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Free agency moves address, define needs in Miami

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For the Miami Dolphins, 2013 Free Agency has streamlined the team's biggest need while defining another. Funny how that works.

I still cannot believe this guy is a Miami Dolphin.
I still cannot believe this guy is a Miami Dolphin.
Joe Sargent

You were saying, Ryan Clark?

After multiple offseasons filled with jeered free agency moves (and non-moves), unpopular draft decisions and plenty of unnecessary (and perhaps undeserved) drama, it appears the Miami Dolphins and general manager Jeff Ireland have turned a corner ... for now, at least.

As it turns out, the Dolphins' supposed interest in wide receiver Mike Wallace wasn't a smoke screen or a bluff--it was genuine insight coming from a franchise that has offered far too little of it over the past five years. Miami wanted the big fish in this year's free agency pool, and despite the myth that free agents aren't interested in playing for Ireland and the Dolphins (an idea largely perpetuated by the aforementioned Clark), there was Wallace, taking a physical at the team's training facility while the opening bell to Free Agency 2013 was still ringing. Was the issue that Miami couldn't land the big fish, or was it that Ireland simply didn't want to pay to land the big fish? It's beginning to look like the latter is a more accurate statement, and Ireland picked a fantastic time to go all mythbusters on his critics.

By landing Wallace, the Dolphins addressed a two-fold need: a receiver who can consistently bust the top off of defenses while also serving as an ideal component in quarterback Ryan Tannehill's development. Is that worth the five-year, $60 million deal Wallace inked on Tuesday evening? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing's for sure: the first time Wallace finds the endzone in 2013--whether it's via a deep pattern or a short route that turns into paydirt--no Dolphins fan will be thinking about how much money the team is paying him.

Wallace won't be able to make this offense go by himself, of course, but his presence automatically makes fellow receiver Brian Hartline better (and free to exploit No. 2 corners), and when the Dolphins decide on their tight end personnel, those players will benefit, as well. The Dolphins still need another receiver to round out the group (we'll get to that issue in a moment), but this is no longer an offense you can stack the box against and consistently crowd at the line of scrimmage. And the first time a defensive back opens the gate on Wallace this season, you'll see the result on the scoreboard. That's the stuff that keeps defensive coordinators up late at night, and it's a fear that will reside in the South Florida air next season.

So that's one need off the board ... sort of. The Dolphins will further address the receiver position in the draft, but where and how? West Virginia's Tavon Austin reportedly shredded his pro day this week, so it's no longer unreasonable to rule him out for Miami at the No. 12 spot. The big-bodied playmakers in this draft--Baylor's Terrance Williams, California's Keenan Allen--also make a lot of sense for an offense already housing a vertical dynamo (Wallace) and third-down machine (Hartline). So many possibilities here, so little time.

The grass is far less greener in the Dolphins' secondary following the departure of cornerback Sean Smith yesterday afternoon. Smith was by no means a phenomenal talent at the position (in fact, he might be one of most underwhelming prospects in recent times, given his size, speed and upside), but his absence basically points a great big neon arrow at Miami's lack of cornerback personnel. Even a short visit to Twitter will reveal countless fans ranting and raving about the Dolphins not bringing in any free agent cornerbacks the past three days. Maybe that's fair, but maybe Ireland has other plans for the position. This is a very strong draft year for cornerbacks (as many as five could come off the board on draft night), so don't be surprised to see the Dolphins double up on the position. If it's at the No. 12 spot, it will be Florida State's Xavier Rhodes or Washington's Desmond Trufant; if it's a trade-down or second round scenario, it could be UCONN's Blidi Wreh-Wilson or Mississippi State's Darius Slay; if it's in the third round, it could be UCONN's Dwayne Gratz. There's about a dozen other options, as well, which is probably why Ireland has ignored the position during free agency.

Heading into this offseason, the Dolphins' three biggest needs were wide receiver, cornerback and tackle. Hartline's re-signing and Wallace's arrival in Miami are great strides in the first area; Smith's departure weakens an already weak corner group for the Dolphins; and we'll assume for now that the team will attempt to find a tackle as soon as Jake Long signs with the St. Louis Rams. Add in the fact that the Dolphins got younger--and possibly better--at linebacker with the signings of Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler on Tuesday, and it's hard to be disappointed with what Ireland has done this week. Are these moves enough? No way--he'd be the first to admit as much. Plenty of work remains, and if these recent signings don't pan out, Ireland will be the guy holding the bag. Nevertheless, the Dolphins' rapid-fire activity in free agency on Tuesday proved that the team is committed to building a perennial contender around its young quarterback. History indicates that great teams are formed that way.

Hmmm. I wonder what Clark has to say about Ireland's ability to draft.