Friday, January 18, 2008

Roster Evaluation: Miami Dolphins

Parcells & Co. will look for a veteran QB who can "drive the bus" until a franchise QB can be brought in. Cleo Lemon is a free agent who probably won't be resigned because he doesn't fit the QB prototype that Parcells likes. John Beck also doesn't fit the prototype, and I could see the Dolphins trying to deal him to another team for a low-round pick.
 In free agency there aren't going to be many options. Todd Collins who had some success as the Redskins backup might be the best "busdriver" available. If they could trade for Browns restricted free agent Derek Anderson without giving up too much that would be a great move, but the Browns seem more and more like they aren't willing to deal Anderson for what most teams would want to give up to get him.
 Without a Peyton Manning or Carson Palmer available with the number one pick in the NFL draft, the Dolphins would be wise to wait and see who is on the board at the top of the third round. Tennessee's Erik Ainge is comparable to Derek Anderson, while Delaware's Joe Flacco is in the Ben Roethlisberger mold, although Flacco's not quite the top-flight prospect Big Ben was.

Running Back
There's a zero percent chance of the Dolphins using the top pick in this draft on a running back. That's not the way Parcells & Co. roll, and it's a good thing because there's no reason to spend that much for a back, even an elite prospect like Darren McFadden. What's more, the Dolphins already have one of the top five RBs in the league. Ronnie Brown was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage at the time of his injury. With Ricky Williams and Jesse Chatman as backups, and Marty Booker the resident scat back, the Phins don't even have to go out of their way to acquire depth. Instead, they can wait for someone to fall to them and pick up a mid-round steal. I know the guy I'd be looking for is Cory Boyd, whose hard runs reminded me of watching Dallas's Marion Barber, and whose earlier character issues seem to be well behind him.

Wide Receiver
Miami's most consistent receiver the past few seasons, Marty Booker is almost certainly going to say goodbye to Miami. He'll be 32 next season and in the last year of a contract that would pay him $4.3 million. 2006 third-rounder Derek Hagan has been disappointing in his first two seasons and could be gone quick if he doesn't start catching the ball more consistently. Last year's top draft choice Ted Ginn Jr. may need to get good in a hurry if the Dolphins are going to have any kind of vertical game.
 To improve their woeful depth chart, and complement Ginn, the Dolphins should bring in a solid possession WR, an underrated free agent like Ernest Wilford. They might also want to steal a page from the Patriots off-season playbook and sign multiple free agents at the position, guys like Bryant Johnson, D.J. Hackett (whose only problem is he can't stay healthy), or the Patriot's own Jabar Gaffney.
 While the draft lacks an elite WR, there's plenty of depth, so the Dolphins could add another couple of young receivers with their later picks, or even as undrafted free agents. This was a strong point of Parcells and Ireland in Dallas, where they brought in Patrick Crayton, Terrence Copper, and Sam Hurd.

Tight End
Parcells loves his tight ends, and he's sure to replace the Mueller/Cameron guys—David Martin, Justin Peelle, and Aaron Halterman—with some of his own. Sean Ryan was a 2004 Cowboys pick who played the past two seasons with the Jets. He's primarily a blocker and if the Phins sign him it would be to add depth. Same deal if they sign 2000 Parcells draft pick Anthony Becht who has spent the last three seasons in Tampa. Yalie Eric Johnson, a good receiver and decent all-around TE, is another guy that could be on their radar.
 This draft has some good talent at TE. Parcells and Ireland are the guys who drafted Anthony Fasano in round two with Dallas. This year there's another Notre Dame TE, John Carlson, and he's an even better prospect. Don't be surprised if the Dolphins snag him in the second round.

Offensive Line
Another part of the team that will likely see an instant make over. Vernon Carey, who is in the last year of his contract, was a pleasant surprise as the left tackle, but he could be moved back to the right side where L.J. Shelton is a potential cap casualty. And both of Miami's starting guards, Rex Hadnot and Chris Liwienski, are set to be free agents. Having proven, if nothing, great versatility, Carey should get a contract extension so that the Dolphins can move forward with building their line around him and 2007 second-round center Samson Satele.
 There are some free agents that could be in play for the Dolphins. Flozell Adams is getting up there in age, but he had a dominant 2007 (see Dr. Z's all-pro write-up if you don't believe me). While signing him might not be the smartest long-term move because of what it will cost to land him (not just dollars, but years), it's the kind of move that can help turn around a franchise quickly. Stacey Andrews filled in nicely at right tackle for the Bengals last year and can also play inside at guard. His best years are still ahead of him and because of that he's the most valuable free agent lineman out there. Jason Fabini's best years are well behind him (especially his pass blocking), but he was a Parcells guy and could be brought in for the vet minimum to provide depth and start in a pinch.

Defensive Line
Make no mistake, the Dolphins will be trotting out a 3-4 base defense in 2008. Vonnie Holiday is 32 years old but signed through 2010; he's the likely starter at one of the end spots. They have a trio of young nose tackles (Paul Soliai, Steve Fifita, and Anthony Bryant): could one of them step up and be a stop-gap at the position until a high-caliber NT is brought in? Don't count on it: there's a reason Parcells and Ireland didn't draft any of these guys for Dallas when they were looking for a young NT. The other end spot will also be up for grabs with a number of young, unproven linemen on the roster.
 49ers free agent Marques Douglas will be 31 soon, but he's a very good 3-4 end who could solidify the front, so long as the Phins have someone else to rotate in to help keep Douglas fresh throughout games and the throughout the season. Miami might want to take a look at Green Bay DT Corey Williams who appears to have the skills to do well as a 3-4 end. Dallas's Chris Canty is a restricted free agent, but Jerry Jones is bound to give him an extension similar to what Jay Ratliff received a couple of months ago.
 One of the top two or three linemen in the draft, Virginia's Chris Long played for Parcells protégé Al Groh and comes into the leauge already knowing the two-gap scheme likely to be installed. Though a bit undersized, Marcus Harrison out of Arkansas might be the best NT prospect in the draft. But character concerns will likely keep the Phins from taking a chance on him. Instead, they'll probably target someone in the mid-to-late rounds, where Iowa State's Ahtyba Rubin and Texas's Frank Okam are guys to keep an eye on.

Zach Thomas is in the last year of his contract, his base salary is $5.65 million, and he's 5'11", 225 lbs., which doesn't even come close to the prototypical 3-4 ILB that Parcells & Ireland are looking for. So there's pretty much no chance Thomas will be a Dolphin next season.
 Channing Crowder, on the other hand, has the size and speed to play in the new defense. He can opt out of his contract and become a free agent, but a deal should be able to be worked out assuming he and the front office come to the table with reasonable expectations.
 The Dolphins already have a pair of formidable OLBs for their 3-4: Jason Taylor and Joey Porter. Both are getting old (33 and 30 respectively) but both have something left to contribute. And if you doubt that a character like Porter can play in a Parcells-type squad late in his career, I'd point you to Bryan Cox with the Jets in the late 90s.
 Of the young LBs on the roster, 2007 seventh-rounder Abraham Wright out of Colorado might be the best fit, subbing in as a pass rushing OLB.
 Free agency isn't likely to bring any "Parcells guys," but there are a couple intriguing options. Kawika Mitchell of the Giants might work well inside, as might Karlos Dansby of the Cardinals. As far as outside rushers, Terrell Suggs will probably cost more than a smart front office would want to invest in him, but Calvin Pace, another Cardinal, is
coming off his best season and could be a solid mid-level signing.
 I don't expect Miami will use a high pick on a LB. In the mid-to-late rounds, they could target a pass rusher like Purdue's Cliff Avril or Georgia's Marcus Howard, as well as an ILB project like Michigan's Shawn Crable or Vanderbilt's Jonathan Goff.

Defensive Backs
With all of their other needs the Dolphins may have to live for now with the DBs they have. An improved pass rush, after all, goes a long way toward improving the secondary. Will Allen will probably hold down one starting corner spot, while Travis Daniels may get the other one by default. Though unlikely, 2006 first-fournder Jason Allen could even be given a shot to move from free safety to CB, since he would give the Phins a bigger, more physical presence on the edge.
 The best Miami DB the past two seasons has been strong safety Yeremiah Bell, who really came into his own in 2006. Unfortunately he spent much of last season on IR and is now a free agent.
 There will likely be three former Dallas DBs on the market from the Parcells era there. One in particular, safety Keith Davis, seems almost assured of a spot in Miami. He's a great special teams player and can play either safety spot, though he's a more natural strong safety. Former Cowboy CBs Nate Jones and Jacques Reeves could be brought in for depth purposes, but neither is a guy you want starting.
 The best free agent CB is Nnamdi Asomugha of the Raiders, but I can't imagine Oakland wouldn't resign him or at least franchise him for a year. Seattle's Marcus Trufant is another top-notch CB who may or may not be available. If the Dolphins want to make a splash they could go after New England's Asante Samuel, but if the Pats have any interest in resigning him Parcells will keep the Dolphins away. The smartest move might be to pursue a mid-level upgrade like San Diego's Drayton Florence or New England's Randall Gay, while drafting another young CB to bring along.
 Brandon Flowers out of Virgina Tech plays the CB position with a toughness that's sure to have drawn Parcells and Ireland's attention. And though Wisconsin's Jack Ikegwuonu didn't have the best 2007, his style of play has drawn comparisons to Dallas Cowboys CB Anthony Henry.

No comments: