by: Jared Nagle
Is it too early to be talking about this? Absolutely!!
That said, considering we need a Buffalo Bills road win or the Ravens to lose out to make playoffs, it seems poignant to being to discuss off season goals. If anything, considering there is still evaluation to do for this season, and previous games our fresh in our minds, it is as good a time as ever to talk about this.
After thoroughly inspecting the roster from top to bottom, what I found is that the needs on this team are far less then they were at this point last season. Entering last off-season, in my mind this team had question marks one way or another at RB, WR, TE, NT, OLB, ILB, CB and FS. I would include quarterback on that list, but frankly, many of us truly believed in Chad Henne this time last year.
With the additions of Brandon Marshall, Karlos Dansby, Koa Misi and Mike Nolan, and the emergence of Chris Clemons, Vontae Davis, Cameron Wake and Paul Soliai on defense, most of the biggest problems from last season were clearly solved. Last year’s biggest problem IMO was defense and a lack of offensive playmakers. This regime clearly addressed those problems, as the defense has become borderline elite, and though Brandon Marshall has been injured and held back by this coaching staff’s conservative philosophy, he is still a clear upgrade and no.1 WR with big time playmaking ability.
Yet, we still sit here at 7-6, the exact place we were a year ago, with little to no chance of returning to the playoffs for what would be only the second time since 2001. While our big issues were solved last off-season, what seemed like smaller issues in 2009 came to the forefront this season, and new roster issues have clearly arose in 2010. What is so troubling about this regime is that many fans had the foresight going into last off-season to call for the team to look for a young tight end and running back in the draft. Of course, the team felt comfortable with what they had at those spots, and subsequently those have been two of our biggest problems on offense in 2010. With all of the talented running backs that have come into the league in the last few years, and especially considering the Arian Foster’s of the world, I find it to be a huge indictment of this regime that we don’t have a talented young running back on this roster. Ronnie Brown was injured severely again last season, and Ricky Williams was heading into his age 33 season in 2010. How could they justify not using a draft pick on a running back or even bringing in a talented undrafted back such as Chris Ivory or Legarrette Blount?
Though tight end is admittedly less of a primal issue (unless you ask Omar Kelly), the fact is this team needs a second tight end who can stretch the field much the way David Martin did in 2008. All season Sparano has been playing musical chairs with the likes of Jeron Mastrud, John Nalbone, Mickey Shuler and the latest, Dedrick Epps. Fact is, these guys have made Joey Haynos look like a stud. It is so troubling that none of these tight ends have caught a ball this season. I don’t even believe they have been thrown too. It is just odd considering the amount of snaps the second tight end receives in this offense. I am not a coach, but I believe the Dolphins make a defensive coordinator’s job that much easier when they show on tape time and time again that they will never throw to their second TE. I am a big fan of Anthony Fasano, but the team needs another tight end who has pass catching ability and who can maybe stretch the field in the way Fasano can not.
While the issues at tight end and running back were foreseeable last off-season, more issues with this team have come to the forefront during the 2010 season. We will start with the obvious…
I believe the number one priority of this regime going into the off-season (assuming Ireland and Sparano return which I don’t see as a given pending the final three games) is bringing in a young QB to push Chad Henne.
If I am being honest, I still find myself a fan of Chad Henne. There is no doubting he has struggled at times this season, and recently he has stuggled mightily. In my mind, at the very least Henne is a competent starting QB in this league. What I mean is, the game is not too big for him, and his floor is as a poor starter or high level backup. I blame Henne’s recent apparent incompetence on injuries at WR and along the offensive line, and a lack of a running game which has plagued his development all season long. Imagine what the other young QBs in the league would do with one of the league’s worst running games? I bet Mark Sanchez would have nosedived long before December.
Therefore, my official stance is that the jury is still out on Chad Henne. I expected to have a better handle on him by this point, but there are too many circumstances working against him that are out of his control to make an official determination. Aside from the injuries and lack of running game, I also find the coaching staff to be a huge detriment to Henne’s development. Dan Henning and Tony Sparano, I am talking to you!
I believe that Chad Henne deserves the chance to succeed in this league and I don’t believe he has been given that opportunity just yet. That’s why, even though many believe it is time to give up on Henne, I believe he should return next season to compete for his starting job.
However, no where in my long rant have I said I believe Henne is the answer. I just believe there are too many questions left unanswered to make a final call on him. Like most of you, I don’t feel comfortable going into next season with Henne as a clear cut starter. As unfair as things have been, Henne has made many mistakes this season that are his fault alone (interceptions), and he hasn’t shown much since week 3 against the Jets to tell me he has franchise QB capabilities. I recall that game was the last time I remarked to a fellow fan I believed he was playing at a high level.
I believe this team should invest a high draft pick on a QB in the 2011 draft. It is time to go all in on a QB. This team in the last 10 years has passed on Drew Brees (twice,), Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. Dave Wannstedt actually chose CB Jamar Fletcher over Drew Brees in the 2001 draft even when the team had Pro Bowlers Patrick Surtain and Sam Madison at corner. If it wasn’t for Nick Saban’s misjudgment of Aaron Rodgers in 2005, or his choosing of Daunte Culpepper over Drew Brees in 2006, or the trifecta going safe and taking Jake Long over Matt Ryan (Yea I said it), then well, maybe QB is the least of our concerns. Just maybe, we are talking home field advantage instead of our .01% chance of making playoffs. But I digress…
Though I would love to draft Andrew Luck, Ryan Mallet, or Cam Newton, the fact is it is very unlikely we will be in position to draft one of these players without making a trade. And plus, our lack of a 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft makes it unlikely we can move up high enough from our likely spot somewhere between 15 and 20. So while I believe are number one priority is getting a young QB of the future to push Henne, as Bill Parcells says, “You can’t just call 1-800-GETAQB.” It remains to be seen if this team will have the opportunity to upgrade the QB position.
Running back, on the other hand, is a position that can and will be upgraded and the team should look towards free agency and the draft to fill this need. I believe one of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will return next season, but not both. If I had my druthers, I would want Ricky Williams back, but I believe Ronnie is the more likely to return given his age. The fact nobody wants to face in Miami is that Ricky even at 33 is the more effective back at this point in their careers. Injuries have zapped Brown’s playmaking ability and if he returns this year hopefully it is in a no.2 role as essentially a third down back. There are a few desirable options in free agency, namely DeAngelo Williams from the Panthers, but I believe it is also important to get a young speed back in the fold. Using a mid round pick on a RB would be a smart move and one that I believe should have been made last off-season. We haven’t drafted a RB before the 6th round since 2007, and unfortunately that pick (Lorenzo Booker, 3rd round) is no longer a member of this team. If Cam Cameron saw that this team needed a young back all the way back then, how could the trifecta be so shortsighted? It baffles me every week I watch this horrendous rushing attack.
Clearly, mainly because of their importance, QB and RB our this teams two biggest need areas. I want to return to my initial point. I said that this team has less holes then they did this time last year, and I believe that to be true. However, IMO the holes that now exist are even more important then the ones a year ago. Last year we needed defensive help, and we needed a WR. Now, we need a talented young QB in a QB driven league, and we no longer have an effective rushing attack which is the key to a successful offense under a young QB.
In my mind, there are a few other areas that need resolving. I think it is clear Joe Berger is a strong backup but a less then adequate starter. Adding a starting caliber center in the off-season would go along way in returning this rushing attack to previous form. Richie Incognito moving over is a possibility, but then the guard spot would be thinner and I do not want to count on John Jerry or Nate Garner going into next season without depth and talent pushing them. My hope for next season is Garner returns and is our top reserve, Jerry progresses and locks down the LG spot, Incognito is re-signed and remains at RG, and we pick up a center in FA or the draft and Berger becomes a fine backup.
As I have said previously, I believe getting a second TE is a need. However, this can be achieved in the second wave of free agency or in the middle rounds of the draft, so I consider it a secondary need. Other places where the team could use upgrading IMO is at safety and wide receiver. I believe Reshad Jones, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace all have potential, but I am not willing to bet on these players without brining in more young talent to compete with them. Yeremiah Bell is not getting any younger and I believe next season will be his last with the team. Also, this team needs speed on offense and a speedy WR could really compliment Marshall, Hartline and Bess well. That guy might be Moore or Wallace, but as undrafted free agents they will need to earn their keep again next training camp.
Here is my tentative off-season plan:
Re-sign: Paul Soliai longterm (Use tag if needed; he is too valuable), Richie Incognito, Joe Berger, Ricky or Ronnie, and Quentin Moses.
Release: Chad Pennington and Will Allen
I think ultimately Tony McDaniel will walk. He is starting caliber and will be paid as such in free agency. Still, I think it is an outside possibility the team could shop Randy Starks and keep McDaniel as the top backup to Kendall Langford and Jared Odrick. We will see, but trading a 7th round pick for McDaniel is one move in a long line of great moves by our FO in building this defense up (Haters just let the Gibril Wilson thing go, ok?)
In Free agency and/or the draft the following positions must be addressed (in order of importance):
One final note on the off-season, I believe it would be wise to sign Cameron Wake and Kendall Langford to long term extensions in the off-season. God this regime knows how to build a front seven on defense, if only they didn’t screw up the offense so bad!
In conclusion, yes we are stuck in that 7-9 to 9-7 limbo that is ever so frustrating. This season, questions were answered, yet new, bigger questions have arose. For the first time in a long time, this team has a top unit (defense). IMO, that makes them improvements on offense from becoming elite. If Jeff Ireland and Tony Sparano are going to be here long term, they will fix the offense this off-season, and not create new problems of their own doing heading into 2011. We are close guys, we aren’t there yet, but we are a few moves away. Take solace in that if it’s possible.