The official start to the 2014 NFL Free Agency period is just six days away. The unofficial period in which agents and teams can speak, but not reach a deal, starts in just three days. In other words, things are about to start happening quickly.
For the Miami Dolphins, the free agency period could again be a busy time, where, a year after being the big spenders,the team is again set to be among the clubs with the most money to spend. The team does have a number of its own players about to hit the open market, as well. After the signing of cornerback Brent Grimes to a new, four-year contract earlier this week, Miami appears to have 18 players headed for free agency.
Unrestricted Free Agents:
Nolan Carroll, cornerback - The Dolphins have reportedly told Carroll they would like to keep him, but there has not been a contract offer yet. The team's 2010 fifth-round pick has continually developed during his time with the club, and spent most of last year as the starting cornerback opposite Brent Grimes after injuries forced Dimitri Patterson to miss games. Carroll is not a shut down cornerback, but he is a solid player who will, at times, get beat. Playing as a third cornerback is ideal for Carroll, and could be exactly what the Dolphins envision if they are able to keep him. It appears the Dolphins are willing to let Carroll test the market and hope they are given a chance to match any offer he receives.
Tyson Clabo, offensive tackle - Based on his play in the first half of the season, there would be no chance for the Dolphins to bring back the veteran offensive lineman. Based on the improvement the former Atlanta Falcons tackle had in the second half of the year, there is at least a possibility Miami could consider a second season with Clabo as the right tackle. That possibility, however, is slight at best, with Miami likely looking to replace nearly the entire offensive line after a year in which the team set a franchise record of 58 sacks allowed.
Chris Clemons, safety - Last offseason, Miami allowed Clemons to reach free agency and, when there was not the market Clemons expected, re-signed him to a one-year contract. This year, it could be the same verse, in a different chapter. Miami likely would want to upgrade the position, finding someone to pair with Reshad Jones in the back of the secondary; however, Clemons is a very solid, if unspectacular, option for the last line of defense, and Miami may decide they would like to again bring back their 2009 fifth round selection.
Richie Incognito, guard - A 2012 Pro Bowler, Incognito was the center of the bullying scandal that rocked the Dolphins in the second half of the 2013 season. Reports have indicated that coach Joe Philbin may have made a push to release Incognito prior to the season, but was overruled by then general manager Jeff Ireland. Whether those reports are 100-percent accurate, or if it is a matter of hindsight being 20/20, it does not appear Icognito will return to the Dolphins in 2014.
John Jerry, guard - The Dolphins have brought in competition for Jerry nearly every year, looking for an upgrade over their 2010 third-round pick, yet every year he winds up starting somewhere on the line. He's played guard and tackle for Miami over the four years he has been with the team, but he was also named as one of the culprits in the Dolphins' bullying-scandal this past season. Miami will likely allow Jerry to test the market, and may consider re-signing him if he comes back to the club with a decent offer from another team. In either case, Jerry is not likely to be a starting member of the offensive line in 2014.
Dustin Keller, tight end - Keller signed a one-year contract with the Dolphins and was one of the exciting offensive weapons the team brought in to aid quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2013. Then the preseason began and Keller had his knee shredded on a low hit. After being on injured reserve for the entire season, the veteran tight end could be looking to prove he is healthy and ready for a seventh NFL season. He's an interesting one to watch this offseason as the market for him may be small due to the injury, while the Dolphins had Charles Clay breakout as a tight end last year. It's possible Keller and Miami reach another one-year prove it deal this year.
Bryant McKinnie, offensive tackle - Possibly the only member of the Miami offensive line free agent group who could return, McKinnie was able to immediately step into the Dolphins starting line up last year and, after an adjustment period, played solid left tackle for the club. He would likely be a fall-back option for the Dolphins, who are expected to chase Eugene Monroe and Branden Albert once free agency opens, but would not be a horrible option as a one-year stop gap if no one else can be acquired.
Marlon Moore, wide receiver - As an undrafted free agent, Moore spent the 2010 through 2012 seasons with the Dolphins before signing as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers last year. He was released by the 49ers after Week 7, at which point Miami brought him back to help with the special teams. He appeared in the Dolphins' last eight games and proved his value as a special teamer. The Dolphins could look to try to retain Moore, either prior to the start of free agency or after Moore is allowed to test the market, primarily to keep him as a special teams option.
Chris Owens, cornerback - Miami claimed Owens in the middle of December when the team was seeing their secondary decimated by injuries and the Cleveland Browns waived the veteran after placing him on injured reserve earlier in the month. Owens had spent four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons prior to the 12 game stretch with Cleveland, and he provded the Dolphins with much needed depth, appearing in one game. Owens likely will not return to the Dolphins, who already have Grimes, Dimitri Patterson, Jamar Taylor, Will Davis, and Jalil Brown on the roster.
Paul Soliai, defensive tackle - Potentially the top priority for the Dolphins among their own players, Soliai's presence in the middle of the Miami defensive line is one that would be hard to replace. He alone makes the team able to continue their hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme, as he can slide into a nose tackle position without any degradation of play. A former Pro Bowler, Soliai will have a market if he is allowed to hit free agency, which the Dolphins should try to prevent.
Austin Spitler, linebacker - Miami released Spitler last year, then realized they needed linebacker depth and special teams help, so they brought back the veteran. Potentially, Miami could look to hold on to Spitler, but last year's attempt to replace him does not make it appear the club has any desire to break the bank in an attempt to keep him.
Randy Starks, defensive tackle - Miami's franchise player last year, the two-time Pro Bowler could be heading to his third franchise since joining the league in 2004 (Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins). The Dolphins would likely want to re-sign Starks, but it is expected that the demand for him could drive the price higher than Miami is willing to pay.
Restricted Free Agents:
R.J. Stanford, cornerback - Stanford joined the Dolphins from the Carolina Panthers in 2012, and has established himself as a depth option at cornerback and a special teams player. A return to the Dolphins makes sense for both sides, but it would not be shocking if Miami allowed him to sign with another team, either.
Danny Watkins, guard - The former first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles joined Miami this past year on a one-year contract. He has not reached the accrued seasons to be an unrestricted free agent, and his struggles with the Eagles, should mean the Dolphins can re-sign him fairly cheaply, if they want him. He appeared in only one game for Miami in 2013, despite all of the struggles with the offensive line and the suspension of Richie Incognito. Depth along the offensive line, especially during training camp, could be why Watkins returns to Miami in 2014.
Will Yeatman, offensive tackle - Yeatman has been the pet project of head coach Joe Philbin over the past couple of years, as the Dolphins transition him from tight end to offensive tackle. Yeatman started seeing playing time as a sixth offensive lineman during the 2013 season, lining up as an eligible tackle, before tearing his ACL during a practice and landing on injured reserve. Miami will likely keep Yeatman in 2014, and could look to rotate him into the starting lineup in training camp, assuming his knee is healthy, as they reset the offensive line.
Exclusive Rights Free Agents:
Armon Binns, wide receiver - Binns appeared set to be the Dolphins fourth wide receiver during training camp, only to wind up on injured reserve with a torn ACL and MCL late in July. The emmergence of Rishard Matthews as the fourth, and possibly third, option in the Dolphins offense after Brandon Gibson's injury could push Binns out of Miami's offensive plans, but the fact that Binns is an ERFA, and therefore should be fairly cheap, could keep him around at least through training camp.
Pat Devlin, quarterback - While Yeatman is Philbin's pet project, Devlin is simply Philbin's pet. The third string quarterback is well liked among the coaching staff, and has been developing nicely. Odds seem to say he will return to the Dolphins again in 2014, especially since he is an ERFA, but the team could decide to draft a late round quarterback this year, which would endanger Devlin's position with the club.
Jonathan Freeny, linebacker - Freeny has worked his way from undrafted free agent to practice squad player to 53-man roster member to game day special teams player and reserve linebacker. As an ERFA, he should be cheap enough that Miami brings him back for 2014.