Sunday, January 20, 2013

Off season Diagnosis: Miami Dolphins

The 28-0 shellacking that the New England Patriots put on the Miami Dolphins the last Sunday of the NFL season was a reminder that Miami has a lot of work to do if they plan on catching Bill Belichick’s squad any time soon. The Pats cruised into the two seed in the AFC, winning anther AFC East title and once again positioning them for another super bowl run (Joe Flacco had other ideas). NFL organizations dream of what NE has; a great coach, elite QB, and good foundation year in and year out. While it may seem that Miami is light years away from this dream scenario, they truly are not. This off season will decide whether the Dolphins can position themselves for future success for years to come.

The Dolphins have five draft picks in the first three rounds, tons of salary cap space to play with, and a good young core to build upon.

Will Ryan Tannehill point Miami
in the right direction?
Let’s quickly start with that core. It all starts under center with Ryan Tannehill. The rookie wasn't spectacular in his first year, but did show signs that he will be a very good QB in this league for years to come. Miami fans need to remember this guy was a WR a few years ago, and is still learning the position. Tannehill wasn't even supposed to get any playing time this year, and simply learn. Playing him, in my opinion was the right call. It makes Miami a dangerous team going forward. The line is in good hands with young pieces such as Mike Pouncey and Jonathan Martin. Reshad Jones showed a lot at the safety position, and Cameron Wake was once again one of the best pass rushers in the league. Running Back Lamar Miller showed a ton of promise, but needs to learn more to become an every down back.

Miami should let Miller become their
number one back.
Ultimately, Jeff Ireland will either earn his money this off season  or solidify why so many Miami fans have been calling for his job for years now. The Dolphins have a ton of cap room and picks to work with, and even more big time decisions to make. Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline, Jake Long, Chris Clemons, Anthony Fasano, Nate Garner, Tony McDaniel, Matt Moore, Sean Smith, and Randy Starks are all free agents. Only Moore was not a starter, and a lot of teams would view the veteran QB as a potential starter in 2013. As good as this group is, they never made a playoff run or contended for a division championship. Although it will be tough to swallow, Miami should let Bush, Hartline, Long, and Sean Smith go via free agency. While Bush has been amazing for Miami, he will demand a good amount of money on the open market. I am all for the Dolphins bringing Bush back for a bargain, but they can live without him. Miller was once a projected first round pick. He is young, fast, and cheap. Miami can compliment him with Daniel Thomas, another high draft pick, and get by. Hartline is tricky, because he is young and coming off his best season (over 1000 yards rec) of his career but is clearly not a number one WR. Miami should be able to grab a good young number two wideout in the draft, and focus on getting a big name, clear cut number one (Wallace/Jennings) via free agency. If this scenario plays out, there won’t be enough money to go around for Hartline. Jake Long could be the easiest to retain. He has been hurt over the past few years, and that will hurt his value. With that said he is a proven top tier left tackle and a lot of teams would love to have his services. Miami would be okay taking a young lineman in the draft, sliding Jonathon Martin to LT, and resigning Nate Garner to play guard. The Phins should bring back Starks, Fasano, Clemons (unless they can get Ed Reed), and McDaniel. These are all solid players that won’t break the bank. I love Matt Moore as a solid backup QB, but he will look for a starting job, and teams like the Jets will offer him that possibility. Miami should look to the draft to find their next back up QB. As we have seen with Matt Flynn, Kirk Cousins, and others, it’s not a bad idea to have a good young backup who can be valuable when your starter goes down. Miami shouldn't use anything more than at 6th round pick though. Then there is Sean Smith. He has all the tools to become one of the best shut down corners in the NFL, but has yet to put it together on the field. The secondary was Miami’s biggest weakness on defense last year, and will be in the spot light this season. The Dolphins will try to get Smith at a good price, but he may cost too much. Miami should not break the bank for Smith, and if they can’t resign him, they could look at the franchise tag. I believe Smith has not done enough to warrant $10.6 million a year, and that’s what it will cost Miami if they choose to use the tag. The Dolphins should let Smith walk, and look at Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State), Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), or Dee Milliner (Alabama), three of the best cornerback prospects in this year’s draft. Miami selects 12th overall, and all three could be as good as Smith, but cost less.

Wallace and his speed would be a welcome addition
to the Miami wide receiving core.
If Miami elects this plan they would have a good amount of money to spend on wide outs, o-line help, and other areas of the team. As we have seen this season, the league is all about offense. If Miami wants Ryan Tannehill to develop they must upgrade his weapons drastically. Miami’s top target should be Mike Wallace. He is a number one wide receiver, and posses elite vertical speed. Tannehill was one of the league’s most accurate passers on throws of 20 yards or more. Wallace would bring a whole new dimension to the Dolphins aerial attack. Greg Jennings would also be a nice fit in Miami. He knows Coach Philbin from their days in Green Bay. Both will be Miami’s top targets. If Miami doesn't take a corner at 12, they surely will look to grab a young wide receiver to compliment a Wallace or a Jennings. Keenan Allen (California) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) are the most likely options. If Miami feels that the options at WR do not warrant the 12th overall pick, it won't hurt adding a pass rusher. Dion Jordan out of Oregon would be a great fit across from Cam Wake. The Dolphins should also look to add a slot later in the draft. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey (both from WVU) would be great fits.

This off season is the biggest that Miami has had in a long time. Last year the franchise found their head coach and quarterback of the future, but if they drop the ball this year, it will go a long way in crushing the Tannehill/Philbin era. Jeff Ireland will make or break his career over the next few months. Miami doesn't need to go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl next year, but they must lay a solid foundation and get more from their young QB. As we have seen with teams like San Francisco and Washington, it doesn't take long to make that jump back to relevancy; it just takes some good decisions. Ball is in your court Mr. Ireland, let’s see what you got. 

--Lee Kunkel

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