What's next for Dolphins in free agency?

With safety Ryan Clark re-signing with the Steelers, many Dolphin fans have been left pondering where the Dolphins will turn next in free agency. Now don't get me wrong, the uneasy feeling I have right now has nothing to do with me loving Clark so much that I'm disappointed we didn't sign him. In fact I said last week that I wasn't so high on Clark, writing that "Clark scares me because he might be too much like the guy we just dumped."

Some think it might be time to second guess the decision in 2008 to let safety Renaldo Hill walk and sign with Denver. That's a fair reaction, I suppose. But don't act like Hill was some great player or anything. In 2008, he was credited with allowing 21 receptions on 35 passes thrown to guys he was covering. And to me, that's not worth a 4 year, $10 million contract like the Broncos signed him to - especially at the age of 30, which he was last offseason.

Of course, Hill was at least a decent guy back there who, if nothing else, did a solid job directing Miami's secondary. He was the "quarterback of the secondary" and was the guy in charge of making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, if necessary. You can't put quantify that kind of role.

Some also think it might be time to second guess the decision to release Gibril Wilson when they did last Friday rather than waiting to see how they intended replace him. That's also a fair criticism - and one that I do agree with. At the same time, we don't know if the Dolphins might have really needed the money that was saved by Wilson's release to aid in the signing of Karlos Dansby. If that is indeed the case, then this front office did what it had to do.

But now we are left to ponder what the Dolphins will do next to address this issue. Despite filling one major need by signing Dansby, the Dolphins also now have two new big needs - one at free safety and the other at nose tackle, following Jason Ferguson's eight game suspension, if he even decides to play football in 2010.

The popular solution being thrown around by many fans is to sign restricted free agent safety O.J. Atogwe to an offer sheet. The Rams used the lowest tender on him, meaning they only have the right of first refusal (aka the ability to match the offer) but receive no draft pick compensation should St. Louis choose not to match. I'll admit that I do like Atogwe a lot. He's a very good coverage safety - exactly what the Dolphins need. He'll be just 29 when the season rolls around, too. But with the Rams having the ability to match any offer, you have to wonder how much money it would cost to sign away their former franchise player. And it's not like the Rams have dumb football people running their team. So it's a red flag, in my opinion, if a team so low on overall talent is willing to let one of their best defensive players leave with no compensation in return.

Another idea being tossed around - which I tweeted a few hours before I wrote this article - is to bring back Wilson on a far smaller contract. It's not a terrible idea. As much as we all hated him last year, perhaps he could improve now that he's familiar with his teammates and we have a guy like Mike Nolan running the defense. You never know - don't rule this possibility out. It's not like other teams are knocking down the door to meet with Gibril.

Another possible way to handle this turn of events might have nothing to do with the free safety position at all - at least not in free agency. The Dolphins could look to sign (or trade for) a player at another position of need - say nose tackle, for example - and then use an early draft pick on a free safety. As you all know, my fantasy would be for Eric Berry to land in Miami some how on draft night. More realistically, though, is Texas safety Earl Thomas. He doesn't have as high of a ceiling as Berry, in my opinion, but is a tremendous prospect in his own right. He's a ball hawk. He's fast. He makes plays. So the draft is clearly an option to fill the void at free safety. And if the Dolphins bring in a player prior to the draft at one of their other big positions of need (nose tackle, outside linebacker, wide receiver), that could give us a clue as to how they plan on addressing the FS spot.

Of course, they could also be content with a Tyrone Culver/Chris Clemons training camp competition to fill the hole at free safety. I, for one, am not totally comfortable with this. Culver has shown some flashes as a solid third safety and I think he's quite good in that role. But I haven't seen enough of him to feel confident he could start for this club.

And don't get me started on Clemons. Yes - he's a kid who has all the physical tools to be a very good safety. He's got speed. He's got hands. He seems like a solid tackler. But it takes more than that to be good at the position. The question I have about Clemons is if he's mentally ready to take on such a huge role in just his second season. He saw limited action as a rookie, too, and yet so many Dolphin fans are ready to just hand him the starting job. I don't get it. What have these fans seen out of Clemons to think he's ready to start in the NFL? Personally, I haven't seen nearly enough. And if it was a competition between Clemons and Culver, my money is definitely on Culver.

Then, of course, is the radical idea of trying to convert cornerback Will Allen to safety. It's not a terrible idea, either. But I just don't know if he'd have enough time to learn the position while he also continues his rehab from a torn ACL.

Whatever the Dolphins do to address this need, though, won't be nearly as important as the progression of Miami's two young corners. If Sean Smith and Vontae Davis continue to improve and mature, then we wouldn't have to rely on our safeties nearly as much. Hopefully these two kids are ready to step up to the next level - and quickly.

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