The NFL Draft builds your house.
NFL Free Agency allows you to make upgrades to that house. Those statements are somewhat flexible, but mostly true if you ask NFL people. Starting March 9 the Miami Dolphins will look to make upgrades to a playoff team in 2016. Certainly they will make those plans with the draft in mind. The areas they feel like the draft won’t be able to address will be the areas they attack in free agency. That sets the game-plan. To me, here are the keys to a successful free agency for the Dolphins.
First, the Dolphins are above the middle of the NFL pack with dollars to spend in free agency with right around $42 million. That number will be adjusted, probably on an upward curve when they trade Branden Albert to Jacksonville and acquire TE Julius Thomas. You also have to take out money for rookies. Miami has 7 picks with the 3 compensatory picks in addition to the 4 they possessed previous. Based on this article, I’d estimate Miami will need around $4.5 million to account for the draftees. That should leave right around $40 million for them to spend in free agency.
So how should they attack free agency?
- Let WR Kenny Stills walk. Yes, he was a big play-maker for Miami last year, but his TD per 5 catches is clearly unsustainable. Even the greatest play-makers can’t pull off that trick consistently, so the Dolphins #3 WR definitely can’t. Aside from that, you simply can’t invest $8 million or more annually in your third receiver. Miami traded up for and drafted Leonte Caroo out of Rutgers. Time for him to step up. They also are adding Julius Thomas to make plays. I’d give Ted Ginn or Marquis Goodwin a call if they’re looking for a speedster to compliment the rest of the receiving group. Perhaps their price tags will be more affordable.
- Spend big bucks on a guard. Technically, the Dolphins need a pair of guards. But they definitely should invest in either Kevin Zeitler (CIN) or TJ Lang (GB). The top left guards go for around $5 million per season and it’s too big of a need to ignore, and/or leave it up to rookies to handle the role. One rookie, sure. Two, no way. This should be step one. Miami functioned at it’s highest level when they had their best 5 guys healthy and playing last season, which was rare, but getting back to that is important to allow the offense to take another step forward. The Dolphins had some highlights, but were still only 17th in the NFL in scoring. Not good enough.
- Add a defensive tackle. See if Calais Campbell wants to come to Miami. That’s my second call in free agency. The former Canes player is a free agent and the Cards have a ton of cap issues and others to sign. Jordan Phillips is better served as the 3rd tackle in rotation. The Dolphins MUST improve against the rush, and getting Ndamukong Suh some help would be of great benefit. Dontario Poe would be fantastic, but I think KC will find a way to keep him and Eric Berry.
- Resign Andre Branch. Resign Kiko Alonso. Resign Dion Sims. These three should come relatively inexpensive and provide Miami with some reliability. It’s not a death-blow to lose any of the three, but that’s just another piece to replace if it happens.
- Pursue a versatile linebacker. There aren’t many I love, but I’d sign MLB Zach Brown. Was a big fan of his in college and with Tennessee and he came up big for the Bills last year. Miami needs a pair of starting linebackers (3 if we don’t count Alonso), and while I’m open to drafting two, you may not land two starters in the draft and should have some plan for a veteran in free agency.
If I’m the Dolphins my draft focus is adding 1-2 impact linebackers, 2-3 defensive linemen, and a pair of offensive linemen, ideally both interior (G/C). Miami needs quite a bit of help for a 10-win team, but I believe it’s a doable chore. I think defensive ends and linebackers will be easier (and better) to come by in the draft than in free agency. The Dolphins have enough money to add 3 impact players and keep the 3 that impacted them positively a season ago. Hopefully they’ll be able to execute this plan and build on what they did in 2016.