Now that ILB Karlos Dansby
is signed, and has a locker and a jersey number (#58), the Dolphins are moving
forward with free agency and continued preparations for the NFL Draft next
month. They still have four open, high-profile needs: Nose Tackle, Free Safety,
Outside Linebacker, and Wide Receiver.
How will Bill Parcells and
Friends solve them?
The best unrestricted free
agents (UFAs) are now off the market, and the Dolphins have a strong aversion
to trading away draft picks for restricted free agents. This leaves the draft
itself, and there is no guarantee that the right players will be available when
the Dolphins come up to bat.
The cold hard truth,
therefore, is that they may not be able to solve all their needs. Not this year
anyway. Or, they may believe they already have an answer on the roster but need
to become convinced to give a player more snaps in order to improve.
That's why the Dolphins go
through their priority planning before free agency begins. They identify which upgrades
are "must haves" for 2010 and which ones are "nice to
Right now, I believe Nose
Tackle and Free Safety are the probable remaining "must haves"
because leaving things ďas isĒ will probably cost the team some wins next year.
Thatís obviously negligent and unacceptable. On the other hand, the
consequences of standing pat (worst case scenario) at Outside Linebacker and
Wide Receiver (ďnice to havesĒ) arenít likely as severe.
Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai is not a full time NT and Jason
Ferguson has been suspended until midseason. This means the Dolphins are in big
trouble at a critical defensive position, perhaps THE most critical. Without a
stout force in the middle of the 3-4 defense, teams will be able to run over them
and that will open the door to a host of issues; this was the case last year
after Ferg went down with a knee injury. If the draft gurus are to be believed,
there could be some very talented two-gap prospects high on the board when the
Dolphins go on the clock with their 12th overall pick. Like in baseball, the
best defenses are, first-and-foremost, strong up the middle. Therefore, given the
Dansby signing and Fergusonís recent suspension and questionable health status,
I believe that Nose Tackle is the #1 need that the Dolphins will look to solve
on Day One of the draft.
Free Safety: The decision not to re-sign Renaldo Hill continues
to haunt the Dolphins, and is probably the biggest blunder of the Parcells era.
Hillís replacement, Gibril Wilson, was thankfully released; his single failed
season probably cost the 2009 Dolphins at least two wins and maybe a third. While
the recent courtships of Antrel Rolle and Ryan Clark ended in failure, they
reinforced the belief that an upgrade is critical to the teamís future success.
If the Dolphins had to play a game today, second year player Chris Clemons
would get the starting nod. Now thereís a lot to like about Clemons, but is he
ready to be a full time starter? Thatís for coach Tony Sparano to say. I
believe free safety is an area where the Dolphins could look to the draft for
some help early on as none of the remaining UFAs seem very appealing. It is
vital that the Dolphins stop opponents from hitting them up for big plays, and
fixing the problem at free safety is fundamental to that goal.
Outside Linebacker: Presuming that the Dolphins re-sign Jason Taylor
and return him to his familiar weakside position, veterans Cameron Wake and
Charlie Anderson will be left to compete for the opposite strongside job. Thatís
not the end of the world by any means! Wake is an example of a player that needs
more snaps if he is to improve, but the coaches must first be able to trust him
versus the run. Is he ready for that responsibility? Again, thatís for Sparano
to decide. Meanwhile, don't expect the Dolphins to leave all their eggs in Wakeís
basket. A moderately priced free agent veteran, or even a high potential
rookie, should be added to the mix to strengthen the depth chart. One player we
shouldnít forget is Quentin Moses; the Dolphins thought enough of him to tender
him at a third round level. At 6-5, 260, he could be ready to be more of a
factor on the strongside where his skills seem to fit best; the Dolphins are
willing to pay to find out if this is indeed the case.
Wide Receiver: The Dolphins have a good, but not great, set of
receivers. Without question they need a proven and consistent gamebreaker,
someone who can regularly come up with chunk yardage and easy scores. They have
three guys right now that might be capable of this: Ted Ginn, Jr., Patrick
Turner, and Brian Hartline. Two of them (Hartline and Turner) were rookies last
year. The big question, however, is with Ginn. Will the fourth year be the
charm for Ginn, as it was for the Chargers' Vincent Jackson? Hard to say, though
GM Jeff Ireland likes him ďvery muchĒ. I must confess that there's something
about Ginnís game that keeps me watching, keeps me
believing that the good stuff will come in time. One thing we already know is
that he is not a bust; weíve seen too much from him for that tag to apply. Yet Ginn
has failed to play to his full potential. This season weíll know for sure if he
is a tease or the real deal. As for the rookies, Hartline showed us that he is
capable of tearing up chunks of yardage from time to time. He should be even
better next season. As for Turner, his was the classic case of a rookie
overwhelmed by the mental demands of the pro game. Turner still has a chance to
become that big dominant receiver that Ireland believes he can be. With a
full offseason under his belt, he should be more instinctive, and that should
translate into better productivity. We saw raw flashes of Turnerís ability during
last yearís minicamp practices, before the mental weight of the game seemed to
overwhelm him. Clearly, physical ability is not an impediment.