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What Will the Miami Dolphins Do in the 2016 Draft? 2017 Off-Season Might Be a Clue

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It's prudent to keep an eye on the present and an eye on the future to determine the course of the Miami Dolphins roster. Mike Tannenbaum and the rest of the front office will be occupying this mindset - so why shouldn't we?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's kind of like having a not-so-sure-about romantic partner and maintaining a stance of flirting with others: it's all about keeping your options open. The 2016 NFL Draft, from the Miami Dolphins point of view, will undoubtedly incorporate this polygamous perspective. It's easy to get sucked into the vacuum of seeing the 2016 Miami Dolphins roster in a bubble, but a front office must cultivate a plan that looks beyond 2016 and into the uncertainty of the future. Let's break down 2017 to see if we can infer anything about the 2016 Miami Dolphins draft intentions. (All contractual info courtesy of overthecap.com)

Expiring Contracts

Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFA): 18

Restricted Free Agents (RFA): 8

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA): 18

If you didn't make it passed integrated math in high school, that's 44 expiring contract going into the 2017 off-season. 26 of these expiring contracts shouldn't carry more than an iota of emotional investment, as we can easily re-sign any of the exclusive and restricted free agents if the organization so desires, as they will be cheap and have very limited negotiating rights. Michael Thomas, Jake Stoneburner, Logan Thomas, Matt Hazel, Damien Williams, Mike Hull, and Chris McCain highlight the list of ERFA and RFA to watch in 2016.

Instead of listing the UFA's individually, I'm erring on grouping them by position, as it will give us more insight into the volatility of the respective position groups, which I'll list in order of volatility by my estimation:

Defensive End

Cameron Wake n' Bake and Andre Branch will both be unrestricted free agents going into 2017 - it's hard to envision a scenario where both of these gentlemen come back to the fold after 2016. That's 2 of our top 3 DE's, with the remaining DE being Mario Williams, who will be 32 going into the 2017 season. Did I mention we could save $8.5 million going into 2017 if Mario Williams falls on his face in 2016 and we cut him? Damontre Moore will be an UFA going into 2017 as well, leaving us with Terrance Fede and Mario Williams as the only noteworthy DE's (potentially) under contract.

Since Tom Brady will play until he's 67, there's no way a front office can ignore the topsy-turvy nature of the DE group. As much as I'd love for Wake to feast on offenses returning from Achilles surgery like a vampire after dark, there's a part of me that has to admit that he's human. A pass rush is second to the QB in terms of importance on a football team, and considering the flimsy nature of the DE group and its potential longevity, the front office needs to be looking long and hard at addressing this position. I can't rule out a 1st round investment, and as such, any other round for that matter.

Linebacker

2 of our 3 projected starters at LB, as of this writing, will be free agents heading into 2017: Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins. The question marks surrounding Kiko Alonso are well-documented. Jelani Jenkins seems to have a free pass among the fan base, but I have personally been underwhelmed by what he has brought to the table. I'd love Neville Hewitt to unseat him, although Hewitt needs to be able to put on some weight and handle the run better without compromising his ability to defend the pass: Hewitt was the #17 coverage LB by PFF.

When you throw in the fact that we could save $4.2 million by cutting Koa Misi after 2016, it makes the LB group that much more unpredictable. Spencer Paysinger and James Michael Johnson, although mostly special teams players, will also be free agents. Like DE, I can see a LB investment (or multiple investments) anywhere in the draft, including in round 1. The progression of Kiko Alonso in 2016 will almost single-handedly sway the Dolphins' draft priorities heading into 2017, but you simply can't go into 2016 without contemplating the opportunity of addressing a potential huge hole on the defense, if not multiple huge holes.

Offensive Line

Jermon Bushrod (hehe, Bushrod), Sam Young, Jacques McLendon, and Dallas Thomas will all be UFA's entering 2017. I know what you're thinking: why does Dallas Thomas still have a job? I don't know, man. Here's hoping he can improve enough to learn the washer and dryer cycle in the locker room's state-of-the-arts laundry facility. In addition, Branden Albert can be cut with $7.2 million in savings going into 2017; Mike Pouncey can be cut for $3.975 million going into 2017. Each of their value to the Dolphins depends on 2016, because neither have justified their contract. HA! You must have had a dream about hooking up with Brooklyn Decker if you thought we wouldn't have OL issues going into 2017: it's the Miami Dolphins modus operandi.

Tight End

Jordan Cameron and Dion Sims will both enter 2017 as unrestricted free agents. Couple this with Stoneburner and Dominique Jones being RFA's, and you have an entire TE group getting ready to expire in a year. You have to have a back-up plan if all 4 TE's on your roster could possibly be gone after one season. Although very few of us are talking about the realistic possibility of drafting TE in 2016, the future outlook suggests that the front office will not be overlooking the possibility of drafting a TE of their liking anywhere from round 2 to round 7.

Jordan Cameron had 257 of his 386 yards and 19 of his 35 catches in the first 7 games of 2015. The latter half of the season he was kept in-line to block way too often, and he simply wasn't effective in doing so - he still managed to snag 2 red-zone TD's in those final 9 games, but that's not enough to overlook his lack of impact on the Dolphins offense. Part of this was the circumstance of OL injury, but if Cameron wasn't successful in maintaing the protection - what was the point of doing it?

Gase loves using his TE's and here's hoping that Cameron will be better utilized in 2016 and deserve a contract extension. Dion Sims missed on too many blocks and dropped too many passes to be considered in the long-term future. My hope is that Stoneburner unseats him as the #2 TE: Stoneburner easily outranked Sims in pass blocking and pass catching by PFF, while trailing slightly in the run blocking category.

At the end of the day, there are too many question marks with the TE group entering 2017, and if a solid TE prospect present themselves with a BPA opportunity, look for the Miami Dolphins to seriously consider it. Like DarrylDunphy, I'd like to see the Dolphins use more 12 personnel, and that requires 2 TE's to be on the roster, let alone be worth a crap.

Long Snapper

Eventually, John Denney's testicles will be approximately where he is hiking the football from. Where do long snappers even come from? I feel like they are the "Children of the Ice" from Game of Thrones. Are they drafted? Do they just sneak onto the roster like how Don Draper got his job in Mad Men? Do you just post an awesome YouTube video? I'm sure long snappers can play a long time, but eventually we're going to have to break up with John Denney - he WILL be 39 during the 2017 season. I'm not opposed to angry break-up sex with him after it's over, but we'll have to admit that it's finally over and cry ourselves to sleep after a tub of ice cream. Eventually we have to see if someone else can do that ear lobe-thing we like so much.

The Remaining

Kenny Stills and Griff Whalen, WR; Jamar Taylor and Chimdi Chekwa, CB.

Eh, not much to get worked up about. Kenny Stills is the biggest name of the group, and he has a lot to prove in 2016 to see if his production with Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense is sustainable in any other setting. Jamar Taylor has been a bust and a move to safety might be his best bet to stay afloat in the cutthroat business of the NFL.

There you have it my fellow Dolfans. So, for example, if the Dolphins draft board poses 2 similarly rated players, one is a TE and one is a S - we're likely going TE. The future of the relative position groups will help the front office with these 50/50 draft day calls as the seconds tick down while we're on the clock. The silver lining is that the 2017 free agent class, aside from our love for Cameron Wake, will not cause much dismay if we lose anybody. We will have plenty of cap space, roster flexibility, and draft pick capital (overthecap.com projects a 3rd and 5th round compensatory pick for the loss of Olivier Vernon and Lamar Miller) to make adjustments.

It would be nice for some of these expiring contract players to earn another contract, but at the same time, we shouldn't wait until 2017 to worry about 2017. If porn has taught us anything, it's that a menage-a-trios between the front office and the 2016 and 2017 off-seasons can inspire dreams and possibilities. Here's hoping Mike Tannenbaum and company can pull off a threesome that has us all blushing.