Friday, November 21, 2008

Who Should Stay and Who Should Go: Addressing Miami's Upcoming Free Agents

I cannot take credit for the topic of this entry - I initially saw it brought up on a Dolphins Facebook group of which I'm the admin and this week the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero wrote an article on it just this week. However, I feel it's certainly an interesting subject and one which I could throw in my two cents.

Miami has just six unrestricted free agents entering the 2009 offseason, one of which has never played for the team: wide receiver Tab Perry. The other five are currently starting for the Dolphins: strong safety Yeremiah Bell, offensive tackle Vernon Carey, linebacker Channing Crowder, cornerback Andre' Goodman and free safety Renaldo Hill.

I will address each player (excluding Perry) individually, ranking them in the order I think they should be prioritized when the Dolphins go to re-sign them. Keep in mind that this list might not reflect the order of their talent levels, but rather looking at the whole picture (money playing a big part of it).

1. Yeremiah Bell, SS

A gem of a late pick from the Wannstedt Era, Bell has developed into a monster safety and should be the Dolphins' top priority among their unrestricted free agents in 2009. He has a nose for the ball, is the best tackler on the team and is a leader on the defense. His presence is felt throughout the unit and his absence is always very apparent.

The Dolphins lucked out with Bell's Achilles' injury last season, as it ruined his chance of showcasing himself for the rest of the league heading into free agency in 2008. Due to the injury, the Dolphins were able to sign him for a bargain one-year deal worth $1 million.

Re-signing him won't be that easy this time. He's proved to be a vital part of the secondary and the defense and there is no doubt in my mind teams will line up to sign him. He might not be among the NFL's elite at the position, but he's certainly in the tier below it.

It seems the Dolphins are waiting for Bell to prove he can make it through a full season before rewarding him with a multi-year deal, and that's wise given his somewhat troublesome injury history. But if Bell comes through in that regard, the Dolphins should do whatever they can to lock him up long-term before the free agency period even opens.

2. Channing Crowder, LB

Crowder is no question a solid young player. He's got 3+ years of NFL starting experience and he's still just 24 years old. He's a smart player and a good tackler who learned from one of the best in Zach Thomas.

So why does he come in second here to Bell? One simple reason: play-making ability. It's a category in which Bell is the clear winner. In three-and-a-half seasons of starting, Crowder has just 1.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and no interceptions. Bell has three forced fumbles already this season!

Don't get me wrong - Crowder's a good player and a likable guy, and I'd like to see him stay in a Dolphins uniform. But when it comes to hitting the free agent market, I fear he's more likely to be overpaid by another team, whereas Bell will probably be worth the offers he gets and therefore should be worth more to the Dolphins.

There's no doubt in my mind that Crowder will continue to develop and have a long career as a solid inside linebacker. I just haven't seen him make that jump to the next level and I'm not sure if he's ever going to be anything more than a decent run-stopper. I hope he proves me wrong (and the Dolphins wrong if he leaves) but I don't want to see Miami overpay for a guy who is only solid at a position that's not hard to fill.

3. Andre' Goodman, CB

Goodman has received a lot of grief from the Dolphins during his time here, some of it deserved. That being the case, I actually think he's been a strong player for Miami more often than not.

I've always been of the belief that Goodman was Miami's best corner in 2006, his first year with the team. Shoulder injuries caused problems for him in 2007 and he was playing in a seriously decimiated secondary that didn't make his job any easier.

However, Goodman has rebounded quite nicely in 2008 and has made the absence of Michael Lehan, who had a very good 2007 season, hardly noticeable. Though Will Allen deserves a lot of credit and is definitely Miami's best corner, Goodman has come on strong and has done a great job against some tough receivers like Lee Evans and Brandon Marshall as of late.

Is Goodman a starting corner on a good team? No, probably not. But everything I've seen of him tells me he can be a damn good nickel corner, and he's certainly shown he can come in and start for you if needed.

I'm sure the Dolphins will look to add to the position in the offseason and I'd even endorse selecting a corner like Vontae Davis or Malcolm Jenkins in the first round, but I'd love to see Goodman stick around. If you can get him re-signed for somewhere between $1-2 million per year like the contract Lehan got (three years, $4.95 million), he's worth every penny.

4. Renaldo Hill, FS

Before Jason Allen was moved back to corner and started seeing playing time due to injury, I had seen Dolphins fans complain about why the 2006 first-rounder wasn't starting over someone like Renaldo Hill. If you found yourself asking this question, then all I can say is that you probably weren't watching. The answer is simple: Hill is a lot better.

Hill is far from the sexiest name out there at the safety position and he probably should not be starting long-term. He doesn't possess great play-making ability or great speed and is now on the wrong side of 30.

That being the case, the secondary is clearly better with Hill in at free safety (and I don't think it's just because Chris Crocker was so bad). He's a good tackler and is often around the ball. Though not to the extent that Bell does, Hill helps hold the unit together and prevents many big plays.

As I said, I don't think Hill is a long-term answer at free safety, but he is an experienced veteran who can make positive plays on the field, perhaps making him an ideal backup. If I'm running the Dolphins, I'm looking in free agency or the draft for a young free safety to develop, but I'm also exploring the re-signing of Hill to be a backup if the price is right.

5. Vernon Carey, OT

Do I think Vernon Carey is last out of these five players in terms of talent at their respective positions? No, I don't. In fact, I'd say he's probably third and possibly even second ahead of Crowder.

But, as I said at the beginning of this article, I'm taking into account all factors and money is a big one. Carey, like Crowder, is a guy I feel will get more money than he deserves on the open market and thus is someone the Dolphins should be sure not to overpay.

I know Carey has had his good times and is a solid starter, but I've never really been completely satisfied with the pick. (I wanted Vince Wilfork, and even though he's pretty much a douche he's still an excellent player while Carey is not.) In his time at left tackle, I felt Carey was over-matched and potentially even below average, while on the right side he's simply a serviceable starter.

Would I be totally upset if the Dolphins re-signed Carey? No, as long as the deal wasn't more than 2-3 years and the money wasn't that great. It'd also make sense to keep some familiarity on the right side of the line, especially with the problems we've had at right guard and a still-unproven Donald Thomas set to take the reigns there again in 2009. I just don't want to see Miami overpay for someone I feel is merely decent, and a big part of me would like to see us move on and try and find a new right tackle in the draft.

List of Miami's 2009 Free Agents

As mentioned above, Miami has six unrestricted free agents in the 2009 offseason. They are:
  • SS Yeremiah Bell
  • OT Vernon Carey
  • LB Channing Crowder
  • CB Andre' Goodman
  • FS Renaldo Hill
  • WR Tab Perry
Additionally, if my research is correct, Miami has zero restricted free agents next offseason and the following three exclusive-rights free agents:
  • TE Aaron Halterman (currently on I.R.)
  • LB Quentin Moses
  • OG Ikechuku Ndukwe
Exclusive-rights free agents (ERFAs) are players whose contracts have expired that have two or fewer accrued seasons in the NFL. (An accrued season is essentially at least six games on the active roster or on I.R.)

The Dolphins have a good salary cap situation and, as you can see, will not be as risk of losing many key parts of their team this offseason. With the Dolphins currently sitting at 6-4 and having already shown vast improvement from last season, things are definitely looking up for the franchise.