The piranha-like feeding frenzy known as NFL Free Agency is only hours away. Teams have spent months preparing to enhance their rosters with the slate of players looking for a new home. Every year, there are a few big name players who get most of the press. This season is no different as players like Peyton Manning, Mario Williams, and Vincent Jackson are taking the headlines. While their status as big time players warrant such attention, good teams aren’t always built on the backs of the superstar free agents. Most of the time, good teams find value with the second and third tier free agents who fill key roles on the team.
Most Dolphins fans are caught up in the Manning drama and the possible pursuit of Matt Flynn. Others are looking at other big name free agents like Reggie Wayne or Carl Nicks. Many are looking at draft prospects that could make our team better. However, there are several lesser known free agents out there that would make our team much better and wouldn’t come with the cap crippling contracts that the superstars demand. Even better is that many of these free agents would fit perfectly on our team and would address key needs.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Dallas
I have mentioned Bennett in a previous post, and I think he’d be the top target if we weren’t forced to chase QBs. Bennett is an athletic tight end who has had never had a chance to become a #1 TE, as he has played behind another great TE in Jason Witten. He has been primarily a blocking TE and has excelled in that role. His role as a pass catcher has been limited though and that should limit the size of his contract. He is a purely potential signing who would at worse be a valuable #2 TE and I think the Dolphins should seriously look into signing him.
Brandon Carr, CB, Kansas City
KC has a fabulous starting corner in Brandon Flowers. KC snapped at the chance to sign Stanford Routt after he was cut from the Raiders. That left Brandon Carr on the outside looking in and will most likely hit the free agent market. Carr is a good cover corner and has the ability to play outside and also in the nickel position. With teams using more 3-WR sets today, a nickel CB is almost as valuable as an outside CB. Miami is looking for a nickel CB to replace the aging Will Allen and Carr might be the guy. It is also possible, in light of Sean Smith’s struggles last season, Miami may be looking for a starting CB to pair with Davis. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is a secondary specialist and by now has gotten a better grasp of the roster. Carr will likely be a target for several teams needing CB help, but those teams might also believe they can find a cheaper option in the draft. Carr is a FA to keep an eye on.
Steve Hutchinson, OG, Minnesota
Hutchinson was considered the best LG in the NFL just a few seasons ago. While that role has gone to Carl Nicks, Hutchinson is still a good starting caliber LG. He is a road grader that will open running lanes for the fortunate RB that plays for the team that signs Hutchinson. Hutchinson won’t command a huge contract since he will be 35 prior to the end of the season. He would be a cheap option for a team looking for an offensive line upgrade (um… Miami?). Given that he is from south Florida, he may want to finish his career there. Ireland would be foolish not to given Hutchinson a call. He could play either guard position and give Miami options with the offensive line.
Geoff Schwartz, OG, Carolina
Schwartz was a big part of Carolina’s powerful rushing attack in previous years, but missed all of the 2011 season with an injury. He has versatility as he has played guard and tackle. He could start at RG immediately or be a better reserve than Nate Garner. What would be really cool, in my opinion, would be to sign him and then draft his brother Mitchell Schwartz to play right tackle. The "Schwartz" would definitely be with us!
Demetrius Bell, OT, Buffalo
Another sleeper pick of mine, Bell played well for a resurgent Bills’ O-line last season at the demanding left tackle position. He will probably get offers from teams looking a LT, but would be a good addition for a team looking for a starting caliber RT, like the Dolphins. His contract will depend upon the level of demand. If he’s not signed with the first week of the free agent period, his price should go down and would be worth a chance.
Red Bryant, DT, Seattle
Bryant is a massive DT who emerged last season as a force on Seattle’s run stop unit. He plays DE in their defense, but would be a fit in any defensive front. He can play 4-3 DT, 3-4 DE, and probably play 3-4 NT. Bryant can also be a force on special teams as he blocked two field goals last season (NO FIST PUMP FOR YOU!) I think Miami should resign Kendall Langford before looking into signing Bryant. However, Bryant is not a bad fall back option. We could also release Tony McDaniel and his huge contract and sign both Langford and Bryant.
Aubrayo Franklin, DT, New Orleans
Having a good season as the 49ers’ NT in 2010, he signed with New Orleans and struggled in their 4-3 scheme. Franklin is a going to be looked at as a cheap NT option for a 3-4 team, and that is the best fit for him. I read somewhere that the Dolphins still plan to use a 3-4 hybrid (or at least some parts of it). Unless Soliai takes a very favorable hometown discount, he will be too expensive to resign for a limited role on defense. Franklin would be a good choice in terms of his role and his value. He won’t get a big contract, thus he won’t be overpaid in a limited role. Plus he can start whilst Miami grooms a late round NT prospect like Josh Chapman or Hebron Fangupo.
Pool is a talented safety, but has struggled with injuries. He can be a playmaker at the safety position, but the team that signs him has to worry about his concussion history. Coyle should be familiar with Pool’s abilities from their time in the AFC North. He should get a reasonable contract and can be worked into the safety rotation, if not win the starting job outright.
Manny Lawson, OLB, Cincinnati
Let’s face it: Koa Misi is not a pass rusher. He can play the run and drop into coverage, but he lacks the repertoire to be the complementary pass rusher to pair with Wake. Miami SHOULD address the pass rusher position very early and probably often in the draft (as in first round and maybe second round also). However, the QB situation make force Miami into using one of its two high picks on a QB. If Miami needs to use a high pick on a QB, then they may not be able to add all the pass rushers through the draft like they should. Thus, adding a pass rusher like Lawson through free agency would be a good plan. Lawson never racked up the sack totals in SF, but consistently generated pressure as a 3-4 OLB. In Cincinnati, he primarily played as a 4-3 OLB. As another player Coyle is familiar with, he could lobby for the FO to sign Lawson who could be a versatile and cost effective option that can play in standard 4-3 or 3-4 sets.
David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville
When the Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert last season, it meant the end of David Garrard’s reign in Jacksonville. Instead of allowing Garrard to start and mentor the overwhelmed Gabbert however, the Jaguars inexplicably released Garrard. Garrard was thought to be a priority free agent for teams looking for an upgrade at QB. But Garrard opted to have surgery on a back injury and missed the entire 2011 season. The veteran QB isn’t a long term answer for any team. But he still has value as a veteran QB who has won in the playoffs, made the Pro Bowl, and has a skill set that would work in the west coast offense (mobility, accuracy, intelligence). He’s a consummate professional and a proven leader. Miami is targeting Manning and will likely have Matt Flynn in their sights as well. But it’s possible that the Dolphins miss out on both free agents. In that case, Garrard would be the best option for the Dolphins. Aside from possibly Brandon Weeden, none of the remaining QBs in the draft we will target are guys you can start day one. Matt Moore doesn’t seem like a good fit for the WCO. Garrard probably won’t get a massive contract because he missed a season (and isn’t a HoF player like Manning). It’s not ideal, but under certain circumstances, Garrard could be a viable option.
Jason Taylor, Pass Rusher Extraordinaire, Dolphins
OK, this is nothing more than a sentimental shot in the dark here. But Hall of Famer OFF4L brought up the point in a fanshot that if Miami were to sign Manning, Taylor might be coaxed out of retirement to make one last run (legitimate run) at a title. Nothing would make Dolphins fans as joyous as to see their favorite team hoist the Lombardi trophy. It would be a sweet moment to watch no doubt. But how much sweeter would that moment be if we could watch Taylor walk up onto the podium and raise that trophy high above his head in triumph? This is a long shot in every aspect. It’s a long shot for us to sign Manning. It’s a long shot for Taylor to return. It’s an even longer shot to reach the Super Bowl, let alone win it. But it’s a fun thought. And as free agency begins and the 2012 version of the Dolphins begins to take shape, why not entertain at least one fun thought, if only for a moment? There will be plenty of time to hide from the falling sky after that.