A lot has been speculated over the last couple of days about what responsibilities Stephen Ross will hand to his new General Manager. According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Ross has made that clear, saying “the new General Manager will have autonomous responsibility for the 53 man roster and selecting players during the draft.”
In other words, he’ll have roughly the same level of responsibility that Jeff Ireland had during the majority of his post-Parcells tenure. Let’s take a look at what Miami’s new GM will have to work with in 2014, and beyond.
Miami currently has about 109 million devoted to the 2014 salary cap. With the league’s cap increasing to about 126.3 million, and Miami reportedly having roughly 18 million to rollover into next year’s cap number, the Dolphins should currently have about 36 million in cap room.
Does that mean Miami has 36 million to spend? No. As I try and stress all the time, the salary cap is not a year-by-year restriction; it is a long-term project and many influences go into how you “use your cap room”, so to speak.
With that said, Miami does have plenty of financial flexibility heading into 2014 and beyond. If the Dolphins want to spend big on an offensive tackle in Free Agency, for example, they can do that.
I don’t want to get too much into Miami’s cap situation though; maybe another blog. Let’s get into the meat of what a new GM will have on his plate.
Impending Free Agents
Miami have some extremely important decisions to weigh out this spring in regards to their own Free Agents.
Daniel Eliesen wrote a nice piece on five players the Dolphins must re-sign ( http://cover32.com/dolphins/2014/01/09/five-players-the-dolphins-should-re-sign/ )
Miami will almost assuredly be bringing back Brent Grimes. Whether that is with a long-term, lucrative extension, or with an expensive 10 million dollar franchise tag is the question. Grimes is one of the top players at a premium position in today’s game, and needless to say one of the top players at his position potentially available in Free Agency. Miami has very little depth behind him – with Nolan Carroll a free agent, Dimitri Patterson an injury liability since he signed in December of 2012, and massive inexperience in Jamar Taylor and Will Davis – and a lot of cap room, as mentioned above. Grimes has a lot of leverage in contract discussions.
This, along with Grimes’ age (he will be 31 at the start of next season), and I think the best course of action would be the franchise tag. It will cost you 10 million in 2014 cash and cap, however it is a small risk compared to committing long-term money in an over-30 player coming off his career season. In the meantime, Miami has to heavily commit to developing young CB’s to replace Grimes next season (more on that later in the blog).
Miami also have a big decision at Defensive Tackle. It appears that Kevin Coyle will be retained as defensive coordinator, and thus the 4-3 Defense will stick. If Miami does switch back to a 3-4 Defense for whatever reason, the situation becomes messier (but also more on that later on). Both Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are at the end of their contracts and both will be paid well. Starks was given the franchise tag last season and is likely looking for one last large payday as he enters his 11th year in the league. Starks has been a rock-solid player in the interior of both a 34 and 43 DL for Miami in the past, playing the run and pressure the quarterback at high levels. He provides a lot of versatility and production on the field, but is he worth paying? Probably no; I think that relationship has ended.
Soliai, on the other hand, seems like a potentially safer option. Soliai has hit that magic 30-year old number, however he does not have nearly the mileage on his knees that Randy Starks has. Soliai, according to local reporters, loves Miami and we’ve seen him take a supposed home-town discount in the past. Paul is one of Miami’s most pivotal pieces defensively, and replacing him would not only be hard to do, but probably more expensive than bringing the former 4th round pick back. While Soliai makes more sense than Starks to me, Miami will have long talks with and about both, needing to bring back one of the two.
Chris Clemons and Nolan Carroll are both also impending Free Agents. Both from the 2009 draft class, Clemons has turned into a very solid center fielder on this Dolphins defense, while Carroll has been invaluable as a spot-starter. While many will be quick to dismiss Carroll’s contributions as mediocre at best, consider where he has been on the depth chart at the start of each year. Carroll has consistently been viewed as a player fighting for a 53-man spot, and each season ends up starting 10 games because of injury. His experience and solid play this season, to go with his age (27 later this month), will mean that several teams offer him good money on the open market.
As much as I just complimented Carroll’s contributions over the years, he is replaceable. While depth is an issue for Miami, and Carroll’s experience valuable, he’s a solid player who will likely be paid starter money by someone.
Clemons, on the other hand, should be a priority. Clemons got so little attention from teams last Off Season that he signed a one-year deal for under 3 million to come back to Miami. He has been a bargain for the Dolphins since being drafted and should get above-average starter money over a 3 or 4 year deal. Clemons played well this season despite the inconsistent play of his teammate Reshad Jones next to him, LB’s in front of him and playing through several injuries throughout the season. Miami has very little depth and Safety and need to retain Clemons services along with acquiring more depth behind him.
Miami has an interesting decision regarding Dustin Keller. The Dolphins, as will be discussed later, have a major need at Tight End. Keller had a tremendous camp last summer and was in-line for a great season. Keller will be turning 30 at the start of next season and coming off a serious knee injury is always unpredictable, even with modern treatment and recent recoveries from similar injuries. Keller was never a great blocker, nor is it his size and strength at TE that make him an asset. It’s his tremendous athleticism and quickness coming out of breaks; any loss in explosiveness because of that knee injury will seriously impact his value.
Miami likely cannot count solely on Keller, but he will come cheap. For the reasons stated above, along with the fact that an injury in 2012 forced him to take bargain money on a 1 year deal with the Dolphins, and I would be shocked if a team offered Keller more than a 1 year deal for 3 or 4 million. Personally I would bring back Keller and also attack TE aggressively in either Free Agency or the Draft. One can never have too many weapons offensively, and Keller potentially provides one of the better values on the market.
Then there is the highlight of the spring; the Dolphins have a plethora of players along their offensive line to make decisions on. These will be interesting to watch develop. Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo each were solid over the 2nd half of the season, but both have plenty of evidence on their portfolio that should lead a GM to pass on the risk. While their play was solid, it can also be misleading, as the Dolphins made a concerted effort over the 2nd half of the season to help their OT’s in pass protection, including limiting Tannehill to shorter drop backs and increasing shot-gun snaps to make it easier for Ryan to step up in the pocket. The Dolphins should not count on either of these players to start next season, but with the amount of talent and depth lacking along the OL, including project Will Yeatman’s uncertain contract and injury status, and it’s possible one is brought back for depth.
John Jerry has stuck around the Dolphins starting line-up like a leach. Miami hasn’t been able to replace him, but shouldn’t look to bring him back. Jerry doesn’t fit the athletic mold in OG’s that Philbin wants and quite frankly Jerry is nothing more than an excuse to not invest in the position. Miami must find a way to improve upon what they have had at RG over the last several seasons.
Miami also have decisions to make on restricted Free Agents, such as Will Yeatman, but let’s move on to their biggest needs.
Where the roster must improve
Miami has some nice young assets in certain areas, but are also severely lacking in others. The good thing is that most of Miami’s larger investments are at premium positions, and have a lot of financial and roster flexibility at others (like TE) to improve.
Let’s start on the defensive side of the football.
As mentioned above, Miami’s two starting CB’s for the majority of last season (Grimes and Carroll) are free agents. Dimitri Patterson, as good as he has been since signing with Miami, has been an injury liability. Jamar Taylor and Will Davis are high draft picks who I personally still have hope for given their talent, but have little on their résumé and a lot of red flags.
Davis, as I mentioned when we drafted him, was a project with a lot of upside who likely wasn’t going to play his rookie season. He’s a good athlete and plays with A LOT of confidence, which is good, but came out of Nevada with very little knowledge on how to play the position, and got by with only his physical ability in college. He will need a lot of good coaching in order to develop into an NFL starter. Taylor came out with first round talent, but as I mentioned when we drafted him, was a risk for 3 reasons. First, Taylor came out with health concerns that ended up carrying over further into the Off Season than Miami anticipated. Taylor ended up suffering muscle injuries which took away most of his summer and set him back quite a bit. Second, Taylor was a one-year wonder in Boise. While talented, Taylor was not a high-round caliber player previous to his last season at Boise St. It’s always risky taking players, especially underclassmen, who didn’t have consistent performance over their college careers. Third, Taylor comes from a school and conference that has struggled to produce DB’s that pan out at the next level.
Miami has to invest heavily this Off Season at the corner position, starting with retaining Brent Grimes. Like mentioned previously, I would personally look to tag Grimes and develop talent behind him, building a core of corners for 2015 and beyond. Miami must look to acquire future competition for Davis and Taylor, along with players who can compete immediately given the lack of certainty at the position.
The Dolphins have very little assurance of starters for 2014, and even fewer assurances of starters beyond next season.
Miami also needs to make a move at safety. While I anticipate Chris Clemons returning, the Dolphins cannot risk going into next season with the lack of depth they currently have. Miami’s only legitimate option behind their two starting safeties was Jimmy Wilson, who has mostly been counted on as a slot corner. Miami must find someone to push Reshad Jones as well as provide depth in the secondary that young players like Don Jones cannot be fully counted on to provide.
I like Miami’s secondary, but I want to love it. Depth at safety needs to be acquired, but you should have your two long-term starter solutions already in place if you can get Reshad Jones back to his 2012 level of play. At corner, depth, long-term mold to develop, and immediate competition are all needed. With that said, there is some good young talent to work with.
Be sure to stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll continue with the front 7, offense and more.