Free Agency 2013. It's here (well, later this afternoon, that is), and it represents arguably the most crucial offseason period the Miami Dolphins have ever encountered. This is where the Dolphins can finally get over their Dan Marino hangover and find golden boy quarterback Ryan Tannehill the receiver weapons he'll need to take the next few steps in his development as a big-league signal-caller; this is where the team can find the seam-buster tight end it has so sorely lacked the last past few season; this is where the Dolphins can officially move on from the overpaid and oversized offensive line philosophy brought in by Bill Parcells five years ago and nurtured by Tony Sparano for the much of the following four seasons.
Free Agency 2013 is where Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland can finally get it right and put into the place the team that he and owner Stephen Ross envisioned when they hired Joe Philbin--an all-around education guru who was one of the men responsible for the Green Bay Packers' relentless offensive attack--last winter; it's where the Dolphins can make the jump from mediocre upstarts to monstrous force ... and it will start tomorrow when the team pursues a big-name wideout on the market.
As mentioned above, many expect that receiver to be Mike Wallace, the former Ole Miss speedster whose big-time playmaking ability and rare speed led to an increase in Mylanta intake among AFC North defensive coordinators the past four seasons. Wallace is a blistering deep threat of the highest caliber, but he also possesses the YAC ability to score from anywhere on the field. If he was a car, he'd be a Ferrari, Lambo and BMW M-5 all rolled into one--the ultimate high-octane weapon, but also equipped with top-shelf handling and control.
So it's no surprise that the Dolphins want a player of Wallace's caliber in their offense. The idea of pairing the speedster with a proven chain-moving machine like Brian Hartline is a pleasant one, and would do wonders for Tannehill as he enters his sophomore season looking to prove that he belongs in the same breath as fellow 2012 quarterback class alums Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. The fact that Tannehill turned heads last season despite Miami's lack of firepower at receiver only reinforces the notion that the Dolphins were right to gamble on the former Texas A&M quarterback with the eighth overall pick last spring, and it's now up to team to give Tannehill the weapons he'll require to get Miami back to perennial contender status.
However, even if Wallace signs with the Dolphins later today, he's still just the first step for Jeff Ireland and Co. this offseason. What about a seam-threat tight end like Jared Cook or a proven zone-blocking right tackle like Eric Winston? How about all three players? That'd be an impressive free agency trifecta for the Dolphins, but it still wouldn't be enough to get them to Super Bowl contender status. And what about the receiver corps outside of Wallace and Hartline? This is why the Dolphins must still consider using a second- or third-round pick on the receiver position next month. Sure, the big-name wideouts (Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins, maybe even Robert Woods) will likely be gone by that point, but if Miami can bring in a polished receiver prospect like West Virginia's Stedman Bailey, they'd have a multi-dimensional threat who would thrive in an offense where Wallace, Hartline and potentially Rishard Matthews get the bulk of attention from defenses.
Of course, offense isn't the only area of concern for the Dolphins this offseason. Following the likely departure of cornerback Sean Smith in free agency, the perimeter of Miami's secondary will require heavy attention this spring, and that's where I see the team going with two of its first three or four picks in the upcoming draft. Washington's Desmond Trufant and Florida State's Xavier Rhodes are two corners worthy of the Dolphins' No. 12 selection in 2013, and both players embody what defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle looks for at the position: speed, upper-body strength, physicality and polish.
Where would Miami find its second corner? Perhaps as soon as round two, depending on the talent available at that juncture. Mississippi State's Darius Slay, UCONN's Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz are all big-time corners who will likely still be around on day two of the draft, and they all have the size, speed and rounded skill set to complement Trufant or Rhodes.
Then there's the Dolphins' safety position, which will have a vacancy if Chris Clemons heads elsewhere. The way I see it, the Dolphins' first three picks could be used on the secondary--two cornerbacks and a safety. If Miami doesn't like the corner talent available early in round two, it would be wise to consider picking from the safety class--the likes of which include Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien and my personal favorite prospect, LSU's Eric Reid. Cyprien is more of a do-it-all talent at the position, while Reid is a cerebral prospect who has the athleticism to play centerfield, but is just as good doing work in the box. He's a big hitter, too, and would absolutely complement rising star Reshad Jones.
Last but not least on Miami's need sheet is the offensive line. Love it or hate it, the Dolphins appear to be set on rebuilding its offensive trenches with zone-block prospects who are either playing on rookie deals under the new CBA, or marginally more expensive contracts. The days of super-paid offensive linemen in Miami have come to an end, but that means the team must find a right tackle to bookend with likely blindside starter Jonathan Martin. I can practically hear you guys groaning as you read this. Do we really have to draft an offensive tackle within the first three rounds this year? Well, yes, we do--for the sake of our running game and Tannehill's health. Look, I understand that the offensive line is a divisive topic on The Phinsider for a reason, especially when many teams have won the Super Bowl with mid-round picks protecting the quarterback. That said, Miami needs a new face at right tackle; whether that's Winston or a draft prospect like Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner (just throwing a random name out there) is anyone's guess.
Free Agency 2013 is here, so take a deep breath, relax, roll with the punches and keep your eye on the prize, because remember: regardless of what happens today, it's just one step in an offseason meant to complete the Dolphins' rebuild and, ultimately, bring a third Lombardi Trophy to Miami.
Enjoy the day, everyone!