Miami is about to embark on the most important off-season period in the last decade of the franchise's storied history. The book has been closed on yet another chapter of the post Shula Era. We went from 1-15 with a thoroughly unprepared former OC who was trying out the head coach job for the first time to bringing in a new OC turned head coach to try to right the ship. That strategy failed despite the guidance of Bill Parcells. Now we are trying a hybrid of the last two hires with Ireland joining the hotshot OC turned head coach. The biggest things that doomed Cameron were pathetic talent acquisition and bass-ackward, uber-conservative coaching. The talent acquisition was certainly improved during Sparano's time at the helm but the poor coaching strategy continued which took us from 1-15 to a combined 31-35 (Including playoffs). I have no doubt that Philbin will be different on the coaching front and we will soon get an idea of the talent acquisitions in the next 3 months. So let's take a look at some options for the 2012 Miami Dolphins.
SUMMARY (For those that don't want to read almost 6,000 words)
Signed Matt Flynn, Reggie Nelson, a starting Guard, our RFAs (Hilliard and Murtha), Tyrone Culver and maybe Phillip Merling in free agency. Sign Jake Long, Randy Starks, Tony McDaniel and Richie Incognito to contract extensions. Draft Melvin Ingram (DE/3-4OLB), Mike Adams (OT), Tommy Streeter (WR), Casey Hayward (CB), Jerry Franklin (MLB), Chris Rainey (RB/WR) and Derek Moye (WR). We sign undrafted free agents Case Keenum (QB), Jeff Adams (OT) and Josh Chichester (TE).
Miami's current salary cap standing is a tricky subject. Varying figures are all over the web ranging from $108 million to as much as $114.3 million. I have attempted to independently verify the numbers presented by NJYetscap.com and found them to be accurate for the most part. I found 2 players numbers to be under listed (Dansby & Bush) and several players to be over listed (Bonus money too high) and have yet to find details on 7 others (Incognito, Gates, Thomas, Trusnik, Pruitt, McDaniel & Pouncey). Given that the numbers appear to be higher than the actual, I have corrected the lower numbers for Dansby and Bush and got a salary against the cap of $110, 242, 752. Until otherwise discredited I am going to round that number up to $111 million and use that as a launching point.
We can use exceptions to get to a cap of around $123.4 million without renegotiating a single contract. This gives us a minimum free cap space of $12.4 million right out of the gate. If Jeff Ireland isn't the douche that many Phins fans think he is then he will spend some time freeing up more money by negotiating contract extensions. The principle guys to extend now are Jake Long and Richie Incognito with Randy Starks, Sean Smith, Y. Bell and Fasano as options. It will be interesting to see how Ireland tries to structure these deals to create cap space for 2012. Finhead has pointed out how the salary cap is expected to increase for the 2013 season but it is unknown by how much so some light treading is advisable.
Before we can start drooling over new players to pick up in free agency, we must first consider setting aside money for incoming draft picks and unsigned free agents. For the most part undrafted free agents take care of themselves since several of our players currently under contract will be cut before the end of the league year and won't have bonus money to consider (Futures contracts like Marcus Thigpen) but we should set aside at least $5 million to sign the draft picks (Our draft picks from last season totaled $4.387 million against the cap this coming year but that was only for the 5 players we kept). This puts us up to $116 million before any negotiations begin.
Obviously whatever positions are deepest in the draft should be the lowest priority in free agency and a franchise QB is a big need for Miami so Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn will dictate our external free agency direction and we won't try to sign a high priced free agent if a suitable alternative exists in the draft. The deepest positions in the draft are CB, WR, DE, OT, and DT. We are in need of a CB, DE, and OT so these should be among the first 4 draft picks we make. Remember this for later. How about QB, FS/SS, OG, and TEs? Not so much. There are up to six top 3 round talent at QB, 8 at Guard, 5 at TE and 3 each of FS and SS.This really means we have to leverage our free agency by true needs.
TE - So long as we aren't drafting a TE, Fasano and Clay should be out TE corps in 2012. I would love to see Jermichael Finley here in but it would be big bucks we need to devote to more pressing needs. Besides, Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) should be available to us next year and he should be a suitable replacement for Fasano.
FS/SS - This boils down to what do we do with Yeremiah Bell. If we cut Bell to free up cap space, Reshad Jones should have little trouble sliding over to SS but this leaves big question marks at FS with Culver and Clemons. Both positions are fairly thin in the draft so we would be wise to either sign a FS or a SS that we an bring in for $4.3 million or less. Preferably, Kevin Coyle can convince Reggie Nelson to bring his talents to
South Beach Davie for $3 million or less in 2012. If we signed Nelson to a 5yr/$13 mil contract with a $5 mil signing bonus and a $2 million roster bonus to kick in in 2015 ($20 mil total) we could structure that for a minimum pay day in 2012. Break the salary down as follows: Yr 1: $1.5 mil, Yr 2: $1.75 mil, Yr 3: $2.25 mil, Yr 4: $3.5 mil + $2 mil roster bonus, Yr 5: $4 mil. Now add $1 million a year for the prorated signing bonus and we could replace Bell's $4.3 million cap hit for $2.5 mil in 2012 thus freeing up $1.8 million. Guaranteeing $6 million of the salary and the $5 mil bonus should just about convince Nelson to come here but we could go a little bit higher if need be.
OG - We have the option of trying to bring back Vernon Carey, signing a later draft pick or going after one of the big name guards in free agency. If we do sign a free agent QB, you can kiss Nicks and Grubbs goodbye. The best options here are Jake Scott or bringing back Carey (hopefully he gives us a hometown discount to make it easier).
QB - This will all but certainly take up the overwhelming majority (If not all) of the remaining cap space since neither Manning nor Flynn will come cheap. Flynn could probably be had for similar to Kolb's money which will get him around $4 to $5 million in 2012 but the cost will shoot up in 2013 and likely push $10 million. Still, if we can get Flynn for $5 million in 2012 and Nelson for the contract listed above, we would have taken on $7.5 million in new salaries but would have shed $4.3 million (Bell) for a total increase of $3.2 million in 2012.
Remember we started out with $12.4 million to work with using only a base exception that is available to every team this season. We can also carry over cap savings from 2011 to apply to 2012. I will low ball this estimate to cover the bases and attribute another $2 million (I would be stunned if the number wasn't double that) to our cap space. This now gives us $11.2 million free space ($12.4 mil +$2 mil carry over + $4.3 savings for cutting Bell - $5 mil for Kolb and $2.5 for nelson) . Before everyone gets giddy with excitement over signing some more big names with that $11.2 mil, remember those salaries are going up in 2013 and some space will be needed to cover the increase. We could still attempt to sign a guard like Jake Scott or attempt to bring in Jermichael Finley (If he was interested) but this would be up to which was more important and only if we sign Flynn instead of Manning.
Bearing in mind we still have our own free agents to retain, we would need to resign guys like Langford and perhaps Carey and Phillip Merling (for cheap). Our RFAs (Hilliard, Murtha) should come back on the cheap (<$3 mil combined in 2012). So to recap, we sign Matt Flynn, Reggie Nelson, an Offensive Guard (Likely Carey or Scott but Nicks could potentially be had), our RFAs, Kendall Langford and possibly Merling (If he signs Cheap) and Tyrone Culver for DB depth. We will all but surely try to extend the contracts of Jake Long, Incognito and Starks.
As mentioned earlier, we need to upgrade where the upgrading is good and that means CB, DE, and OT are a must in the draft. We are going to run a heavy dose of 4-3 next year in all liklihood since we already did it nearly half the time in 2011. However, if Coyle does utilize a hybrid scheme he will want a DE that can also stand up and act as a 3-4 OLB. Our CB depth is pathetic. Our best hope for nickel CB (Unless we re-sign W. Allen) is Jimmy Wilson. Clemons or Culver would be involved in the dime. We would be very wise to take advantage of the unreal depth at CB in this draft. There are easily 16-18 3rd round or better talents at CB in this draft so getting one in round 3 is not implausible.We have to find an anchor on that right side to complement Jake Long and solidify a stout O-line. I am going to assume we lose the coin toss to Carolina and pick 9th for the purposes of this mock. Bearing all of this in mind here we go.
ROUND 1 - Pick #9: Melvin Ingram (DE/3-4 OLB - South Carolina)
Quentin Coples is a beast and has lit up Mobile, AL these last 7 days but he may not fall to #9 with the emphasis on pass pressure that is going to be so prevalent this off season in the NFL. Ingram is lighting up the senior bowl this week as well and with the success of the Giants, Texans and others via pass rush there is less and less chance of trading back and still landing Ingram as each day progresses so we will have to take him here. The other big options here are Courtney Upshaw and Whitney Mercilus. My final choice would be based on the measurables, Senior Bowl performances, College Careers and if all are even available at #9. Right now I have it as Coples, Ingram, Mercilus then Upshaw. Since Coples is the highest touted and I don't expect all 4 to make it to #9, I will go with Ingram here over Mercilus and Upshaw.
ROUND 2 - Pick #42: Mike Adams (OT - Ohio State)
In Round 2, Miami can go with either a RT, CB, QB, WR or TE. For all the talk of drafting Tennehill (Due to the hiring of Sherman) or Weeden as a future franchise QB, I can't see us burning a pick on any of the flawed QBs in round 2 when we will have Matt Moore as a backup this season and our starter locked up in free agency. I want Coby Fleener. I'll say it again, I want Coby Fleener. If he is here I would pick him. We don't have to cut Fasano if we draft Fleener but if we get Fleener and he proves capable of replacing Fasano, we can trade or cut Fasano by the end of the year and save over $3.5 million against the cap. The dirty little cap secret is we don't have to be under the cap until the end of the year so this is a tantalizing option. The other option is to shore up the O-line with our new RT. I like Zebrie Saunders but he looks like he needs time to refine his game against pass rushers. I like Nate Potter but he will need to show he can handle both facets of the game and he will need to show up to the combine over 300 lbs. Depending on the workouts at the combine, this pick will switch between Adams, Saunders, Potter or possibly Matt Reynolds (Potter being my preference) but if Fleener is here then the point is moot (At least for me).
ROUND 3 - Pick #73: Tommy Streeter (WR - Go Canes!)
Note: If we did get Fleener in Round 2, this automatically becomes a RT. We've addressed many holes by now (QB, FS, OG, DE, OT or TE) but we have got to get another WR if we are going to run an effective West Coast style offense. Streeter is about 6'3.5" tall and has some big ups to get those high lobs in the red zone. Streeter is still fairly raw at his route running but can stretch the field vertically or sit down in a zone opposite Marshall. The mood around here seems to be the Hartline needs to be replaced. I don't agree with that but Streeter is a prospect that can become an effective #2 opposite Marshall or fall into a 4 wide set with success so I will take him here. Besides, I'm a Canes fan and I have liked what I have seen from him this year. This pick is dependent on the CB prospects but I want Ryan Steed or Casey Hayward and both may very well slip to round 4.
ROUND 4 - Pick # 105: Casey Hayward (CB - Vanderbilt) or Ryan Steed (CB - Furman)
We've addressed many holes by now (QB, FS, OG, DE, OT or TE) but we have got to get another CB. How many times did we here announcers talk about needing 5 CBs on a team today? We currently have Davis, Smith, Carroll, Wilson and some camp bodies. We need a capable CB to leap frog at least Carroll or Wilson. Hayward is a versatile CB that can play both man and zone and can press and play run defense. Hayward has some ball hawk in him as well. Hayward ranked 1st in the SEC (3rd in NCAA) in passes defensed among CBs and was 2nd in the SEC (5th in NCAA) in INTs with 6. Hayward has the potential to actually leap frog Sean Smith so drafting him to serve as a nickel CB is a great choice. Steed has turned Mobile into his own showcase of his skills. Coming from an FCS school already raises questions but Steed's skills speak for themselves. Some scouts even rank Steed higher than Hayward but I would go with Hayward over Steed. If Steed hadn't raised his stock above round 5, I would've drafted them both. Depending on who you ask Hayward can go anywhere from round 2 to round 4 (Even potentially early round 5) and Steed can go anywhere from round 2 to round 4 but if their stock has them both going before Pick 100, then 1 gets picked at #73. If we take a CB over Streeter in Round 3 we can get a WR here or even later.
ROUND 5 - ~Pick #137: Jerry Franklin (ILB - Arkansas)
Round 5 is where Ireland likes to find diamonds in the rough and I doubt anyone accurately mocks his choice for round 5 but we could use this pick to double up on an earlier position here. I could see a WR prospect here but right now I don't see any sure 5th rounders that will be worth using a pick on. For me this pick comes down to one of 2 things, O-Line depth and 4-3 LB. Most are speculating that Dansby and Burnett will be OLBs and Koa Misi will man the Middle. No disrespect to Koa but I don't think he is quick enough to be a great MLB. In his 37 games Franklin has collected 281 tackles, 21.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, 10 pass breakups, five interceptions, two forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Jerry's 40 time is projected to be 0.15 seconds faster than the time Misi put in at the combine in 2010. If Franklin can exceed Misi's performance in the 3-cone, Shuttle, and 10 yard splits than he is a no-brainer here as he provides an upgraded starter at best and some needed depth at worst.
ROUND 6 - ~Pick #187 (From Saints): Chris Rainey (RB/WR/PR - Florida)
This pick may have some scratching their heads but I see major potential for offensive mismatches with Rainey. Rainey is a speedy son of a gun who should post a sub-4.40 time in Indy. Rainey has the potential to line up at any skill position and could be a linebacker's nightmare on 3rd downs. At the least, Rainey is a mismatch. At the best, Rainey can become what most expected Reggie Bush to be. Rainey won't ever be a #1 RB but he could be a fine #2 RB/scat back. If Rainey comes along at a strong pace, we may not fall off too much from not retaining Reggie Bush (It's a possibility so don't go crazy, I'm not suggesting it happens). should that happen.
ROUND 7 - ~Pick #205: Derek Moye (WR - Penn State)
Okay put simply, there are no great positions of need and the linemen that are left are all pretty similar and one can be had as an undrafted free agent. Red Zone Threat with above average hands posted 16.7 yards/catch (2nd best in Big 10) that can potentially serve as a #4 WR. Maybe Moye can manage to unseat Hartline but I doubt it improves us that much (even though some seem to believe Hartline is a big handicap).
UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS
Case Keenum (QB - Houston) Case Keenum posted phenom like numbers at Houston and could easily surpass Devlin as the #3 QB.
Jeff Adams (OT - Columbia) Raw measurables but can be coached to provide depth on the O-line.
Josh Chichester (TE - Louisville) Converted WR (Legit 6'7" and 240 lbs) that could provide a pass catching threat but will have to show a blocking prowess to make practice squad.