Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Outside Linebacker

The offseason will officially kick off with the signing and trading period March 5, and as I always do prior to the mayhem, I'll be looking at each position on the Dolphins' roster in depth.

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 outside linebacker position.


Under Contract
  • Charlie Anderson (through 2010) — Anderson is a good situational pass rusher and has had a few big games when called upon to start, but he's not really starting material. He should stick around as a backup in 2010, though his roster spot isn't guaranteed and he's probably a bit overpaid.
  • Brian Johnston (through 2011) — A dominant college defensive end at Gardner-Webb, Johnston spent the 2009 season rehabbing an injury. He has some upside and should compete for a reserve spot in 2010.
  • Joey Porter (through 2011) — Porter posted one good season out of three after joining the Dolphins on a huge contract, but his skills are waning and he's horrible against the run. His headache-inducing behavior on and off the field has eventually become to much, and the Dolphins will absolutely release him when the new league year begins in March 5.
  • Cameron Wake (through 2012) — A sack monster in two seasons in the CFL, Wake spent his first season with the Dolphins as a situational pass rusher, notching a fairly-impressive 5.5 sacks in limited duty. The Dolphins will likely continue to develop him, and he could be in for a much bigger role in 2010.
  • Erik Walden (through 2011) — Walden is a solid special-teamer, but hasn't been able to make any kind of mark on defense. He'll likely face stiff competition for a backup job, and right now I'd wager it's not a battle he'll win.

Free Agents
  • Quentin Moses (restricted) — The Dolphins will likely tender Moses at an original pick level, which will mean a team would have to give up a third-round pick to sign him. There is no chance that would happen, and the Dolphins will probably bring him back to once again compete for a backup job. He ended the 2009 season a little hot, but hasn't done much in the pros with 2.5 sacks in three seasons.
  • Jason Taylor (unrestricted) — Taylor is recovering from a shoulder injury and might not be ready to sign with a team for a few months, but the Dolphins would be wise to do what it takes to retain him. Even at 35, Taylor is a strong pass rusher and is stout against the run, and the Dolphins could use a reliable starter with Joey Porter on the outs and little proven talent behind them.

Strengths
  • Though they'll have no guaranteed starters under contract heading into the offseason, the Dolphins do have a few quality situational pass rushers in Charlie Anderson and Cameron Wake. The latter in particular has some upside, and with the right tutelage, Wake could develop into a highly-productive NFL linebacker.

Areas of Need
  • With Jason Taylor a free agent and Joey Porter soon to be released, the Dolphins' two starting outside linebackers from 2009 will not be under contract heading into the 2010 offseason. The Dolphins will need serious help at outside linebacker, as many of the players the team does have at position are either situational guys or pure backups/special-teamers.

Free Agency Outlook
  • If the Dolphins want to go the route of a high-priced outside linebacker in free agency, they will have a few options. Julius Peppers (Panthers) and Aaron Kampman (Packers) headline the group, while Tully Banta-Cain (Patriots) is intriguing as well. Each one comes with some concerns though, as Peppers' motivation is questionable, Kampman is coming off a torn ACL and struggled a bit in the transition to the 3-4, and Banta-Cain was a bust when the Mike Nolan's 49ers picked him up a few years back.
  • I'm inclined to believe the Dolphins will look more toward the draft than free agency, as picking up any of the few proven starters on the free-agent market will be extremely costly, and the front office has a history of drafting linebackers.

Draft Outlook
  • Although the Dolphins will also look at positions like wide receiver, inside linebacker, nose tackle, and safety with the No. 12 pick, outside linebacker remains quite a possible direction for Miami in the first round. Brandon Graham (Michigan), Sergio Kindle (Texas), Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), and Jason Pierre-Paul (South Florida) are all possibilities, although Graham could probably be had toward the end of the first round. Kindle and Graham are the safest of the four in my book, with Kindle and Pierre-Paul possessing the most upside.
  • If the Dolphins don't address outside linebacker in the first round, they will almost certainly do so soon after. Second- and third-round possibilities include Everson Griffen (Southern California), Jerry Hughes (TCU), Koa Misi (Utah), Ricky Sapp (Clemson), and Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech), with Misi being my personal favorite.
  • In the mid-to-late rounds, pass-rushing options include Justin Cole (San Jose State), Antonio Coleman (Auburn), Brandon Lang (Troy), George Selvie (South Florida), and Cameron Sheffield (Troy). Cole has experience at linebacker at San Jose State, and Selvie has a ton of upside despite injuries causing his production to drop during his senior season.
  • Even if the Dolphins do address outside linebacker in the first round, there very well might draft another one at some point, possibly between the second and fourth. They need to eventually acquire multiple starters at the position, so look for three to four rookies to be added between the draft and undrafted free agency.

Conclusion

The Dolphins need to generate more of a consistent pass rush from their outside linebackers, and they need to get a lot younger and find some long-term starters in the near future.

I expect them to add at least one long-term guy early on through the draft, as Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland have a history of taking linebackers with high picks. The draft seems like the way to go as opposed to free agency, as it will be cheaper and will hold the Dolphins over for longer into the future.

While the Dolphins do need to get younger and could use an elite young prospect at the position, I still want to see Jason Taylor re-signed. He's highly productive and good in all facts, and he's not really blocking anyone by sticking around another year or two. He's also a great veteran presence and someone the younger guys can learn from while they develop.


How do you feel about the Miami Dolphins' outside linebackers heading into the 2010 offseason? Share your thoughts on the forum here!