With the upcoming training camp bearing down on us like a
runaway freight train, it has dawned on me that now might be a good
time to try and finish up my series about the free agents that the
Dolphins have signed this summer.
And once that's done, I'll have just enough time to do the
draftees before full practices begin.
Unfortunately, there are just too many players to cover
completely in a reasonable amount of time. By my count, the Dolphins
have signed (or traded for) 21 free agents this year....
...not counting any of the rookies.
So I'm afraid that I'm going to have to limit my coverage of
the free agents to the remaining few who I believe will make an impact
on the team. Out of the 17 free agents that I haven't talked about, I
figure that about 6 stand a chance at being on the roster in
Of course, given the Dolphins' recent history, there will
undoubtedly be a free agent or two who will surprise all the pundits
and come out of nowhere to make the final cut (like Oronde Gadsden did
last year...), but those guys are impossible to predict, so I'm just
going to stay with the contenders.
First on our list of contenders is the player that JJ hopes
will be this year's Robert Jones. His name is Dixon Edwards and, like
Jones, he plays linebacker. Unlike Jones, however, his experience is
at outside linebacker, most recently on the strong side of the
Minnesota Vikings defense.
Now, the reason that the Dolphins have acquired this player is
that the Vikings cut Edwards in a salary cap move (again, like
Jones). And as soon as Edwards was cut, JJ was on the phone to his
agent, trying to get him to come to Miami.
Another similarity to Robert Jones is Edwards' ties to JJ and
Dave Wannestedt. Edwards started his career in Dallas, playing for
Wannestedt and JJ, first as a special teams player and eventually as
their starting strongside linebacker.
He went to the Vikings in 1996 after being signed as a free
agent, where he initially switched to weakside linebacker. In 1996 he
had the best year of his career, amassing 96 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an
interception. Unfortunately, his stats declined after that after he
was moved back to the strongside linebacking position.
With Robert Jones and Zach Thomas firmly entrenched as
starters in the other two linebacking spots, the only starting
position that Edwards might challenge for is at the weakside
linebacker's spot. Fortunately for the Dolphins and for Edwards,
that's just where they've put him.
Last year, Derrick Rodgers started at weakside linebacker for
the Dolphins but had a bit of a sophomore slump after a very impressive
rookie year. Of course, some of that is just in contrast to what
Robert Jones and Zach Thomas were doing, but I think it's fair to say
that Rodgers did not make as many big plays as JJ would have liked.
So in comes Dixon Edwards. It's difficult to say who has the
edge right now - Rodgers is younger and quicker but Edwards has size
and experience on his side. In my opinion, the decision as to who
starts will be mostly influenced by Edwards' speed and quickness. If
Edwards still maintains enough speed from his former playing days to
do everything JJ wants, he'll get the nod.
On the other hand, if Edwards has lost a step or two (as some
have alleged), JJ won't hesitate to let Rodgers retain his position.
My hunch (which is completely unencumbered by supporting
facts) is that Edwards will take the starting job away from Rodgers.
As a rookie, Rodgers had 80 tackles and 5 sacks, but last year had 47
tackles and 2.5 sacks. He'll need to boost his performance to keep
his starting job.
Unfortunately for OJ Brigance, who is recovering from an
injury, the signing of Edwards, along with Brian Jones and Sammie
Burroughs puts Brigance in a very precarious position. If any of the
three new linebackers can play special teams well, Brigance could be
And while we're on the subject of linebackers, another player
I wanted to discuss is Sammie Burroughs. Burroughs was originally
signed by the Colts in 1996 as a rookie free agent. He started one
game each in 1996 and 1997 for the Colts, but was on injured reserve
all last year before being released by the Colts this spring.
Despite only starting 2 games in 1996 and 97, Burroughs racked
up 42 tackles in 1996 and 29 in 1997. He also did a good job on
special teams - and if he can return to his earlier form, he could
push Brigance off the team.
... but he's got a lot of pushing to do.
The other two free agents who could be significant on defense are
Rich Owens and Greg Jeffries. Owens is a defensive end who was
originally drafted in the 5th round by the Washington ... team (name
withheld to avoid offending anyone...). After registering 3 sacks as
a rookie, Owens had a breakout year in 1996, when he picked up 11
sacks while playing next to defensive tackle Sean Gilbert for the
.... Washington team.
In 1997, Sean Gilbert sat out the season and Owens bulked up,
making him stronger but slower, and his sack total dropped to 2.5. Last
year Owens was injured and didn't play.
So, in an effort to bolster their pass rush and replace an
aging Danny Stubbs, the Dolphins have signed a slimed down Owens to
back up Jason Taylor. JJ is hoping that Owens can return to the form
that gave him 11 sacks in 1996.
Owens, of course, maintains that he'll compete for the
starting job and might be able to take it away from Taylor. While
that's an admirable ambition, it's not likely to happen. But with the
Dolphins rotating their defensive linemen as often as they do, Owens
will see plenty of playing time.
I've never seen Owens play, so I can't comment on how much
impact he'll have on the pass rush, but he should at least be better than
Danny Stubbs was last year.
Greg Jeffries is a player who's signing completely baffled me
at first - until I found out that he was a very good nickel back.
Last year, at the end of the season, the Dolphins got burned a number
of times when Jerry Wilson got matched up on opponents' starting wide
receivers. He was the most vulnerable of the Dolphins' cornerbacks
and JJ would like to upgrade that position.
While it's true that Jeffries started at free safety for the
Detroit Lions in 3 games last year, he doesn't stand much of a chance
of bumping Brock Marion out of the starting job. What he could do
(if reports of his competence at nickel back are correct) is to bump
Jerry Wilson out of the 4th cornerback slot against the spread
offensive formations that were used against the Dolphins last year.
JJ has already spent a lot of time working out defensive
schemes for these formations and upgrading players would help complete
Also, Jeffries played for the Lions - which was another
division rival of Dave Wannestedt's Bears in the NFC Central. That
means that Wannestedt saw Jeffries twice a year for the last few
years. Anybody want to bet that Wannestedt didn't have any influence
on this signing?
... I thought not.
As an added bonus, Jeffries has enough experience at safety to
provide depth at that position. But I think that the reason he was
picked up was to compete with Jerry Wilson and provide that extra
So far, I've been talking exclusively about defensive players.
But JJ did bring in a number of offensive players other than Wheatley,
Martin and Gogan, the most significant of which are Willie Green and
I discuss Potts first because he's easier to figure out. JJ
originally picked up Potts towards the end of the 1997 season to play
fullback when Stanley Pritchett was injured. Potts didn't get to play
much, but JJ liked what he saw enough that he tried hard to sign Potts
after the 1997 season. However, because Potts' agent is Ted
Marchibroda's son and because Potts had played for Marchibroda in
Indy, Potts signed with the Ravens...
... where he started for 15 games last year. He didn't do
much running the ball, averaging 3.2 yards per carry, but he did catch
30 passes for 168 yards and 2 TDs. But with Marchibroda getting the
ax in Baltimore, Potts was free to come back to Miami and he did.
I believe that JJ plans to use Potts as he's always used his
fullbacks - as a blocker and an occasional pass catcher. In that
role, Potts may turn out better than Pritchett and could put Pritchett
on the trading block. I think that Potts is more likely to make the
team than Pritchett at this point - if Rob Konrad lives up to
The signing of Willie Green is harder to figure out, although
there were signs of it in 1998. A source that I have learned to trust
told me last year that the Dolphins were very interested in Green and
were considering trying to acquire him from Denver last year. When he
became a free agent this spring, I figured it was just a matter of
What's harder to figure out is why the Dolphins would be so
interested in him. At 6'4" and 191 pounds, he seems to be just a
taller version of Lamar Thomas. And while Thomas has had a few
moments of glory, he is not consistently a dangerous threat.
Now, Willie Green has had some pretty good seasons, but it's
been a while since he was a genuine deep threat. His best season was
in 1995, when he played for the Carolina Panthers. He started 7 games
for them, catching 47 passes for 882 yards and 6 TDs. That's an 18.8
yard per catch average, which is terrific.
Unfortunately, he hasn't done much lately. Since that great
1995 season, he's been pretty average. In the last 2 years, he's only
started 2 games and has averaged less than 13 yards per catch each
Now, there may be something about Green that JJ feels he can
use and/or his experience may give him an edge in training camp. But
if Yatil Green's leg continues to hold up, Willie Green will be
fighting for playing time with Yatil, Oronde Gadsden, Lamar Thomas,
and Nate Jacquet, not to mention Larry Shannon (who is bigger and
probably faster than Willie G.) and the other free agents.
And to top it all off, Willie Green doesn't play special
Now, JJ may know how to use Willie Green better than anyone
else in the NFL, but my feeling is that Willie doesn't have much of a
chance to make the team. JJ is not likely to keep a 5th or 6th wide
receiver who doesn't play special teams, and I can't see Green beating
out Gadsden or a healthy Yatil for a 3rd or 4th WR spot.
Like Fred Barnett, I'm afraid that Willie Green's time has
probably passed. He was an insurance policy that was taken out in
case the Dolphins couldn't get Tony Martin or if Yatil Green doesn't
make it to the regular season - again.
But I don't think the team will need that insurance and will
be canceling the policy in September.
So that completes my look at the important free agents the
Dolphins have signed this year. Remember, please, that this is just
my opinion and if this year is anything like previous years, one of
the players I haven't talked about will step forward and surprise us.
In fact, I've already heard some rumors that cornerback
Emmanuel McDaniel from East Carolina has turned a few heads and could
be a surprise in training camp.
But I think that I've covered most of the guys who have a
chance to contribute this year. When comparing the players that were
available to the ones that JJ has signed, this could turn out to be
the most successful year for free agency that the Dolphins have had
since JJ took over.
But the free agents are only part of the equation. So during
the next few days, I'm going to talk about the other half of the
personnel equation - the draft picks. And even though there's only a
handful of draft picks this year (as compared to past years), these
players have a chance to make as big a difference to this team as any
class of rookies since JJ came to town.
And with training camp coming up shortly, I'd better get busy
and cover the draft picks real soon. Which I will do...
... On Porpoise.
DOLFAN in New Rochelle