A year after the Miami Dolphins were the top spenders in free agency, the team is again positioned to spend when the 2014 NFL free agency period opens on March 11. Miami needs to upgrade the offensive line, potentially find a running back upgrade, and could be in the market for defensive tackles and cornerbacks.
This week, Rotoworld's Evan Silva posted his Free Agent Top 150, ranking the players who could soon be hitting the open market. Looking at the needs for the Dolphins, and Silva's list, we could get an idea of some of the players Miami may target - and it could again be an expensive offseason for Miami.
Silva's third overall free agent is tackle Eugene Monroe, a player already speculated as someone the Dolphins will aggressively pursue if he does not re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Silva explains the ranking, writing:
Franchise left tackle. Turns 27 in April. Only start he's missed the past two seasons occurred following his October trade from Jacksonville to Baltimore, which cost the Ravens 2014 fourth- and fifth-round picks. Because GM Ozzie Newsome has invested in him, Monroe seems unlikely to leave. Top-ten left tackle per Pro Football Focus in three straight years.
Miami is also said to be interested in tackle Branden Albert, who could be leaving the Kansas City Chiefs this year after being franchise tagged last season. Silva ranks Albert as the 12th player on the free agent market, writing:
Quality pass protector with top-shelf athleticism, but sub-par run blocker with durability concerns. Missed four games in 2013 with knee injury. Missed three games with back injury in 2012. Pursued by Miami last offseason, and Arizona to lesser extent. Won't return to Chiefs. Played guard in college, with Monroe at left tackle. Entering his age-30 season.
On the opposite side of the ball, if the Dolphins are looking to replace Paul Soliai and Randy Starks, both of whom are scheduled to be free agents themselves (30 and 25 in Silva's rankings, respectively), the club could look to someone like Michael Bennett, who ranks 14th according to Silva. Silva explains:
Inside-out lineman can play end and tackle. Recently asked if he'd accept hometown discount. Replied, "This isn't Costco." Has never topped 9.0 sacks in a season, but disruption is production. Equally stout run defender. Turned 28 in November.
Miami may also look to a more run-stuffing defensive tackle, like Linval Joseph. Silva writes of his 20th ranked free agent:
25-year-old dual-threat interior lineman both stuffs run and can push pocket. Arrow pointing up. Primarily an inside plugger but has seven sacks and two forced fumbles the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus' No. 21 defensive tackle last year, among 69 qualifiers. Joseph will not come cheap and may price himself out of the Giants' range.
The defensive secondary could become a need for the Dolphins if Brent Grimes (8th overall free agent) and safety Chris Clemons (49th) both do not return to South Florida in 2014. If Miami enters that market, free safety Jarius Byrd (4th overall) and cornerback Aqib Talib (10th) could be on the radar. Of Byrd, Silva writes:
True center-field safety. Ballhawk. Averaging 4.4 interceptions and 2.2 forced fumbles per season. Turned 27 in October. Repped by Eugene Parker, infamous for driving a hard bargain. Held out of most of 2013 camp, then missed first five games with plantar fasciitis. Otherwise durable. Old defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is now Browns head coach.
And of Talib:
History of troubles off field, but very few on it when healthy. Has never completed a full 16-game season. 6-foot-1, 205-pound press corner. Patriots coach Bill Belichick felt comfortable isolating Talib on No. 1 receivers and Jimmy Graham last season. Held Graham catch-less in Week 6. Just turned 28. Will not be franchise tagged by New England.
An interesting option who could show up on the Miami radar at some point is cornerback Vontae Davis. The Dolphins traded their 2009 first round draft pick to the Indianapolis Colts in 2012, but with a new front office, Silva's 16th ranked free agent could be an option for Miami, even if they re-sign Grimes. Silva explains his ranking of Davis:
Pro Football Focus' No. 3 corner in 2013, behind only Darrelle Revis and Grimes. Finished No. 2 in pass coverage. Compact build at 5-foot-11, 204 with 37 1/2-inch vertical. Some history of shadowing No. 1 receivers, but not in Indy. Wants to stay with Colts.
If Miami goes into free agency wanting to upgrade the running back position, where the combination of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas underwhelmed last year, there are several option on Silva's ranking, though Ben Tate is the highest ranked at 58. Also included are players like Rashad Jennings (69), Darren McFadden (70), Andre Brown (82), Knowshon Moreno (83), and Maurice Jones-Drew (84).Another running back option could be LeGarrette Blount, who may be leaving the New England Patriots. Blount ranks 110 according to Silva, but could be a perfect fit in a backfield with Miller. Silva writes:
Two-down sledgehammer. Can tease "special" running ability when blocking gives him a head of steam, allowing Blount to shuck and carry tacklers. Career-high 5.05 YPC last season. Best employed in committee. Turned 27 in December.
The free agency period is all about options, and the Dolphins should have plenty this year. With an anticipated salary cap space in the neighborhood of $40 million, the options nad the money seem to match up. Now, it's just a matter of how Miami chooses to spend that money, and can they entice free agents to come to South Florida.