Free agency officially begins on March 15th. Leading up to this date, the Dolphins will be contemplating which players they should resign, and which players they will allow to walk out of the doors in Davie for the last time. While this resigning period will have a large impact on the team’s moves in March, it is still likely that there are positions they will have to fill during the free agent frenzy.
The Dolphins have been big spenders at the onset of free agency since 2012. Each year they have made at least one big money signing in hopes to give their team an instant injection of energy. This season, it should be different. The team will likely look to wait a few days, and bring in players who can improve their depth or start without the burden of a massive contract.
As the Dolphins begin their assessment of potential free agent signees, here is my list of free agents I would like to see brought in to help improve the team’s chances of winning in Miami.
Zach Miller, TE (CHI):
Many are in favor of the Miami Dolphins cutting Jordan Cameron and moving on from his $9.5 million 2016 cap hit. While this would save a substantial amount of money, the team would be without a capable tight end. Dion Sims has shown himself to be a pure blocker, and Jake Stoneburner is an incredibly raw young player. That is why the Dolphins’ better strategy is to keep Cameron, and potentially sign another player at the position to create a dynamic tandem.
Zach Miller was a massive surprise for the Bears last season. In Adam Gase’s offense, he served as the second tight end and was elevated upon Martellus Bennett's injury. He caught 34 passes for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns. These are not eye-popping numbers and, when coupled with Miller’s age (31), show him to be a relatively low profile free agent.
While this might be true for 31 teams, Miller has familiarity with Gase. He knows what is expected at the tight end position, and could be a valuable asset in the locker room. Not only could he help in a mental capacity, but he also would serve as insurance for the oft-injured Jordan Cameron. If the Miami Dolphins expect to have a small amount of cap space, Gase could lure his former player down to South Florida.
Kelechi Osemele (BAL):
The Miami Dolphins should not be handing out substantial contracts to individual players in free agency this season. Based on their situation, they will likely target veterans or cheaper options on shorter contracts in an effort to bolster a roster that is far from complete.
However, rules were made to be broken.
Kelechi Osemele is the top free agent guard for this offseason. Since joining the Baltimore Ravens as a rookie out of Iowa State, he has helped anchor one of the league’s toughest units. He has played tackle in addition to guard, starting as the Ravens’ blindside blocker in their Week 17 game. For the Dolphins, Osemele is a perfect fit.
While he will command a significant amount of cap space, Osemele fills several needs for the team. He would serve as the backup tackle in addition to starting at guard. After last season’s performance by Jason Fox, Dolphins’ fans know how valuable depth is along the offensive line. He also would help establish toughness in a group that has been beaten and battered since 2012. The Dolphins need a player with the attitude and strength that Osemele would bring to the table.
Outside of Osemele, there is no free agent that the Miami Dolphins should overpay for this offseason. He fills the team’s need and would provide a litany of services that they need along the offensive line. If they can manage to find the room on their payroll, the Dolphins would be able to make a homerun signing by fortifying their interior line with Kelechi Osemele.
Alex Boone (SF):
If the Miami Dolphins cannot find the money to sign Osemele, they could turn to a cheaper option at guard. Alex Boone is set to become a free agent, and the 28-year old would likely not command the same level of pay as Osemele. He will not be cheap, but would provide help at the Dolphins’ most dire position of need.
2016 will be Boone’s sixth NFL season. The Ohio State product has played several positions during his NFL career but is best suited to playing on the interior of the line. Boone is a behemoth, standing at sit-feet-eight-inches and weighing 300 lbs. He mauls opponents, and would provide a physical presence for the Dolphins’ offensive line.
While Kelechi Osemele should be the top choice, Alex Boone would be a great consolation prize. He has played at a high level for the vast majority of his career, and would be a very safe signing. For a Dolphins team that is prone to mistakes in free agency, bringing in Boone or Osemele would represent a welcomed shift to substantially safer acquisitions.
Paul Soliai (ATL):
In 2013, the Miami Dolphins parted ways with defensive tackle Paul Soliai. After making the Pro Bowl in 2011, Soliai showed that he is capable of anchoring a defensive line with his strength and size. He has proved over his career to be a very reliable player against the run and has showed great leadership during runs with the Dolphins and Falcons.
Soliai is now set to become a free agent again, after announcing that the Falcons will cut him due to his refusal to take a pay cut. This means that the Dolphins will have an opportunity to bring Soliai back home when he hits the open market in a few weeks. While South Florida isn’t actually "home" for the native-Samoan out of Utah, multiple reports indicate that Soliai would welcome a return to the Dolphins.
In Miami, Soliai became a fan favorite due to his consistent play alongside Randy Starks, who outlasted Soliai by one year with the team. In 2016, the Dolphins will look to bring their run defense back to its form of the Soliai/Starks days. However, Soliai’s pairing with Ndamukong Suh would be lethal for opposing defenses. Soliai’s size means that he is often allocated two blockers. However, teams cannot afford to block both Soliai and Suh with multiple players. This would allow the team to create more penetration in the backfield, which they desperately need.
Paul Soliai is 32 years old and plays a position that does not usually receive massive paydays (as he is not a pass rushing defensive tackle, but more of a pure nose tackle). With that being said, the Dolphins could reach out to Soliai and potentially move on from Earl Mitchell, who does not provide the same dynamic presence that Soliai would when pairing his run blocking ability with Suh’s athleticism.
Bringing Paul Soliai back would be a solid move for the Dolphins, and could go a long way towards fortifying a struggling run defense.
Adam Jones/Leon Hall (CIN):
The Miami Dolphins might not move on from Brent Grimes before the 2016 season, but surely need to provide a solid option at cornerback opposite him before the season begins. The Brice McCain experiment was a disaster, and Jamar Taylor has been unable to develop into a player worthy of the second-round pick Miami spent on him. While Taylor should return next season, cutting McCain seems fairly likely.
When the team moves on from the ex-Steeler, they could look towards two players who have experience with now Dolphins’ defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Adam Jones and Leon Hall both played under Joseph in Cincinnati and helped solidify the back end of one of the league’s tougher units. Each comes with clear red flags. Hall is aging and has suffered multiple severe Achilles injuries. It is very risky to bring in an aging corner who has suffered multiple injuries to play opposite an aging corner who has suffered multiple injuries.
Adam Jones represents an entirely different risk. Not only is he just one year younger than Hall, but he is also a problematic player in terms of his emotions. Jones was largely responsible for the Bengals’ playoff loss to the Steelers, picking up substantial penalties that extended a Steelers’ drive. He also has created issues off of the field; he was involved in an incident in which he assaulted a dancer in a nightclub, and someone in his entourage paralyzed a club patron with a stray bullet. While he has improved in his off-field conduct since arriving in Cincinnati, the risks of signing an emotional player like Jones are large.
While the team might want to go with a player who has fewer red flags, Jones and Hall could be massive bargains for Miami. With Joe Philbin no longer the head coach, Mike Tannenbaum should feel free to take more risks in terms of character on the team. This makes Adam Jones a possibility. Leon Hall has had several solid seasons for the Bengal, and, if he is willing to sign in Miami, it could represent a great way to acquire a number two cornerback for a low price.
While neither player is completely optimal, I like the idea of signing one of these ex-Bengals in order to provide assistance in the secondary without breaking the bank in free agency.
Outside of Kelechi Osemele and Alex Boone, I do not think the Miami Dolphins should seek out big money free agents this offseason. The team is lucky to even have the cap room that they do, and thanks to Dawn Aponte’s work will be able to sign some players to help improve the team.
Free agency is not designed to build the foundation of a team. It is helpful in adding players to help contribute to a core that is established through the draft. For the Miami Dolphins, working off of their offensive nucleus will not be a problem. They have drafted players like Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Mike Pouncey, Lamar Miller, Ja’Wuan James, and DeVante Parker. On defense, however, they will need to work around Ndamukong Suh, a core player acquired via free agency.
Since the team has acquired several key players in free agency, their hands are tied a bit by the salary cap this offseason. While it will be difficult, the front office should be able to clear some cap space en route to veteran and depth signings. The players on this list have made it because I feel that they are either worth overpaying, like Osemele and Boone, or provide a chance for Miami to pick up a solid player for good value. If the team wants to compete in 2016, they will need to take pressure off of themselves as they approach the draft by finding contributors in free agency without breaking the bank.
If they fail once again to fill crucial holes in their roster, 2016 could be another long season in South Florida.