I thought I'd take a look at the 2012 Dolphins Salary Cap as a prelude to further discussions on what the Dolphins might or might not do when it comes to free agency and the draft this offseason. Using the following resource, http://nyjetscap.com/Dolphins/dolphins2012.php (yes, I know it is a Jet site, but it seems pretty accurate and has a lot more information than I'm pasting here), I thought it would be good to generate some discussion on how the rest of the 2012 roster could be configured.
Here is a chart showing the player, his 2012 salary cap hit, and how much money would be saved off the salary cap if he was cut (due to dead money, signing bonus, etc.).
As you can see, the Dolphins are in a good, not great situation when it comes to the Salary Cap. I've put players I think who will make the Dolphins next year in BOLD. There will surely be one or two of these players who might be cut due to performance or salary cap reasons (Tony McDaniel possibly), and of course some of the players who I haven't included as an absolute could and will make the team (Wallace, Ridley, Trusnick, etc.). But just to have a starting point, I've included 32 players totaling approximately $99 million in cap space. This leaves the Dolphins needing 21 additional players with approximately $21 million in cap space remaining.
There are also a number of restricted and unrestricted free agents the Dolphins will either retain or look at retaining. Lex Hilliard, Vernon Carey, Will Allen, Paul Soliai, and Kentall Langford are a few of these.
Some initial thoughts:
i think two players you can add on to this list would be either Wallace/Moore WR if they come back healthy, and Medlin who I think the Dolphins like as well as an additional RB. These two players add an addition $950k approximately.
The players who have to worry about their salary cap hit include Tony McDaniel ($3 million in savings) and Yerimiah Bell ($4.35 in savings and age). Both of them are good players, but are potential casualties I believe.
Inside LB is costing the Dolphins a LOT: Burnett and Dansby are costing them almost $17 million this year; that cost has to be close or at the league high for this position.
Position breakdown of needs includes: 2 QB's (for 3 total), 1 RB/FB (for 5 total), 0 WR (for 5 total), 4 OL (for 9 total), 2 TE (for 3 total), 5 DL (for 8 total), 4 LB (for 8 total), 1 DB (for 9 total), and 0 ST (for 3 total). Of course these numbers could be massaged around somewhat depending on personnel and possibly if the Dolphins move to a 4/3 defense or change up their offensive strategy a great deal (more open offense could lead to less TE's possibly). But this gives us a starting point.
Concerns moving into the offseason:
Obviously the biggest concern here is QB. Not only do the Dolphins either need a true starter or at least someone to compete with Matt Moore, they also need a developmental QB better than who they have currently. This could cost some big money to lure someone in depending on who they bring in.
As much drafting as the Dolphins have done on both the offensive line and defensive lines, these two positions on the team need a whopping NINE players! There are options on both sides for returning players (Carey, Feinga, Cook on offense and Langford, Soliai on defense), but these positions could cost some money as well. Langford or Soliai needs to be brought back and will cost some money, and potentially a quality free agent offensive lineman would be nice to have and could cost money as well.
The draft will fill in 6-5 slots at least, with maybe another 1-2 from the free agent rookie pool. This seems to happen every year. These 6-8 positions are typically very low cost with only the first round pick costing more than $1.0 million. So important to hit on the picks this year, not only for back-ups, but for an additional 2-3 starters potentially.
Let's say that the Dolphins are able to fill 12 of the open 19 positions with the draft, rookie free agents, a player or two from above with a low salary, and other 0-1 year free agents, for an average of $500k/year, costing $6 million in salary cap. This would leave the Dolphins SEVEN open slots for $14 million in cap costs for 2012.
With that type of situation, the Dolphins have a few options in signing free agents. They could go for one big contract (like a Manning or Nicks) and fill in the remaining six positions with lower level contracts. They could
try and grab two pretty elite free agents (Grubbs or a quality pass rusher), maybe not the best out there, and fill in with a few lower level and $1 million or so contracts. A third option would be to add one very good player, 3-4 quality players and maybe starters (Gaither, a free safety), and a couple of $1 million contracts.
It seems like the Dolphins are in okay shape with their salary cap. They won't be big spenders on a lot of guys, but they will most likely be able to pull in a few guys the fans will be excited about. The Peyton Manning situation would be the only unique issue that could turn the Dolphins team upside down with a contract (I would imagine he would be looking at a 2-3 year deal, possibly $12-18 million/year with incentives built in for his health).
What would I like to see?
First, in taking care of their own free agents, I think bringing back Hilliard, Langford, and as stated before, Medlin and either Moore/Wallace, would be a good idea. I'm on the fence with Vernon Carey. He might take a low salary to stay in Miami to be a back-up (he has always preferred playing in Miami) and he is a guy who can play tackle or guard. But the new regime will not have any history with him and he has been injured, so I'm thinking it won't happen. I'd like to see Will Allen resigned again, but not sure if that will happen either.
In free agency, my first preference would be to get Peyton Manning. But I won't discuss that option because who knows if it will happen and it would cause everything else to go crazy with that situation. So I'll leave that topic alone in this posting.
So my back-up free agency plan would be to get a really good pass rusher who might be available. Calais Campbell is from Miami, I'd love to see him in a Dolphins uniform. Cliff Avril or Robert Mathis or Cory Redding might also be a good fit for a mid-level price ($3-5 million or less). if you could sneak Mario Williams onto the team for $7-8 million I'd take that as well. My preference is to get an experienced pass rusher rather than finding one in the draft. There seems to be a 50% chance of a bust with rookie pass rushers that scares the crap out of me.
My second free agent signing would be an offensive lineman to challenge at RG or RT. Perfect scenario would be to get Jonathan Gaither at RT to compete with John Jerry and draft David DeMarco as our RG. That would be a dominant offensive line. A second option is to bring in Ben Grubbs and draft one of the 3-4 OT at the top of the draft.
My third priority in free agency is to either get an experienced free safety or a pass catching TE. Both would be great, one or the other would be just fine as well. Not sure who that might be, but it would release the Dolphins from the need to draft one as an absolute need.
In the draft, I'm not a big fan of trading up for RGIII (see other posts). If he falls to the Dolphins, great. If he doesn't, there just seems to be too big of a price to pay to move up. I'd prefer to trade down and pick up and extra 2nd/3rd pick, and in the first four picks draft some combination of OT/OG, pass rusher, free safety, TE. And at some point between the 3-5th rounds, draft a QB like Wheeler or Kellen Moore to groom.
As for a free agent QB (again, Manning would be first choice), if the above scenario happens and the Dolphins don't get RGIII or Luck, then there are few options to compete against Moore. Flynn is certainly available but will be a big cost (negating any chance at a top offensive lineman or pass rusher most likely), or a second tier guy like Campbell or Orten could be a good fit.
Either way, the Dolphins have a lot of work to do and a lot of options to consider. Hopefully they can get their new coaching staff on board quickly (including all the assistants in place) to start the process with Ireland and his crew sooner rather than later.