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Are Dolphins going to be "bargain" shoppers in free agency?

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Incase you've been living under a rock, you know that the Dolphins re-signed LB Channing Crowder.  But with less than 24 hours now until free agency kicks off, the rumors are flying.

Another day, another rumor.  This time, it's the Sun-Sentinel that is reporting the Dolphins might not get too heavily involved in free agency after all.  Says the report:

While Ross has given Bill Parcells and the Tuna helpers the green-light to spend whatever they need to improve this roster, the Dolphins decision makers appear set to bargain shop rather than go top shelf.

Things could certainly change within the next 48 hours, especially if certain AFC East teams enter the picture for certain key free agents. But I've been told by numerous sources at the NFL combine that the Dolphins will be fiscally responsible during the start of free agency.

That means don't expect the mad dash sprint to lure and land players like there was last year.

Keep in mind that this is a direct conflict to the reports we've been hearing over the past day or two about Miami's interest in center Jason Brown.  And some of those reports cited "sources at the combine" as well.  So what's going on here?

The cynic in me would tell me that this kind of report is exactly what the Dolphins would want floating around out there after the past 2 days of rumors that featured the Dolphins preparing to make a "huge push" for Brown.  So perhaps the Dolphins purposely "leaked" this to "sources" who they knew would inform reporters.  That's what part of me wants to believe.

But another part of me believes that this story is 100% accurate.  After all, the Dolphins didn't go "top shelf" last free agency.  Justin Smiley's contract can hardly be considered high based on today's standards - and that was their biggest free agency move in '08.  So it would make sense that the Dolphins will be slow and careful in free agency.

However, the Dolphins were involved in a bidding war for LB Calvin Pace last offseason.  And even Pace himself indicated that the two deals offered between the Dolphins and Jets were very similar.  So this regime wasn't as "conservative" as some want to make them out to be.

So here's what I make out of all this.  I think the Dolphins will very much be involved in the Jason Brown sweepstakes - as will other teams.  Regardless of if the Dolphins sign him or not, I think Brown will be the only "top shelf" free agent the Dolphins will have interest in.  From there, I think they will look more at those 2nd-tier guys.  So let's talk a little about some of those possible 2nd-tier targets.

Cornerbacks

Leigh Bodden (6'1, 193) - Bodden is only 27 years old and is a player who is likely to become a "late bloomer."  He showed tremendous promise when he was in Cleveland as a tough man-to-man cornerback.  But his 1 season in Detroit was a disaster, as he was forced to play mostly in a zone scheme.  In Miami, Bodden would have a chance to really mature as a player - and he has the size this regime likes.

Ronald Bartell (6'1, 205) - Bartell is a guy you might not know a lot about because he's spent his first 4 years in St. Louis.  But he's one of the game's up-and-coming cornerbacks.  He's physical at the line of scrimmage and has terrific ball skills.

Jabari Greer (5'11, 180) - Greer recently turned down an extension from Buffalo worth $20 million over 5 years.  He thinks he can do better on the open market and is probably right.  Whenever I've seen him play, I've been impressed.  The only red flag is that he's been in a zone-heavy scheme for years.

Bryant McFadden (6'0, 190) - To me, McFadden represents the class of the "tier 2" free agents.  He's a 27 year old who is just now entering his prime.  He has all the skills needed to become a #1 corner.  He just needs to put it all together.  Considering the job Todd Bowles did last year with Andre Goodman, I'm sure he could "coach up" McFadden and turn him into a reliable #1 cornerback.  But how much money is he going to command on the open market?

Safeties

Gibril Wilson (6'0, 209) - If Yeremiah Bell isn't brought back, Wilson would be his ideal replacement.  He's only 27 and he's a very good strong safety.  He's almost a younger version of Bell, but without the injury history and with a little bit better cover skills.

Sean Jones (6'1, 220) - Jones is an interesting prospect.  He'll be 27 in a few days and is a guy with all the physical tools.  He's fast.  He can hit.  He's got good ball skills.  But for whatever reason, he doesn't get the respect he deserves.  I look at Jones and I see a cheaper version of Gibril Wilson - but with a little more speed.  His 14 interceptions over the last 3 seasons also adds to his lure.

Linebackers

Kevin Burnett (6'3, 240) - Burnett was drafted by Bill Parcells in Dallas and has always been a Parcells favorite.  He can play inside in a 3-4 and is also a solid special teams contributor.  Honestly, I'd be surprised if Burnett wasn't a Dolphin sometime soon.

Wide Receivers

Marvin Harrison (6'0, 185) - That earlier article claimed that if the Dolphins were to bring in a receiver via free agency, they'd be more interested in finding a veteran who could mentor and teach.  Harrison fits the bill perfectly.  But would he be willing to and how much money is he seeking?

Joey Galloway (5'11, 197) - Another aging vet who could do some mentoring to Miami's young receivers.  But how much does he physically have left in him?  He only played in 9 games last year and had just 13 receptions.

Laveranues Coles (5'11, 193) - We talked about Coles when his release was announced.  And like I said, I think a Pennington/Coles reunion in Miami is really intriguing.  But the price would have to be right.  Would Coles take a little less to return to his home state and play with his good buddy Chad?

Amani Toomer (6'3, 202) - Toomer is a big receiver and is well respected for his smart play on the field.  He's an example of a player who has had a better career than you would think his skill set could provide - a compliment to his work ethic and his knowledge of the game.  He's also relatively healthy.  Outside of 2006's knee injury, Toomer has missed just 1 game in his entire NFL career.


Those are just some of the "2nd tier" players to keep an eye on as free agency opens up.  And remember to join us on Thursday night (probably around 11:30 pm) for our free agency live thread, as we track and discuss all the latest rumors and breaking news.