield.
For next season, the Dolphins need to look to add at least one, maybe two more rushers to their backfield. Both Moreno and Daniel Thomas are free agents, and will likely not return to the Dolphins. Miller is a fast, ankle breaking running back, and rookie Damien Williams had a solid rookie campaign, but Miami will need a bruising, pass blocking type running back in either free agency or the draft.
Free Agent Options: Frank Gore, despite his age and wear and tear, could be an option for the Dolphins for a reasonable price. But if they do go the free agent route, I would prefer that they splurge a bit on the position with money cleared up from releasing Moreno and Thomas to invest into a longer contract for a guy like Mark Ingram. Ingram could provide the Dolphins with stability, depth and a guy that can do it all out of the backfield. He’s a great pass blocker, can catch out of the backfield, and will provide the Dolphins a solid contributor on 3rd and short plays. The market will be steep for Ingram, but if he springs loose from the Saints, the Dolphins should have him high on their radar.
Rookie Options: If the money’s right, Ingram would be a perfect fit for what the Dolphins want to do offensively, but if they decide he costs too much, this years draft is loaded with running back talent. Specifically, big, athletic running back talent. It would surprise me if the Dolphins drafted a running back in the first two rounds like Todd Gurley, but if they did, I’d be all for it. Gurley is one of the best running back prospects to come out of college in a decade. The Dolphins will likely opt to draft a running back after the second round, guys like Buck Allen, Mike Davis or Jahwan Edwards have the potential to fill the role of ‘do-everything’ backs for the Dolphins and will save them money in the offseason to upgrade other areas.
Remember all those fears Dolphins fans had when signing Mike Wallace to that monster contract a few years back? Yeah, they've reached the surface now. Fans are up in arms over Wallace’s childish behavior and diva antics and want him out of Miami. But it’s hard to let go of production, especially when the Dolphins still owe him a ton of cash. Wallace has his best year as a Dolphins this past season as he finished with 67 receptions 862 yards and a career high 10 touchdowns. Releasing Mike Wallace will leave the Dolphins eating $3 million of Wallace’s guaranteed money for the 2015 season. The good news? The Dolphins can basically earn that money back by letting Brian Hartline walk this offseason as well. The bad news? Now the Dolphins have two starting wide receiver slots open heading into next season, with nobody in line to fill the roles. Dennis Hickey has his work cut out for him here.
Free Agent Options: In this situation with two WR slots open, and realistically only enough money to sign one quality wide receiver, the Dolphins will need to hit the nail on the head in free agency. Look for a guy that pairs well with breakout slot receiver Jarvis Landry and doesn’t possess the diva mentality that Mike Wallace has and Joe Philbin had proven he can’t handle.
Guys like Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin come to mind instantly for the Dolphins. Cobb is an all around great guy and great receiver. He comes from a pass heavy offense and can fill in Mike Wallace’s production quite easily. As can Maclin. The problem with both guys is that their teams will likely want to resign them and at the very least will drive their price tag up sky high. Do the Dolphins have the money to compete with other WR needy teams for the production that Cobb and Maclin would bring? I’m not so sure.
If Cobb or Maclin prove to be unattainable, Torrey Smith from the Ravens could move on from Baltimore and provide a cheaper option, while providing as an upgrade from Brian Hartline and the Dolphins could look to elect to find production from another wide receiver through the first few rounds of the draft.
I also like Andre Holmes from the Oakland Raiders. Holmes is a restricted FA which will make his departure from Oakland unlikely, but the Raiders could look to move in another direction with a new coaching staff and high draft selections in this offseason. Holmes (6’4) is a big bodied wide out with good hands. If available, he would provide a much needed red zone option for Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins.
Draft Options: Luckily for the Dolphins once again, the draft class is deep at the wide receiver position. If they choose to go wide receiver in the first two rounds, they can basically have their choice between big bodied guys like Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Jaelen Strong, Dorial Green-Beckham, and David Funchess. All of which boast big frames of at least 6’3. After the first two rounds, if the Dolphins choose to wait to draft a wide receiver, the bigger guy will begin to disappear. However, the Dolphins could still get a guy like Vince Mayle or get a possession receiver type with Jarvis Landry like production from WR’s Justin Hardy and Nelson Agholor in Bill Lazor’s pass heavy offense.
Charles Clay was off his game this year. Dealing with injuries from the get go, Clay had a hard time living up to his ‘Big Play’ nickname. In this situation, a down year hurts Clay a lot being that he was in a contract year. For the Dolphins, it has the potential to work out perfectly. The Dolphins can now bring back Clay for a more team friendly deal if they choose to do so. Add to that the emergence of second year TE Dion Sims, and the Dolphins aren’t as bad off at this position as one would think.
I believe the Dolphins will make Clay a decent offer that he won’t be able to refuse. A two or three year deal that is back loaded with incentives would provide a situation where Clay can earn his pay and the Dolphins can escape with a team friendly discount. If another team offers Clay a better contract though, the Dolphins will need to be prepared in free agency or the draft.
Free Agent Options: There are a couple big named tight ends that could hit the market this offseason. But the only way the Dolphins would shell out the money would be if they lose Wallace, Hartline and Clay and miss out on a primary receiver like Randall Cobb in free agency. Julius Thomas comes to mind right away as a guy that would instantly upgrade the Dolphins offense. Thomas will require a monster pay day though. Think Jimmy Graham money (8-10 Mil/Year). The Dolphins could also target a much cheaper, much riskier Jordan Cameron from the Cleveland Browns who has dealt with multiple debilitation concussions recently. Cameron, if healthy, could be a key contributor for Tannehill’s arm and an instant upgrade in the red zone.
A lesser known TE that could be in play to take over Charles Clay’s role would be Redskins TE Niles Paul. Paul has a similar skill set to Clay, but is much smaller in stature. He would likely used in a fullback role, but could also catch out of the backfield, while Dion Sims would be the primary TE.
Draft Options: I think if the Dolphins go this route, it will be primarily to find a red zone target. Jesse James from Penn St. comes to mind immediately. James has the size to come down with everything thrown his way. At 6’7 255, he is what you want in a jump ball type tight end.
The proverbial revolving door for the Dolphins offensive line this year was at the guard position. One week it was injuries, another week it was flat out ineptitude. Whatever the excuse, the Guard position was most definitely the primary weak link of this team. The trio of Shelley Smith, Dallas Thomas and Daryn Colledge consistently underperformed for the Dolphins and will need to be upgraded if this Dolphins team wants to continue to progress. Whether it be through the draft or free agency, the Dolphins must make this position a high priority in the offseason. Billy Turner should have his shot to start for the Dolphins next season. His body type and athletic ability bodes well for the Dolphins offense and is expected to compete from day one of training camp.
The Dolphins, when healthy, have a good outlook next year with Branden Albert and Ja’Wuan James. The big question mark going into the season will be Branden Albert’s rehab on his injured knee. The Dolphins could look to draft an offensive lineman early on once again this year. Somebody that can play both tackle and guard to provide the team with quality depth. Or they could choose to make a move in free agency. Re-signing Jason Fox to a team friendly deal if Albert isn’t able to go in the start of the 2015 season could be the most seamless option. The Dolphins would then rely on Ja’Wuan James to start at LT and have Fox at RT until Albert can come back at 100%.
I fully anticipate Mike Pouncey moving back to Center with Samson Satele moving in the fast lane to retirement. Satele did an admirable job given the circumstances that surrounded the Dolphins offensive line this past season, but a decline in production is all but inevitable at this point in his career. Pouncey, despite an injury riddled 2014 season, should return at full strength and solidify the position for another year with a chance to prove himself with a new contract looming.
Free Agent Options: Much improved in 2014. Am I right? For the most part, yes. The Dolphins were vastly improved this season up until Albert went down with a season ending knee injury. At that point, James moved to LT, Thomas became a turnstile and Colledge’s headaches became, well, a migraine. Injuries derailed the Dolphins offensive line and exposed holes that were otherwise glued together by Branden Albert’s enormous productivity. This tells me three things. Albert’s rehab is vital to next year’s success, the Dolphins need to upgrade the starting guard positions and quality depth is necessary. Orlando Franklin would be an instant upgrade for the Dolphins. Using mostly money created by releasing Shelley Smith and Nate Garner, the Dolphins can bring Franklin back to his alma mater and reunite him with fellow Hurricanes Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller.
The Dolphins should also consider bringing back Colledge with a team friendly deal. Colledge understands the system already and would provide veteran stability along the line.
Draft Options: I am one of many many Dolphins fans who is sick of building an offensive line through the draft. Quality guards can be found in free agency and in the later rounds. The Dolphins have far too many holes to stay locked in the idea of drafting offensive lineman in the first few rounds year in and year out. That being said, the Dolphins could benefit from bringing in depth to replace the slew of offensive lineman that will not be retained this offseason. Some guys to look at in the later rounds that are Aundrey Walker (G, USC) and Laken Tomlinson (G, Duke)
This column was written by Jeff Hyde. Follow him on Twitter: @Jeff__Hyde