Much has already been said about the deficiencies on offense - and rightly so. The offense held us back in 2013, stalling us at the finish line of a Playoff spot, and changes are already underway to fix an ailing problem. My hope is to stay relatively quiet during FA, filling spots on the OL and investing most of the remaining cap on re-signing some of our own and providing veteran leadership and depth. As it relates to the defense, it seems as though most fans are under 2 of 3 assumptions: 1) we re-sign Brent Grimes, 2) we re-sign Paul Soliai, and/or 3) we re-sign Chris Clemons. I would argue most of us assume all 3.
Let's take a look at some meaningful numbers, in my opinion, before we begin the dialogue on specific players. The Dolphins ranked 8th in scoring, 16th in passing defense, and 24th in rushing defense. T-11th in sacks, T-10th in interceptions, T-24th in forced fumbles, T-28th in fumbles recovered. We were middle of the road in passes defensed (14th) and TD's scored on defense (21st). The difficult part about assessing the defense is that we have high draft picks invested on defense that we aren't necessarily sure what we can expect from them. Dion Jordan, Jamar Taylor, and Will Davis were invested in to bolster the secondary and pass rush interplay. However, aside from a few glimpses, we aren't entirely sure what we have out of either 3.
We have seen a few recent models of NFL Super Bowl winners that have tremendous defenses with opportunistic offenses and game-managing QB's. Look no further than the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. Perhaps it's my nostalgia yearning for the days of Madison and Surtain, Thomas and Taylor. But I see potential for a dominating defense, and if we have the opportunity to take the step to be elite, do we take it in spite of the offense? Might an elite defense be the fastest track to the Playoffs and further (as opposed to waiting on an explosive offense)?
Defensive Line: I was shocked that the Dolphins struggled in the running game as much as they did. I imagine it has something to do with the subpar LB play. I think Soliai getting re-signed is likely. Just imagining what the run defense would be without Soliai is cause for the shutters. I appreciate everything Starks has done but Soliai fills a very specific niche that this defense needs. Considering the re-signing of Soliai, I don't see any investments on the DL until the 3rd round or later. Odrick and Soliai are more than capable. It would be nice to have depth, but an immediate starter isn't needed.
Linebackers: The Wheeler/Ellerbe experiment failed last year and it showed up in a variety of ways. We still couldn't cover TE's and our run D suffered drastically. The plays they were brought into make did not surface in 2013. Here's hoping that they contribute more according to what their contract is in 2014. Due to the financial constraints, Ellerbe and Wheeler won't be released. I like the idea of spending multiple Day 3 picks on LB to bolster the depth, hoping the competition improves the overall LB play. In addition, I hope that a year of Wheeler, Ellerbe, and Misi playing together increases the chemistry of the group - the vision the previous front office saw. Some late round picks to consider are Boseko Lokombo, OLB, Oregon and Khairi Fortt, ILB, California. I wouldn't be shocked to see a 2nd-3rd rounder spent on a LB who could play both OLB and ILB. We need depth at LB. Aside from Jelani Jenkins, we don't have much.
Secondary: This is the most volatile position on the defense. The re-signing of Grimes is a moot point. With him, the secondary improves dramatically. In the back of my mind, I consider the draft prospects of Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Denard. The thought of spending #19 on one of these 2 is an intriguing idea (assuming we spend most of the remainder of draft picks on offense subsequently, of course) - imagine the relationship between the pass rush (Wake, Vernon, Jordan) and the secondary (Grimes, Gilbert/Denard, Carroll, Taylor, Davis). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention I'm re-signing Carroll and Clemons. Considering that most of the teams on our schedule next year will attack us through the air (based on this year's team's philosophy), I find it prudent to upgrade the secondary. We will get to the QB better, deflect more passes, INT more passes, and through more coverage, will allow our beasts to go get the QB and cause more fumbles and sacks. The thought of adding an elite CB is enticing from my point of view.
In conclusion, if you read between the lines, I'm re-signing Soliai, Grimes, Carroll and Clemons. I'm releasing Patterson and using the cap savings to improve the OL. I'm possibly spending a #19 on a CB if the price is right - if not, I'm spending 2-7th round picks, on a value basis, on a versatile LB, a developmental DT, and CB depth. I think the defense has the potential to be excellent, but most of this, in my opinion, will depend on the inferior LB play. Considering the money we spent on the position, it's frustrating that we are still talking about this area of our team. The only way to improve the LB position is to expect more out of who we already paid for, or to draft some guys and hope the competition improves the overall play.
In reality, I'm not asking you to choose defense over offense, because all of us know that our offense had the brunt of the fault of last year's collapse. But we must also remember that the NFL is a team sport with interdependent pieces, and the defense should not be forgotten. My ultimate question is: what lengths would you go to to catapult the Dolphins defense into the top-5 in the NFL?
Cheers to you all, happy off-season, and let's find a way to get this thing turned around. Peace and blessings.