by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
I am not an NFL personnel director, though I play one here on Phins.com.
I am also not a fortune teller, which means that I cannot predict exactly who the Dolphins will acquire this offseason to fill their most pressing need: quarterback.
What I do know to be self-evident is that, without this missing part, their goal of winning a championship will remain unattainable.
How should the Dolphins approach their search?
In my opinion, there are three steps to success that the Dolphins will follow.
STEP 1: Protect the Present
Before the public begins to stir the Dolphins’ pot with rumors of trades and crushes on college players, it is important that Nick Saban and Randy Mueller take steps to help ensure a stable and focused roster during the offseason. This gives the Dolphins the best chance to continue building on the success they had over the final six games of 2005.
A big step towards achieving this would be to settle Gus Frerotte’s contract situation as soon as possible.
As I have said before, Gus isn’t Dan Marino and he isn’t supposed to be. His job was to keep the Dolphins from playing themselves out of games and give the team a chance to win in the fourth quarter. For the most part, he served that purpose well.
Further, his play improved over the last third of the season as the parts around him began to function together more smoothly.
Yes, there are other veterans out there who could, REALISTICALLY, become available in free agency. Some can still play a little (e.g. Steve McNair) while others (e.g. Tim Couch) have since gone bust. Almost all of them would be expensive and/or a gamble.
As for making a blockbuster trade, forget about it. When we consider the other needs the Dolphins have, and there are many, it would be unwise to spend valuable cap dollars and or draft picks for a single player who may end up being marginally better than the talent the Dolphins already have.
In other words, it is time for the Dolphins to stop shopping in the used car lot. They already have the veteran quarterback they need: Frerotte. It is now time to look for the QB of the future.
STEP 2: Assess Options for the Future
Here’s where the hard work lies.
It has been six seasons since Marino retired and the Dolphins have yet to find the so-called “crown prince”. A big part of the problem is that the Dolphins haven’t invested very much in the search.
There are, of course, three ways to approach this: trades, free agency and the draft.
a trade and free agency perspective, the Dolphins under Saban have been targeting
players who are on the upswing. The trade of A.J. Feeley and a 6th
The Dolphins also have incumbent reserve Sage Rosenfels, who helped win two big games in 2005.
There may be an additional veteran talent that the Dolphins acquire. However, this part of the equation appears to be pretty much complete. Perhaps one of these darkhorses will emerge, perhaps not.
All of this fits into Mueller’s philosophy whereby the Dolphins will likely have to “manufacture” a quarterback. By this Mueller means that trading for a high priced, proven veteran isn’t the prudent move. So, again, the Dolphins are not likely to go the big trade route.
From a draft perspective, Mueller’s reputation for having an eye for QB talent is well regarded league-wide; his staff has already collected volumes of information on quarterbacks high and low on their board.
I do expect the Dolphins to use their first or second round pick on a passer.
But which one?
STEP 3: Draft Day
Dolphins currently hold the 16th pick in the first round, which is a
pretty decent slot considering their 9-7 record. The big concern is whether or
not it is high enough to reach for one of the top three prospects, currently
USC’s Matt Leinart,
Of the three, Cutler is the most realistic possibility. His numbers at Vanderbilt as a four year starter are impressive. While at LSU, Saban became familiar with Cutler’s game as Vandy is also in the Southeastern Conference.
To get to Leinart or Young, the Dolphins will likely have to catapult themselves into the top 5 picks of the draft. It is doubtful that they could muster enough ammo to pull off such a deal, not without crippling their ability to draft for 2-3 years; this would contradict what Saban believes, which is to build a team through the draft.
However, if by some chance one of these two players should slip out of the Top 5, the Dolphins could have an outside shot at pulling off a trade. Would a package of Ricky Williams, Sam Madison, and the 16th overall pick get it done? In the Not For Long league, a team would get better in a hurry with Williams and Madison on their rosters PLUS a mid-level first round pick to address another need.
Any smart GM would have to seriously consider such a proposal. For the Dolphins, it is a slick way to avoid surrendering precious draft picks.
Remember, there’s the history of first round quarterbacks to keep in mind, a history that is littered with busts. As such, Saban won’t overplay his hand in a desperate move to solve the problem, as former GM Rick Spielman did when he sent a 2005 second round pick to the Eagles for Feeley.
If the Dolphins decide to sit tight at #16 and the top 3 prospects are taken, they’ll still have some pretty good options on the board as this is a deeper draft for QBs than in past years. In this event, moving down is a plausible move that would create more value while netting a player that Saban and Mueller feel good about.
For now, circle April 29th on your calendar. That could be the day that heir Marino becomes a Miami Dolphin.