Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dolphins & free agency: Who goes, stays, signs?


The Miami Dolphins are sitting on a projected $32.5 million in cap space, but with the comprehensive changes need on both lines, no dollar figure seems quite enough. First year general manager Dennis Hickey has the resources to patch the Dolphins into a contender, but it'll require the type of smart investments his predecessor was renown for missing on.

Free agents:

CB Brent Grimes, DT Paul Soliai, DT Randy Starks, S Chris Clemons, CB Nolan Carroll, TE Dustin Keller, OL John Jerry, OL Tyson Clabo, OL Bryant McKinnie, CB R.J. Stanford (R), OL Richie Incognito, WR Marlon Moore, LB Austin Spitler, OL Will Yeatman (R), OL Danny Watkins (R), CB Chris Owens.

Who goes?

Given either their play, age, or starring role in Ted Wells recently-released report on the Dolphins toxic locker room culture, don't expect any of the numerous offensive linemen on that list to return. Jerry, Clabo, Incognito and McKinnie all started multiple games in 2013, and considering Wells' revelations on Mike Pouncey and the status of Jonathan Martin, Hickey may have five starting spots to fill this offseason.

It's also unlikely that Miami returns both of its longtime interior defensive line stalwarts, Starks and Soliai. The latter's affinity for South Florida and cheaper price tag makes him the likelier re-sign. Secondary-mates Clemons and Carroll each enter free agency coming off very good seasons, and Miami may see higher bidders take solid pieces from its defense. Keller could be the long seam threat the Dolphins need at tight end, but he may be spoiled goods after a devastating knee injury last preseason.

Who stays?

It's considered a near certainty that Grimes returns to Miami, whether it be by long term deal or the dreaded franchise tag. The tag would occupy nearly a third of the Dolphins' cap space but may be the the only way to go if the Grimes won't agree to a palatable deal. Allowing him to walk, the third option, seems unthinkable considering the probable turnover in the rest of the secondary.

Aside from Soliai, Carroll and Clemons, few of Miami's major free agents appear likely to enter talks for a new deal. Moore and Spitler are possibilities due to their special teams contributions, and reserved offensive lineman Will Yeatman is a known Joe Philbin favorite.

Who signs?

Due to the fact that the holes on the roster greatly outnumber the contributors they can expect to get in the draft, and the fact that Miami is in a quasi-win-now state, expect the Dolphins to swing their money around again this offseason. Here are some potential targets:

Anthony Collins, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
For the past six seasons, Collins has served as one of the best backup tackles in the league. Now a free agent, he should be seeking a starter's job -- and money -- from a tackle-needy team. The Dolphins can give him both, and his pass blocking proficiency makes him particularly desirable.

Scott Chandler, TE, Buffalo Bills
Never a dominating force in Buffalo, Chandler boasts top-level measurables and would be a nice seam target for Ryan Tannehill. Chandler could benefit from improved quarterback play, and the Miami offense could benefit from a between-the-numbers option with a large catch radius. And it doesn't hurt he's coming from a division rival.

Henry Melton, DT, Chicago Bears
Once a budding star, a knee injury has labeled the young defensive tackle somewhat of a reclamation project. He's a talented interior pass rusher and likely could be had at a very reasonable price, but he'd need to be paired with a large one-technique such as Soliai.

Brandon Albert, OL, Kansas City Chiefs
Albert and the Dolphins have been linked before, and as Hickey seeks to rebuild his offensive line, signing the 29-year-old would provide Miami's offense long term bookend. Only problem is that Albert figures to command a price near the top of the market, meaning Miami will need to continue the free-spending habits that produced a less-than-desirable outcome in 2013. That will depend on the new regime's approach.

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