First off I want to say that I believe Jeff Ireland has earned the right to be retained for the 2013 season.
There is no question this team lacks playmakers on both sides of the football. However, football isn't the black and white game many analysts portray it as. Defenses are given more opportunities to make plays (particularly interceptions) when the offense is putting significant points on the board. Considering the Dolphins offense rarely scores more than two touchdowns per game, it is no wonder that teams are not often forced into the low percentage throws that often lead to interceptions. I cite early season games against the Jets (2), Raiders and Cardinals as examples of our offense putting our defense in a position to make plays on ball by moving football consistently and challenging opposing offenses to score quickly. Of course, pick machines Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez helped, but I believe that an improvement in our offense this off-season can lead to more big plays on defense. Anyway...
I believe the first step in shaping our defense for 2013 is retaining free agents Randy Starks, Sean Smith and Chris Clemons for the right value. No player in my mind is indispensable, but all three have been important parts of teams 6th ranked scoring defense in 2012.
Chris Clemons is not a playmaker, but he is solid, and we do not have the option to draft a safety in the first round. Most playmakers at this position come from the 1st round (reshad jones being an exception), so while I am all for continuing to add talent in mid to later rounds at safety, I believe we should retain Clemons as our starter.
Randy Starks is a bit inconsistent but overall is an impact player with 2 or 3 years left of his prime. Unless team plans on moving Odrick inside I believe Starks needs to be retained, otherwise we risk hurting our teams biggest strength which is run defense. Also, considering Starks is going into his age 30 season I can't imagine he will be too expensive to keep. We could even tag him relatively cheap given DT's don't make as much as many other positions.
Sean Smith is a top 15-20 corner with a lot of football left in him. Considering his lack of experience at corner I still believe there is room to grow and that he can be a top tier corner. Many other teams will feel the same way, and that is why I believe Smith is the most likely candidate to receive the franchise tag of any impending free agent. Smith is inconsistent, does not play well in zone coverage, and can't catch, but corner is a hugely important position in today's NFL, we don't have many good ones, and he is the best one we have.
Of course, all three are replaceable, but in the case of Clemons and SS specifically I don't think this fan base wants to use a high pick to replace them given the needs on offense. Also, moving Odrick over creates a hole Olivier Vernon does not appear ready to fill. If tag is not an option Sean Smith and Starks can price themselves out especially considering Ireland's value based approach.
Other than those free agents, I believe this team for 2013 needs to consider adding a corner whether it be in free agency or in the first two days of the draft. I believe Jimmy Wilson, Nolan Carrol, and to a point R.J. Stanford have shown potential, but they have not showed enough to not add talent to the position. Richard Marshall should be healthy and if the team buys into him as a starter than a mid round pick might be enough. Overall, the secondary has young talent with potential, but you can never have enough and we need playmakers back there other than Reshad Jones. Who is a stud and former fifth pick Ireland deserves more credit for.
I also think this team needs more pass rush opposite Wake. And another stud rusher could take this defense over top. I do believe in Jared Odrick as a run stuffer who can make plays in backfield, and Vernon has tons of potential, but neither have shown that they can be premier pass rushers. I'd add a rusher in draft or free agency, and if we address wide receiver in free agency I wouldn't mind using a first round pick on an edge rusher. Wake isn't getting any younger.
Now to the offense...
Bush is simply too good to let walk given our lack of playmakers and the likelihood we will head into next season with unproven players coming in. Also, while the running back is not as important in a Green Bay style offense, I don't have confidence yet in a combo of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. Thomas is to this point a disappointment (although I do believe he has unrealized potential), and while I love Miller's potential his fourth round pedigree scares me. Why did he fall? What do we not see? Why has be barely played?
Also, we have to keep Hartline. He is an ideal compliment to a legitimate number one wideout. The ironic part about this season is we would likely be talking about a playoff spot if we kept Marshall, as hartline and bess played very well this year and were ideal compliments to him.
I believe re-signing both at value is important to teams success next season. I don't think either player could be as valuable to another team as they are to the Dolphins, and that is why I see both being retained.
As for Jake Long, I think it really just depends. It depends on what his value is around the league. It depends if we can afford to franchise tag him. It depends if we can afford to keep him if it means losing a Sean Smith, Reggie Bush, or Brian Hartline (I don't think we can). Long has regressed and his body seems to be breaking down. For all we know, he will return to form. But with a cheap alternative in house (Jonathan Martin), and given his play I can't say I want him back unless the deal is team friendly or we can tag him and still bring back other, more important free agents.
I also believe we should bring back Anthony Fasano pending on what kind of offers he gets around the league. He receives unwarranted hate from Dolphins nation. It isn't his fault the Dolphins have failed for five years to find a seam threat to compliment him. Every team needs a player like Fasano, and if it isn't cost prohibitive I'd like to see him return.
As for the rest of the offense, I think the weaknesses are clear. This team needs playmakers at WR and TE, and this team needs better play from its offensive line. With a number of free agent options, and 5 first or second day picks I don't see why this isn't the year to address the issues at WR and TE.
Hartline and Bess are a fine no.2 and slot. The likes of Charles Clay, Marlon Moore and Rishard Matthews all have upside, but I'm not willing to risk relying on them. This team needs guys who can make plays downfield and give Tannehill the opportunity to realize his enormous potential. Many forget that Jeff Ireland has never spent a 1st or 2nd round pick on a WR or TE (not counting Marshall trade) in any of his 5 drafts since becoming GM. This is the year that this clearly has to change, he has 5 picks in first two days to play with, and I'm interested to see what he can do with this opportunity.
The offensive line is a big question mark. Pouncey is a beast, Martin will be starting somewhere, but other than that its sort of up in the air. The passing game isn't likely to progress to the point where Tannehill still doesn't need an effective run game, and thus I believe the teams needs to find a way to improve the run blocking. Losing Jake Long would hurt that aspect and this is something to take into account. I am personally a fan of John Jerry and believe he should be given an opportunity to lose weight in off-season and lock down the RG spot long term, but I am not opposed to moving on from Incognito. He is league average, not in the mold Philbin is looking for, and is a head case.
Overall, the team has many key free agents, and depending on how many are retained at least a few if not many holes to fill. WR, TE, G, pass rusher and CB are all positions that need to be addressed in spite of any potential free agent loss. With the draft picks and cap space we have afforded to us I believe Jeff Ireland and the front office have the opportunity to turn this team into the playoff contender it nearly was this season.