The Dolphins are embarking on what could be the most important offseason in franchise history. Here is what we're dealing with: they have tons of cap room (upwards to 50 million according to some sources), a good prospect at quarterback, an entire coaching staff returning, several key in-house free agents, oh, and 5 picks in the first 3 rounds of the 2013 NFL draft.
First, let's look at resigning the key in-house guys.
Jake Long. Let him walk unless he's willing to re-sign at a reasonable price. Long was great during his first few seasons, but the last two years he has pretty much been league average at the position.
Reggie Bush. As much as I love watching Reggie make people miss on the field, running backs in the NFL are a dime a dozen these days. Yes, there are a few guys out there that are irreplaceable, but Bush is not one of them. Lamar Miller appears to have the skills that can replace Bush and Daniel Thomas can be a decent #2 guy on this team. Bush should be gone unless the Dolphins can get him cheap.
Brian Hartline. They've got to re-sign this guy. Hartline is a smooth route runner with above average hands. We all know he doesn't have game changing speed, but he gets open often, and would be a solid #2 option on most teams.
Randy Starks. This guy is a beast, plain and simple. Starks is one of the main reasons the Dolphins were 13th against the run this year as he constantly overpowered opposing teams' lines. And there is something to be said about keeping a solid veteran starter over bringing in another free agent or rookie.
Sean Smith. Good, but not great. Keep him as a #2 or #3 corner.
Everyone else. Chris Clemons should be re-signed. Fasano should also be retained as a #3 blocking tight end and red zone target. The rest of their free agents are all role players and need not be analyzed here. I'm focusing on the impact/starting caliber players only.
Open Market Free Agency.
To avoid being redundant, let's focus on areas of need instead of specific players to target.
1. WR. There are some pretty darn good options out there. The Dolphins should go after one of the big three (Jennings, Wallace, Bowe). But if they swing and miss, they should consider someone like Danario Alexander. If they add any one of these guys and re-sign Hartline, the passing game will immediately improve.
2. CB. The Dolphins need a #1 corner. Sean Smith, Richard Marshall, and the other corners on the roster are nothing more than #2's or 3's. Free agents Grimes, Cox, or Rodgers-Cromartie would make a decent pairing with the aforementioned Dolphins corners.
3.TE. Get a legit, pass-catching tight end. Period. These guys are a staple of successful offenses in the NFL (see NE, ATL, NO, DAL, etc.). The names being thrown around: Jared Cook, Fred Davis, Dustin Keller, and Martellus Bennet.
4. OL. The Dolphins have spent enough high picks in the draft on OL in the last 10 years. Let's face it; this strategy hasn't worked for them. If Long is not retained, there are guys out there who, at the minimum, can replace him at the league average level. Plus, Jonathan Martin has not reached his full potential and can be plugged in at LT. Let's bring in a couple decently priced FA's and call the OL good.
If the Dolphins do everything I suggest leading up to the draft then all of their major needs will have been at addressed in some capacity. That means they will have the ability to draft some luxuries in the early rounds. This is how the rich get richer. Teams at the top of drafts normally draft lineman and quarterbacks mainly because their talent at these positions is inept. They try to build from the inside out. This is normally a good strategy, but it can take years to see the profits (see the 49ers under Nolan and Singletary).
Miami will not be one of these teams. The Dolphins' lines are already built. They will enter the draft with a decent, young OL, a promising young QB, and a stacked front seven on defense. With the foundation already in place, they can focus their draft on game changing skill position players.
Wide Receivers. Either Keenan Allen or Cordarrelle Patterson should be taken in the first round. Both of these guys possess the size and speed necessary to make an impact from day one in the NFL. Plus, if Miami has already brought back Hartline and added one the big three FA wide-outs, then Patterson or Allen will not have the pressure to become a starter right away. Just imagine the Dolphins sporting Jennings, Wallace, or Bowe as their #1, Hartline as their #2, Bess as their slot guy, and either Allen or Patterson their 4th option. This would be a dynamic receiving core, resembling that of the Green Bay Packers.
Other later targets: Tavon Austin or Ryan Swope. The Dolphins should get Allen/Patterson and one these two. Why not double down on WR?
Cornerbacks. As much as I'd like to see Miami get Millner, I don't see him falling to 12, and wide receiver should be their top target regardless of how many mock drafters suggest them getting a defensive player. Guys like Johnthan Banks, Leon Mcfadden, and Desmond Trufant will most likely be available when Miami picks its second 2nd rounder.
Tight End. Let's grab either Ertz or Eifert and be done with it. Maybe one of these guys will fall to Miami in the 2nd round.
The rest. Miami should grab a late round o-lineman, linebacker, and safety, but these are not dire needs. A late round QB would be a smart option as well. An NFL team should never be complacent with its QB situation.
If the Dolphins re-sign key players such as Hartline, Bush, Starks, Smith, Long (at a reduced rate), and their role players, then they will be able to add dynamic, game-changing type players though free agency and the draft. If they don't re-sign these key in-house guys, then we will most likely see yet another year of signing and drafting interior lineman, which, in my opinion, will not get Miami over the hump next year. Miami has all the right ingredients and resources to make the leap to contender status as early as next season. Let's hope they use them well.