Most of the info from below either came from NFLDraftWizard.com or CBSSports.com. Going into 2012, many felt that Miami was in a rebuilding year. With that being very clear, Miami was very conservative in free agency, and it almost looked like a trial year for the new staff to see what they have and decide what they want to keep/toss. Richard Marshall (at 3/$15) was the only multi-year contract signed, so now there are several free agents coming up at the end of this year with a ton of money and a boat loaf of draft picks.. Keeping that in mind, here's how I feel this offseason should play out:
The projected 2013 cap is $120.9 Mil. Miami will have about $1.6 Mil in dead cap space from Vontae and Clyde Gates. They have $68.77 Mil in existing contracts. Rookies will take up about $7 Mil to sign. That leaves $43.53 in cap space that the Dolphins will have to re-sign their own and play in free agency.
Here's the quick view - KEEP: S. Smith, B. Hartline, C. Clemons, A. Fasano, R. Starks, Matt Moore, N. Garner, J. Trusnik, and A. Spitler. LET WALK: J. Long, R. Bush, T. McDaniel, Marlon Moore.
And if you want to see how those decisions were made, keep reading. Free agents will be listed in bold. Most of my expected contracts are pretty probably a little high. Some of the players may give Miami a hometown discount.. If they do, great, that's more for Free Agency, but I'd rather have reasonable expectations.
CBs: S. Smith, R. Marshall, N. Carroll, J. Wilson, R. Stanford, M. Coe, B. McCann
They MUST keep Smith. Even If Marshall played the whole season and proved that he could hold his own against some top receivers, nobody else has stepped up to show they are starting material. As it turns out, Marshall has had season ending back surgery.. So there's no guarantee of whether he'll be the same when he returns. Smith has a very rare skillset and has stepped up this year, but he's not a shut-down corner, yet. Even if Miami were to let him walk, they'd need to find a high-end replacement. I expect them to go with the player they know. Based on comparable deals, it's safe to expect that Smith will get a contract in the 10 mil a year range.
WR: B. Hartline, D. Bess, R. Matthews, Marlon Moore
Even if you added Megatron to this group and let Hartline go, it would be below average overall. I've been high on Hartline for awhile, but don't feel that he is a #1. However, he's an ideal #2 and Bess is an ideal #3. $6 mil a year should be a fair estimate for what it would take to keep Hartline in Miami after his breakout season and add another starting caliber WR. Matthews has come on nicely these last couple weeks, but I'm not willing to sit still on this group. Marlon Moore could easily come back. He's just not a high priority for me. Special Teams ace.. but can't overpay for those.
Safeties: R. Jones, C. Clemons, T. Culver, A. Russell
This defense is designed around letting Jones make plays and he's flourished. He's very playing at a Pro Bowl level, and is very deserving. Behind Wake, he has been the most dominant defender. Clemons is a high priority FA, not because he is not replaceable. But, nobody else on Miami's roster can play centerfield the way he can, he compliments what they are doing with Jones well, and he won't be that expensive to keep. At about $3 mil a year, I don't think it's worth letting him walk and hoping to find a replacement (Although I'd like to see a mid-round pick to compete).
TE: A. Fasano, C. Clay, J. Mastrud, M. Egnew
Fasano is having a bit of a down year and is average at best as a receiver. However, you know exactly what you're getting. The 2 names I've seen as Fas are J. Cook from Ten. However, I saw recently that he's leading the team in targets since the bye. I think it's unlikely they let their young #1 target leave. The other one is Dustin Keller. Keller is a terrible blocker and a severely inconsistent blocker. The TE market was slow last year, and I expect the same this year. Clay has developed nicely the last few weeks as a weapon in the passing game, but he's not an in-line TE, he's an H-Back. Egnew is also likely a lock to make the 2013 roster due to his draft status, and hasn't been active in 2012. With 2 young receiving TEs already locks to make the roster, I say they go with the known commodity in Fasano and keep him at about $4 mil a year.
Wake has had another monster year rushing the passer. Nobody has helped him. That may be the single biggest issue with the team this year. Odrick should be moving back down to DT to make room for a FA or draft pick to start at RDE since Vernon has not shown that he can be handed that position. With Soliai entrenched as one of the starters, I don't see Miami bringing back Starks AND McDaniel. Based on comparables, I'd expect Starks to get around $6 mil a year. Soliai's contract could throw a wrench in this one. He got 8 mil a year, but he also serves as the lynchpin to the hybrid by being versatile to play NT and DT. Odrick can fill the same roles that Starks does with very little drop-off. If Starks demands any more than 6 mil a year, I move to McDaniel who's last deal was 2 year $6 mil (so 3 a year). I'd imagine that he could be had again at a very similar pricepoint.
QBs: R. Tannehill, M. Moore, P. Devlin
Matt Moore is the perfect backup. He's a gamer, he's a gunslinger, he's not a threat to Tannehill's confidence. Coaches like him, teammates love him. He's a great teammate even to Tannehill. He's lost 3 competitions in a row (Carolina, Henne, THill), so I don't think that there's going to be a huge market for him as a starting QB. $3 mil a year is money well spent to keep him around.
OL: J. Long, R. Incognito, M. Pouncey, J. Jerry, J. Martin, W. Yeatman, N. Garner, J. Samuda
Nate Garner has to stay. Yeatman has high potential, but is a converted TE. Garner has a chance to audition for a starting job, and even if he doesn't get one, he's the only experienced backup and a very versatile and inexpensive backup to retain. Ugh. Now I start getting into players that I'd let walk. Jake would be the 1st. He is my favorite player and the 1st jersey I convinced myself to get. However, he hasn't been himself this year and is going to cost a lot to keep around. Martin has been sufficient at RT, and is a more natural LT. If he holds up the remainder of the season, Miami could let Jake walk even if he's signed at a bargain elsewhere ($8 mil? a season). Plenty of teams have shown that you don't need an elite LT to succeed in this league and Miami can't afford a luxury if they have capable players in the wings.
RB: R. Bush, D. Thomas, L, Miller, M. Thigpen, J. Lane
RB market is almost always weak. Bush signed a 2 year, $10 mil contract that expires this year. I think he'll expect around the same average. I don't think he's worth that. I think Thomas and Miller could fill his role just fine, especially in an offense that will be built around the QB. Bush could come back at a very modest contract (2.5 mil a year range).. otherwise I'd sign a vet just as an insurance policy at a low-end contract (Turner?).
LBs: K. Dansby, K. Burnett, K. Misi, J. Freeny, A. Spitler, J. Trusnik, J. Kaddu
Dansby/Burnett have had very good seasons. Misi has also been much improved. His role continues to expand each week, lately they have started using him with his hand in the dirt opposite of Wake. Spitler and Trusnik are both Fas who are the 1st guys off the bench. They won't cost much of anything to bring back. However, I'd like to see some better backups brought in so that they are the last guys on the roster rather than 1st off the bench.
And of course another thing to factor in is potential cap casualties:
D. Bess ($2.7 saved) - saw an article about how it could make sense to trade Bess (not cut as a cap casualty). But I don't see it. He's a QBs best friend.. and isn't going to put up a 1,500 yard season.. but he's well worth his 3.5 mil cap hit.
R. Incognito ($4.3 saved) - This one is tough. He doesn't fit this scheme, at all, and has had a bit of a down year. However, if Martin moves to LT, I feel like Richie's experience can help him. If Long stays, I get the feeling that Long/Incognito are very close.. So it would be tough to separate those two. In the end, I expect him to stay too.. But I could see the logic in letting him go if they secure a replacement first. - He also may be a prime candidate for a restructure if the staff likes him beyond 2013.
K. Dansby ($3.9 saved) - $8.6 cap hit is high.. but they'd get less than half of that back by cutting him. He's the vocal leader of the defense right now. And while his on-field production doesn't match his salary, I think his overall value just might (even though I hate that he can't keep his mouth shut).
K. Burnett ($3.2 saved) - Last year I would have said cut him. He's played well this year. I think he's a much better fit as a 4-3 OLB even though most of his career previous was played as a 3-4 ILB.
D. Carpenter ($2.7 saved) - He's perfect under 45 including some high pressure kicks. He's never been a lock from 50+, but has been unusually unreliable this year. I think he sticks around for another year. He's got enough karma built up.
R. Marshall ($5.4 saved) - This would purely be injury related. If he's healthy, he's a lock to make the roster as CB2/slot. If he's not healthy, they can cut him and get almost all of his contract back in cap relief to pursue a similar FA this year.
WOW.. that's a lot.. and if you're still with me. Based on my keep/walk list, Miami only has about $12 mil left for free agency with NO cap casualties (Garner, Trusnik Spitler assumed at $5 mil total a year combined). Keep in mind that due to signing bonuses and stuff, teams can be creative in how much cap space is really used in the 1st year. With as many new contracts as Miami will have just with re-signing guys, they should easily be able to free up another $3 mil.. So that's $15 mil.. The 3 major need positions are Pass Rusher, CB, WR. I could see them bringing in a significant signing at ONE of those positions and then keep a couple more of their own (Bush?) and signing second-tier fill-ins like they did last year prior to draft to put them in a position to draft BPA. If there's not a high-end FA that they like, then this could be where they bring Long back in somewhere around $10 mil a season (although hopefully cheaper).
Malcolm Floyd is a target I really like at WR, and SD might be more inclined to let him walk with the likely change in staff and the emergence of Danario Alexander. He would bring another element to the passing game with his size (6'5) and likely won't be as expensive as Wallace/Jennings/Bowe. I would go DE with my #1 pick to get a young guy to bring the heat opposite Wake (Plus Wake's on the wrong side of 30). And I'd use another high draft pick on a CB to develop and take over for Richard Marshall (and may be needed to step in immediately). I'd also look for a safety with range in the mid rounds and some athletic OL to start building depth there.