Keep Sparano as Head Coach, Let Nolan figure out this defense's problems.
Before deadline, attempt to trade Marshall for 2 picks at least a 2nd rounder or better and a 3rd this year or consecutive 2nd round picks. If offer comes from a team that looks like they will pick before #20 in each round then pull the trigger. Otherwise, keep Marshall. Failing a Marshall trade, keep the team intact and quit signing practice squad players and ex-Cowboys.
Fire Sparano January 4th. Retain Ireland.Attempt to woo your new head coach from retirement or look for a top Coordinator to hire as a head coach. Might I suggest Joe Philbin (Offensive Coordinator for Green Bay) as my personal choice? Everyone is looking at Cowher, Gruden , and Fischer but I like what I see out of Green Bay's offense and Philbin has done some great things with that offense and has been installed in a Super Bowl Champions locker room for the last 4 going on 5 seasons (2007-2011). If you want to question just how much of that success is due to Philbin, just examine the year before he arrived (Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006 and had Jeff Jagodzinski as his OC) and his first season on the job.
-In 2006 GB scored 301 pts (22nd) tallied 5458 yds (9th) for a 5.0 yds/ply average (T-19th) and picked up 301 1st downs (13th). GB passed for 350 completion on 630 attempts for a comp % of 55.6 () with 18 TDs (T-20th), 18INTs (T-19th) and a net yrdge of 5.8 yds/att (T-17th) while picking up 185 1st downs through the air (10th).GB rushed for 1663 yds on 431 attempts for 9 TDs (T-23rd) and 3.9 Yds/Att (T-18th) while collecting 93 1st downs on the ground (22nd)
-In 2007 GB scored 435 pts (4th), gained 5,931 yds (2nd) for a 6.0 yds/ply average (T-2nd) and picked up 307 1st downs (T-12th). GB passed for 383 completion on 578 attempts for a comp % of 66.3 () with 30 TDs (T-6th), 15INTs (T-11th) and a net yrdge of 7.3 yds/att (3rd) while picking up 210 1st downs through the air (7th). GB rushed for 1597 yds on 388 attempts for 13 TDs (T-13th) and 4.1 Yds/Att (T-11th) while collecting 69 1st downs on the ground (29th)
You do have to take note that Brett Favre was the QB for BOTH of those seasons so there wasn't any great change under center. Also of note is how Aaron Rodgers has flourished under Philbin. In garbage time Rodgers went from a comp % of 40.0 in 2006 to 71.4 in 2007 and saw his QB rating jump from 48.2 to 106.0. Seeing as we are about to draft a new QB (In all likeliness) I want Philbin shepherding his career. Green Bay's offense has stayed in the top 10 in yds/game every season that Philbin has been there (2nd-2007, 8th-2008, 6th-2009, 9th-2010, 8th-2011). Hire Philbin as Head Coach and let him call the offense or hire a head coach that will accept Philbin as his OC.
Now that we have the man at the top and play caller signaled out. Let's re-load this team. The Dolphins are hurting at RT, RG, FS, Rush LB, and nickel CB. They will almost certainly be hurting at NT after this season since they were unable to lock down Soliai before the deadline (one of only 2 Franchise tags not to be signed I believe). This clearly means we have some work to do as far as improving the team but what about keeping the team's strengths intact. Check out Miami's free agents to come this offseason:
Vernon Carey ($2.5 mil), Chad Henne ($555K), Lex Hilliard (RFA-$480K), Kendall Langford ($1.4 mil), Jeron Mastrud (ERFA-$405K), Phillip Merling ($770K), Lydon Murtha (RFA-$480K), Igor Olsahnsky (??? likely $760K 8yr-veteran minimum), Steve Slaton ($1.2 Mil), Paul Soliai ($12.38 Mil), Austin Spitler (ERFA-$405K), Jason Taylor (??? at least $860K veteran minimum) for a total of $22.2 million
Well, let's see we can start with the obvious and eliminate Soliai's franchise $$, we should dump Vernon Carey, Olshansky, and Slaton or Hilliard since locking both up will require more than $2 mil and neither is set to start. I think we will go with Slaton since Clay should be taking over Hilliard's spot and D. Thomas looking so strong. I however, will let go of Slaton. The good news is that this will save us anywhere from $16 million to ~$17 million (~$18 million if Taylor retires AND we sign Hilliard instead of Slaton) to go put towards the other free agents and locking down draft picks/signing other free agents.
If we are drafting a QB we will not need Moore and Henne. Moore is currently under contract through 2012 on a 2-year $5 million deal. I don't know how that is weighted but if Moore is making $2.5 million a year to sit on our sideline in 2012 I would just as soon trade/dump Moore (I will take a 7th rounder if necessary) and use his salary to sign Henne to a 2-3 year deal at roughly $2.5 million a year plus a signing bonus of $0.5 million. Next question, do we want Merling or Langford? I would rather have Langord but he is going to command more money than Merling will given performance and off the field issues. Personally, I still take Langford and sign him to a 2-3 year deal worth between $2-3 million a year if I can't lock him down to a longer deal with more money backloaded. I would sign Hilliard for $750K-$900K as a nod to his special teams play and dump Slaton.
So to sum that all up, let Carey (-$2.5 Mil), Olshansky (-$760K), and Slaton (-$1.2 Mil) go. Trade/release Matt Moore (-$2.5 Mil) and Merling (-$770K). Sign Henne (+$3 Mil), Langford (+1.5 Mil), Hilliard (+900K)
For those keeping score we have trimmed<strong> $2.33 million </strong>off of our payroll while signing a proven (average) starter to be a QB, locked down Langford, signed our #3 RB and our remaining FA are either likely to retire (JT), RFAs or ERFAs (Hilliard if we go with him over Slaton, Mastrud, Murtha, and Spitler) that will command less than $1 mil (Max) to keep, not going to come back unless we overpay (Soliai) or are expendable (Carey, Olshansky). Let's say we re-sign Mastrud (won't need to if we draft a TE but no more than $600K), Murtha (2yr-$2.2 mil), and Spitler (No more than $600K) and we are now looking at having dealt with our own free agents (except Soliai) without having spent a dime extra against the cap. As for NT, either we re-sign Soliai for $8.5 million a year over 3 years with $13.5 million guaranteed or we will have to overpay for what has still been a career of only 1 good year. Then again, we could move on elsewhere. The unfortunate part is that there are very few good NTs available in the draft and we aren't likely to land a good NT in free agency but we could at least go back to the Randy Starks experiment there if we can't land Josh Chapman in the later rounds. If Soliai can get more money elsewhere then he will be gone. I tell Soliai take the deal or walk. I wouldn't be shocked if he walks but I wouldn't be shocked if he takes it either. Should Soliai sign we will have reduced his salary by $3.88 million and if he walks we will now have $12.38 million left to work with in addition to our remaining cap space to put towards free agents.
Free Agency Acquisitions
So we are now needing help at RT, RG, FS, Rush LB, and nickel CB. Unfortunately, effective rush LBs aren't very available in free agency in 2012 and those that are are either old, or aren't going anywhere. One of "best" free agent options may be Marcus Benard (Cleveland) but he is a big question mark as an every down player and more suited to situational pass rushing. Looks like a draft need.
-As for Free Safety, I could see going after Michael Griffin but we would have to almost certainly overpay for him. Griffin could also catch the franchise tag from Tennessee. The same can unfortunately be said for Laron Landry. The difference is that Washington has their contract situation tight. The Redskins really have nobody else to put the franchise tag on for the 2012 offseason whereas Tennessee has several potential tags to play. IF, and I mean big IF, Griffin is available to us, we must get him signed. Griffin is currently making $3.31 million. He will easily command top dollar and we should give it to him. Sign Griffin to a 5 year deal worth $25 million and give him a signing bonus of $1.5 million and include a roster bonus of $2.5 million to kick in after the 2015 season. Get him for less IF POSSIBLE. Trade Tyrone Culver (FOR ANYTHING you can get) I'll take a 7th or just release him to make room (Financially and Depth chart). This would set our FS for the foreseeable future AND would only cost us just over $5.5 mil for the first season after dumping Culvers $800K salary. Dump Ryan Cook (Due $1 million next year-for a backup center?!?!) and the first year from Griffin will set us back $4.7 million. This mean we would have between $820K (Soliai signs) and $7.68 million (Soliai walks) surplus from this year's salary after releasing several FA and expendable players.
-Turning to guard, we can make a run at an available free agent or just sit back and wait for the draft. I am liking many of the guard prospects (especially Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin) so I think I will leave this for the draft.
-Also of note is the TE spot. Fasano has been a mixture of brilliant and bust in Miami and if possible should lose his #1 TE spot to a new face or at least see significant reduction in targets as a new receiving TE takes the QB's eyes away from Fasano. The real question is where does the new TE come from? There are some HUGE names in free agency but most of them will be going nowhere and why pay FA money for somebody that is no better than Fasano? Fasano is due $3.6 million next season (up from $1.9) but the objective isn't to save money, it's to improve the position (Yeah I know it isn't my money). TE should get addressed in the draft. If we finish in the top 5 picks per round, we should have a shot at getting Dwayne Allen at the top of round 2 so no free agency needed. The option to release Mastrud ($600K) or Fasano ($3.6 million) would exist if we get Allen and odds are Fasano gets the ax if cap space gets scarce.
Nobody knows what the 2012 salary cap will be but the safe bet is between $115 and 125 million. I will keep to the $120 million established for this year. Bearing in mind our cap space (last reported around $9 million) and the current savings (Between $820K and $7.68 million) and we will hopefully have enough room to sign all of our draft picks. On to the draft.
Presumably, after having kept Sparano and going through our schedule we will have won 6 games or fewer (Likely fewer) and will be drafting somewhere between 3rd and 10th. I am going to presume based on the last 2 seasons that a 5 win team will pick 5th and that is where I will assign our draft picks. After free agency (Admittedly little was addressed) we are now needing help at RT, RG, Rush LB, and nickel CB as well as could use big upgrades at QB and TE.
Round 1, #5 Overall - Landry Jones (QB-Oklahoma). If Brantley is still around he may get the nod here instead but I expect him to go 4th (just to piss us off) to Seattle. This is a passer-driven league and Jones has blue-chipper written all over him so the upgrade need gets addressed over the other spots.
Round 2, #37 Overall - Dwayne Allen (TE-Clemson). We get our new QB and now give him another big target to go with Marshall, Hartline, Bess, and Gates. Again upgrading the passing game is a must.
Round 3, #69 Overall - Matt Reynolds (OT, BYU). Have you seen all of the OTs in this draft or how many are slotted as second round talents? Somebody is falling into round 3 and that is who we draft here. Reynolds has some really quick feet for a 325 pounder and looks very strong against bull-rushes.
Round 4, ~#101 Overall - Chase Thomas (OLB-Stanford). OLB is another position stocked with talent and Thomas has everything we need plus the added bonus of coming from a 4-3 defense that was converted to a 3-4 in Thomas' Junior year. Thomas is more suited to the 3-4 OLB spot and notched 7.5 sacks last season to go with 11.5 tackles for loss. Misi got close to that in his senior year but never put up those kinds of numbers.
Round 5, ~#133 Overall - Braden Hansen (G-BYU). 3-year starter at BYU from day 1 of his freshman year. BYU has a good O-line and putting its right side linemen next Pouncey would spell instant upgrade from Carey-Colombo. You also cannot underestimate the aid to a new QB to have two guys next to each other on the line that know each other as well as Reynolds and Hansen do.
Round 6, ~#165 Overall - Jamell Fleming (CB-Oklahoma). God, drafting all these Oklahoma guys is breaking my Hurricanes heart but my Dolphins come first. Fleming has some really good tools and was a sure 2-4th rounder. He was named to the All Big-XII team after his 5 INT, 71 tackle season before being suspended last spring due to academic dishonesty (Cheating). Hey, the Jimmy Wilson has played after a year in prison has me thinking a flier on Fleming isn't such a bad idea.
Round 7, ~#197 Overall - Stephen Good (G-Oklahoma). I prefer Jaymes Brooks (G-VaTech) but I don't think both Brooks and Good settle to round 7 so I will take Landry Jones current guard. Has played multiple O-line positions and has the size (If not the Bulk) to play OT if injury should require it.
Summary (Yes I know it needs one badly given the length)
We will have upgraded every major deficiency with round 3 or higher talent except for RG and nickel corner and those spots can be filled by the later round picks. Is there anyone that believes Jones would struggle over his first 3 seasons with Philbin coaching, Dwayne Allen at TE, the Reynolds-Hansen combo on his right next to Pouncey with Long and Incognito on the left, and our receivers and running game (which will improve big time with the revamped O-Line and Thomas carrying the load)? We also have an elite-caliber FS manning the middles of the field and potentially keep Soliai in the middle while adding an improved pass rusher opposite Cam Wake with Chase Thomas.
Sorry it was so long but there is my 2 cents (All 8 hours worth of it).