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Dolphins draft needs: How free agency changed Miami’s roster

Free agency has slowed, which means we now can get a picture of the needs for the Dolphins headed to the Draft.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins hit the 2017 free agency period with a deliberate plan, both in the players they wanted and with the price points they were willing to pay. They targeted their own key players, bringing back those players while making sure they visited with and signed the free agents who they felt would best fit their system, all while making sure they did not break the bank for any one player.

It was a fresh change for a franchise that has, in recent years, been focused on signing the biggest names on the free agent market, while allowing some of their own young and developing talent to leave the franchise. Those big splashy moves, like signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, excite the fan base and add Pro Bowl talent, but it also eats up large portions of the salary cap and forces the team to allow players like defensive end Olivier Vernon and tight end Charles Clay to sign large money contracts elsewhere.

It is a trade-off that the Dolphins had been willing to do in the past, but things started to change of the past two offseasons, with the Dolphins making sure to re-sign players like defensive end Andre Branch, wide receiver Kenny Stills, and safety Reshad Jones this offseason. Restricted free agents like linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Michael Thomas were tendered. They then added linebacker Lawrence Timmons, guard Ted Larsen, safety Nate Allen, defensive end William Hayes, and tight ends Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano.

Now, with free agency slowing down and the focus starting to shift to the Draft at the end of April, what do the Miami Dolphins need? Were holes filled by fee agency? Where should the team be looking with their draft prospects?

The plan seems to have worked for the Dolphins, with there not being a “must-have” type of need heading into the draft. There isn’t a position that Miami has to immediately fill on day one of the selection process, instead allowing Miami to have some flexibility in who they select when, and bringing the “best-player available” idea into play. That does not mean there are not some areas that should be addressed for the Dolphins, just not one that is so critical that the team cannot address it when they choose.

What are those needs?

Linebacker - The Dolphins still need to add another linebacker. They are still holding on to Koa Misi, so they may be considering him as a starter if they are unable to add another player, but Misi also sustained a neck injury last year that was said to at least jeopardize his ability to play. The Dolphins head into the Draft with Alonso and Timmons as two of the three starters, but that third starter is still to be determined. Adding a rookie linebacker to the trio could be in the cards.

Cornerback - Miami has Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Bobby McCain, and Tony Lippett as their top cornerbacks, but adding another player for depth and to challenge for the nickel cornerback position makes sense. This may no be the biggest need, but if there is a cornerback they like available, it is a position they absolutely look to address.

Guard - Right now, the team likely will be using some combination of Larsen, Jermon Bushrod, Anthony Steen, or Kraig Urbik to fill their two guard positions. Picking up a rookie to add to that competition is a definite possibility, but if the Dolphins want a player who can be an immediate starter, they are likely going to have to consider using a first-round pick on a guard this year, in what is widely considered a shallow offensive line Draft. Miami could look to add a developmental player later in the Draft, someone they can play behind Bushrod this year, looking to have him as a replacement should the veteran decide to retire after this season.

Defensive line - The defensive ends and defensive tackles will be lumped together in this listing, simply because the team needs to address both. There is not a lot of depth at either position, and Miami could afford to get younger, especially at defensive end, so both spots need consideration during the Draft. The team currently has Cameron Wake and Branch as their top two defensive ends, with Hayes, Terrence Fede, Dion Jordan, Julius Warmsley, and Arthur Miley all as depth options behind them. At defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh tops the depth chart, likely paired with Jordan Phillips as the starters, with Nick Williams and Lawrence Okoye as the reserves. Picks at both defensive end and defensive tackle seem likely this year.

Safety - This might be a “best-player available” type of situation, but one that would make some sense for the team. Strong safety Reshad Jones will be back this year, while the team will look to Allen and Thomas to battle for the free safety position. If there is a prospect who the Dolphins really likely, and they project as a starting free safety, they may have to pull the trigger on that selection, adding him to the competition as a rookie. Jones has had a revolving door of safeties paired with him over the course of his career, and a drafted rookie could finally end that turnover.