Let me preface this by saying, I am neither claiming to be writing this based on inside information or an expert knowledge of the situation...merely a fan with a vested interest in the outcome, and knowledge enough to form an opinion, no need to berate if you disagree.
Miami fans head into the March 12 commencement of the league year in a strange position, theoretically with a wealth of riches (approximately $46m in cap space), a General Manager seemingly willing to spend those resources on the much sought after “playmakers” that this team so desperately craves, yet I, and I’m sure most, feel a certain level of caution, for obvious reasons which I need not go into. * cough * #Fireland * cough *
So, lets assume our fearless leader is ready to “tool up” and go shopping, by now we all know who is available, but who are the guys we SHOULD target? who will command big money? who deserves the big money? and who should we avoid like the plague?
I will attempt to break down the options in the main two areas of need, pass catchers and pass stoppers, looking at the good and the bad of the top guys on both sides of the ball...let’s find these elusive playmakers!
First, the no brainer position, Wide Receiver. There are indigenous tribes as yet undiscovered by the human race, who know the Dolphins need Wideout help, and badly!
In 2012 the Dolphins finished 27th in total offense, a big part of that was the play at the skill positions obviously. Though Brian Hartline had a breakout year in terms of yards, and Davone Bess performed admirably in the slot, as he always does, one key ingredient was missing…POINTS!
Three touchdowns…THREE MEASELY TOUCHDOWNS, were scored from the wideout position in 2012. To put it into perspective, fellow 7-9 team San Diego Chargers had 8 touchdowns at the position, and I’m sure they were hugely disappointed with that.
Who out there will score us points?
MIKE WALLACE (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Pros: Speed, Speed and more Speed. Miami lack speed out wide, in truth we lack speed in many positions, but most notably here. His elite speed demands safety help on almost every snap, just the threat of #17 is enough to open up space underneath for possession guys such as Bess & Hartline.
Mike Wallace not only brings speed in boatloads, he brings those elusive POINTS. Wallace, in what was considered a down year for both him and Pittsburgh, scored 8 touchdowns, if he were to do that for us, he’d be hailed the savior.
Cons: 1 trick pony. There are those that feel he runs a go route, and little else effectively. He’s not really a true X receiver, not going to go up and make the big catches in traffic, not physical enough, and suffered from “dropsies” in 2012.
He’s seen a luxury an average team like Miami can’t afford in the eyes of some, especially when the development of a young Quarterback is so key to the future of the franchise.
There are those that think his attitude and work ethic is questionable, though you don’t hear many inside the game make those accusations, it’s a stigma often attached to those who hold out for a big deal, and their production goes down soon after.
Numbers: Wallace is a playmaker, no two ways about it, and as such he will not come cheap. The comparison often made is Vincent Jackson’s 5 year, $55 million deal with Tampa Bay in 2012. For my money the level of play isn’t dissimilar, their deals will likely be near identical, you could even argue Wallace may command slightly more.
Verdict: Wallace may be Miami’s number 1 target, he has game changing ability, defense altering speed, and a little bit of the ‘diva’ in him that seems to go hand in hand with all the good ones. He will eat up approximately 1/4 of the available cap space instantly, if we want him, we have to go big or go home.
There will be competition for his signature, Cleveland are rumored to be interested, though if he chooses Cleveland over Miami for any reason other than financial, serious questions must be asked of this franchise.
What it likely boils down to is, will Jeff Ireland be willing to go the distance in a bidding war to get the top Free Agent on the market, and will said player be willing to play for a non-contender.
GREG JENNINGS (Green Bay Packers)
Pros: Greg is a winner, a leader and a model pro. He comes from a winning organization, and for the most part, he was a key part of that culture until this past year.
From 2008-2010 he had three consecutive 1000+ yard seasons, and the seasons before and after those he amassed 900+ yards. He has 58 career touchdowns in Wisconsin, a number not even worth comparison with anything Miami has achieved in that timespan.
He has good game speed, although not electric, and can be physical at the position as well as offering a much-needed consistency in the red zone.
Cons: Age and Durability. This one is quite simple, if Jennings hadn’t struggled with injury as much this past year or two, allowing younger guys to step up in his absence, then Green Bay would likely find a way to keep him around. As it is he will be 30 going into the season and a question mark hangs over him as to whether or not he will stay healthy enough to produce as we know he can.
Numbers: This one is tricky, his age and health concerns will effect the deal he gets, but many a team will be willing to take a chance because of the level of production, and leadership off the field, that a healthy and focused Greg Jennings brings. My estimate would be somewhere in the region of 3 years, $25 million.
Verdict: This move has long since been considered the safe bet. In my eyes, if Miami wants him, and makes him feel wanted, he’ll be a Dolphin as early as 4.01pm Eastern on March 12th. The link to Philbin, the character and leadership off the field that Joe covets in a player, the open courtship in the media rounds Greg has made of late, it all adds up to make it the obvious choice.
DWAYNE BOWE (Kansas City Chiefs)
Pros: The Miami native is a physical freak, he has the size and radius to go up and make the big catches, the power to fight for balls that you expect of a true X receiver and speed enough to create separation that isn’t natural to a man of his stature. He has three 1000+ yard seasons, a 995 yard season worth noting and has snared 39 receiving touchdowns in a 6 year career. These stats alone are impressive, but are made all the more so by the fact that even when the Chiefs have flirted with the idea of being a good team, they never had true production from the quarterback position. Imagine what he could do with an established signal caller.
Cons: Attitude, so the rumors say, but how much of that is mere assumption based on a 4 game suspension for a banned substance in 2009? Whichever side of that fence you’re on, it’s likely a red flag for the organization.
“Dropsies” is a criticism often leveled at #82, but again, how much of that is down to the sheer weight of dependency Kansas City has had on him in recent years.
Numbers: Similarly to Wallace, he has age on his side and a good health record to go along with his stats, It’s likely he commands a 5 year deal somewhere in the region of $50 million.
Verdict: Character concerns make him appear not to fit the Philbin mould, a long term deal in Kansas City still looks a distinct possibility if recent reports are to be believed. These things combined appear to make him the least likely of the “Big 3” to become a Miami Dolphin, but who knows.
“It’s a passing league”, so the saying goes…and the Dolphins find themselves in the unenviable position of not being very proficient in either passing itself, or defending it on the other side of the ball.
Much was made of the Vontae Davis trade and the dependence on an, up to that point inconsistent Sean Smith, and those fears turned out to be warranted when after a promising start, Smith reverted to his old ways, struggling in the back-pedal and finding great difficulty locating the brown leather thing hurtling through the sky.
With Smith likely testing free agency, a team will fall in love with his unique blend of size and physical attributes and overpay for him in the hope they can help him put it together on a consistent basis and use him primarily in press man.
That leaves Miami in a quandary. With Richard Marshall returning from a season ending back injury, and Dimitri Patterson being somewhat of a journeyman up to this point in his career, both stand to earn starter money as things stand…without really having earned the right to be a starter. It’s likely one will be cut, or at least restructured, and with Nolan Carroll the only other option, Cornerback will certainly be addressed this offseason.
BRENT GRIMES (Atlanta Falcons)
Pros: Has the ability to make plays, had a purple patch in 2009-2010 where he collected 11 INT’s and recorded 138 tackles. Before injury had great speed to break on the ball and was solid in coverage.
Cons: Devastated by injury the last year or so, and will be 30 this offseason. Though not beyond the realms of possibility he can return to the form that made him Atlanta’s number 1 corner, it’s certainly not a given. After all, not everyone is Adrian Peterson.
Numbers: Given the depth at corner in this years free agency, and the troubles Grimes has had of late, I think he’ll struggle to get the kind of contract perhaps his talent level would have warranted this time last year, a conservative estimate would be 2 years, $12 million.
Verdict: A risk, like with any player entering free agency on the back of an injury plagued spell, perhaps a risk Miami is unlikely to consider taking given that we will likely be reliant in part on our own corner returning from a serious injury in Richard Marshall. Also a chance Grimes remains in Atlanta after testing the market, for a cut-price deal.
DEREK COX (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Pros: Drafted in the same year as Sean Smith, in the same round, and playing for a poor Jacksonville team, he has amassed 12 INT’s to date, compared to Smith’s 5, and done so having played 16 less games. Interceptions are not the end all, be all…but the propensity to make “plays” is certainly more apparent in Cox.
Cox has the height/weight/speed that most covet in a Defensive Back and theoretically has his best years ahead of him after a promising start to his young career.
Cons: Has struggled to shake off niggling injuries the last 2 years, and has missed 14 games since 2011.
Numbers: The numbers that Smith is rumored to want ($8m+ per year) are likely the numbers Cox would get in the open market, and would probably get himself a 5 year deal in the process.
Verdict: Jaguars have cap room to maneuver, so don’t rule out an extension in Jacksonville, but if he does hit free agency, his youth, production, and upside will earn him a solid upgrade in salary somewhere, with no shortage of suitors, Miami likely being one of them.
DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE (Philadelphia Eagles)
Pros: His 16 career INTs and 4 Defensive touchdowns since 2008, along with his height and blazing speed make him every bit the fashionable choice of Cornerback in this years Free Agency.
Cons: Form has been up and down since his move to the Eagles as part of the Kevin Kolb trade, due in large part to being asked to take on a lot more nickel responsibilities than accustomed to, so some may question his versatility.
Numbers: I don’t think he’ll get a contract like the one Philly insanely paid for Nnamdi Asomugha in 2012, think more in the region of 5 years, $45 million.
Verdict: With Nnamdi a possible cut in Philly, I don’t think Philly will want to lose DRC as well, being that he’s been the more reliable of the two, I think he stays, but if he does hit free agency I believe a bidding war ensues that Miami will likely want no part of.
If we can come out of Free Agency with Wallace or Jennings and Derek Cox I will be a very happy man, Miami will have used somewhere between $16-18m of their cap on two starting potential playmakers, with room to add elsewhere.
Notable mention goes to Dustin Keller as another target of note, who would also bolster the passing attack, offer an upgrade over Fasano, and piss of the J*ts at the same time, which is always fun.