In less than one week, the NFL will begin the 2016 league year and with that, free agency will begin. Of course, some can argue that free agency has already begun behind the scenes, dating back to the days spent at the NFL Combine where NFL teams and agents alike gauge the market for the various players set to reach this period in their career. For some players, they will cash in and secure their financial future (if they invest it the right way). For others, they will struggle to find work and settle for a lesser contract. Then, there are those who aren't signed and see their NFL career come to an end.
Earlier today, I told you what the Dolphins would like to do with the front part of their defense. That includes bringing in a defensive end such as Mario Williams or William Hayes and Tahir Whitehead along with Vincent Rey at linebacker. Their intention is to move on from Earl Mitchell but need to obviously find a replacement before making the move.
In this column, I'll talk about what the Dolphins plan to do with the back part of their defense - the cornerback and safety positions. There is a lot to discuss so let's dive right into it.
First, the elephant in the room is whether or not the Dolphins want to put up with Brent Grimes and his out-spoken, loud-mouthed and disrespectful wife. The short answer is no, they do not. Miami would love to move on from the Grimes family and let them take their drama somewhere else. However, just like the defensive tackle positon, they need to find a viable replacement first.
I can tell you that the Dolphins were hoping Trumaine Johnson made it out of Los Angeles without getting the franchise tag. That was their number one target at the cornerback position and they were prepared to spend big money on him. Now, the best cornerback on the market, according to many, is Janoris Jenkins. He is 27-years-old and is coming off a great season, but there are concerns about his off-field behavior. Would he be a good fit in Miami, where it is warm all-year round and plenty of time to get into trouble? In addition, is he worth the big money that Miami will need to spend to get him? They have been researching those various scenarios so we will have to see how it plays out.
Besides Jenkins, the Dolphins also have interest in Pacman Jones, Morris Claiborne, Casey Hayward and Prince Amukamara. Of those players, the person to watch here is Jones. He wants to be in Miami and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph wants him here as well. Last season, Jones thrived under the direction of Joseph and was essentially a shut-down cornerback. He will be 33 shortly after the season begins so he is not a long-term solution, but he could be a solid stop-gap while the Dolphins draft and develop a true number one cornerback, such as Vernon Hargreaves III.
After Pacman, I would say the player the Dolphins have the most interest in is Claiborne. He got off to a rocky start in his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys but had a solid 2015 campaign. There are injury concerns with him, as he battled a lingering knee injury in the past and the Dolphins will have to sort through all of that. He could be the number two corner for the Dolphins if they don't end up drafting one.
Hayward is a great corner in zone coverage, which Joseph likes to run. The knock on him is that he is a poor tackler. Amukamara has been inconsistent and has battled injuries since coming into the NFL, thus he and Hayward are fallback options for Miami.
The front office loves the potential of Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett so expect them to compete for an increased role, with McCain likely to take over nickel duties. Their plan is to move on from Jamar Taylor once they find a viable replacement or two.
To recap the cornerback position, it is not known if the Dolphins will target Jenkins. Some mention Sean Smith but he is best-suited for press coverage and Joseph wants to run a zone the majority of the time. After Jenkins, you're looking at Jones, Claiborne, Hayward and Amukamara. It is quite possible they will move on from Grimes if they are able to find a replacement for him. If I had to guess, that could entail signing Pacman and/or Claiborne and then drafting a corner with their first-round pick. However, this decision will also be tied to what they are able to do at the other positions on the defensive side of the ball - specifically, defensive end and linebacker.
The Dolphins are set on one side of the field with superstar Reshad Jones. Walt Aikens and Michael Thomas rotated on the other side in 2015 but neither were overly impressive. Despite Miami tendering Johnson on Friday, they want to bring in a more trusted and stable veteran to play opposite Jones.
The one player that makes the most sense and who has a good chance of landing in Miami is George Iloka, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals. At just 26-years-old, he is very good when it comes time to stopping the run. There are questions about his ability to play well in coverage, though. Coming to Miami, he would be re-united with Joseph, who surely knows how to get the most out of him. The other player from the Bengals, Reggie Nelson, is also a possibility but some expect him to stay with Cincinnati.
As for Eric Weddle, he will likely command too much money for the Dolphins to afford him so I would be very surprised if the Dolphins even came close to securing him. If they can't land Iloka, some have mentioned Denver Broncos safety David Bruton as a fallback option. However, his ability to stand out on special teams is what separates him from the rest. While he would compete for a starting spot against Aikens and Thomas, he is not the guy the Dolphins would like to depend on to start opposite Jones every Sunday.
To recap the safety position, there aren't many options, which is why the Iloka-Joseph connection will be huge. One would think that the Dolphins would have no problem getting him down to Miami but you never know when it comes to the NFL and free agency.
The Dolphins have a solid plan for their defense heading into free agency. The question becomes whether or not they can pull it off. Even if they miss out on one or two pieces, they will still be in good shape as they would fill the rest through the early part of the draft. If they miss in free agency though, it could be a tough year to watch this Dolphins defense. As one source put it to me, it could be even worse than last year if things don't bounce in Miami's direction. We'll find out sooner rather than later.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter! Follow @FinsInsider