I'll look at the team's strengths and areas of need, who is under contract, who are the free agents and their prospects for being re-signed, and who they might look at via trade, free agency, and the draft.
This article focuses on the safety position.
- SS Yeremiah Bell (through 2012) — The Dolphins' leading tackler the past two seasons, Bell was named a replacement in the 2010 Pro Bowl after recording 114 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and three interceptions.
- FS Chris Clemons (through 2012) — The Dolphins' fifth-round pick in 2009, Clemons played mostly special teams and got some experience at safety later in the season, finishing the year with 13 tackles.
- S Tyrone Culver (through 2011) — Signed two a new two-year contract last June, Culver is a valued special team player and dime back. He finished the 2009 season with 32 tackles and an interception.
- FS Nate Ness (through 2011) — An undrafted free agent out of Arizona in 2009, Ness spent most of his time with the team on the practice squad, while spending one game on the active roster but not playing.
- FS Gibril Wilson (through 2013) — During his first year into a five-year, $27.5 million contract, Wilson started 14 games and recorded 93 tackles, one sack, and eight pass deflections.
- The Miami Dolphins do not have any safeties with expiring contracts in the 2010 offseason.
- Yeremiah Bell is a bit one-dimensional as a good run-stopper and reliable tackler, but overall he does his job well as a strong safety. He plays well in the box and is more athletic than he seems, and while he's probably above average at best, he's a suitable starter in a good secondary.
- Tyrone Culver has been a pleasant surprise since being signed mid-season in 2008, and he's shown that he has some ability on defense. He may never be a full-time starter, but he has value as an inexpensive guy that can play anywhere in the secondary and on special teams.
Areas of Needs
- Gibril Wilson just may have been the single worst aspect of the Dolphins' 2009 season. Inexplicably signed to a huge contract to play at the unnatural position of free safety, Wilson was absolutely horrendous in coverage, giving up big play after big play and failing to force even one turnover all season. He's all but a lock to be released soon after the new league year begins on March 5, which will leave the Dolphins with a glaring hole at free safety.
Free Agency Outlook
- The restricted free agency market at safety is fairly deep, although the good talent that's there will all likely receive first- or first- and third-round tenders from their former clubs, and thus will cost a bit more than Miami would likely be willing to give up. The creme of the RFA crop includes Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams), Roman Harper (Saints), Nick Collins (Packers), Atari Bigby (Packers), and Dawan Landry (Ravens). If any of those players were to receive a lower tender, the Dolphins would surely be intrigued.
- The unrestricted free agent market is significantly barer, with long-time veteran Darren Sharper headlining the class. Although he's still a play-maker at age 34, he's looking for good money and multi-year deal, while the Dolphins would probably prefer a more long-term solution.
- Beyond Sharper, there are a handful of mediocre players and strong safeties the Dolphins don't need, like Jermaine Phillips (Buccaneers), Sean Jones (Eagles), Will Allen (Buccaneers), and Mike Brown (Chiefs). None of those players will interest Miami, and not just because it might get confusing have two Will Allens in the secondary.
- One potential roster casualty that could interest the Dolphins is Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle, who may be released in the near future. Rolle would certainly be an upgrade over Gibril Wilson and does have some play-making ability, but the University of Miami alum is overrated and not as good a safety as he would seem. Then again, that kind of thing didn't stop the Dolphins from signing Wilson.
- If the Dolphins want a long-term solution at free safety, the 2010 NFL Draft may be their best bet. Unfortunately for them, the lone player worth taking in the first round at the position—Tennessee's Eric Berry—is a potential top-five pick, and has almost zero chance of falling to the Dolphins at No. 12. USC's Taylor Mays is also technically a free safety, but I just see more of an outside linebacker than anything else when I watch the guy play, and I don't think he is what the Dolphins need.
- The second and third rounds could be where the Dolphins start to seriously consider the safety, and there are a few appealing options there. South Florida's Nate Allen is, in my opinion, the third-best pure safety in this year's draft after Berry and Earl Thomas (Texas), and is someone to strongly consider in the second round. He has good size, athleticism, and ball skills, making him someone that could be a productive starting safety for a long time.
- If the Dolphins don't go safety in the earlier rounds, they may not at all, as there is really no reason to replace Culver or Clemons as a backup/project at this point. However, some names to look at around that time are Major Wright (Florida), Kendrick Lewis (Ole Miss), Terrell Skinner (Maryland), Robert Johnson (Utah), and Nick Polk (Indiana).
- He's also really more of a strong safety, but one player I absolutely wouldn't mind the Dolphins drafting in the mid-to-late rounds is FSU's Myron Rolle. The Rhodes Scholar has a great head on his shoulders, plenty of talent, and a work ethic and commitment that are hard to match. He is what I would call one of the safest bets in the draft, and there's no doubt in my mind he could help any team, possibly even as a starter one day.
Yeremiah Bell might not be a star, but he's more than adequate and is good at his job. There's really no reason to replace him over the next few years as long as he stays healthy, and he'll likely to continue to be productive.
Free safety is another matter, and it's absolutely one of the most pressing issues on the team. The Dolphins' rookie corners had their share of struggles in 2009, but they would have been a lot better if they'd had someone providing any kind of support over the top, which Wilson was unable to do.
The Dolphins will undoubtedly explore all options in trade, free agency and the draft when it comes to replacing Wilson, and they could even toy with moving veteran cornerback Will Allen or 6-foot-4 potential ball-hawk Sean Smith to safety.
No matter what they do, they'll instantly be a better team once Wilson is gone.
How do you feel about the Dolphins' safeties heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!