Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Miami Dolphins 2010 Offseason Preview: Inside 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 inside linebacker position.


Under Contract
  • Akin Ayodele (through 2010) — Once a serviceable starter and good acquisition with Miami's transition to the 3-4 a few years ago, Ayodele is a liability in coverage and isn't the tackler he once was. At a salary of $3.25 million in 2010, he's a strong candidate to be released this offseason if the Dolphins can find an upgrade in free agency.
  • Channing Crowder (through 2011) — Crowder has always been a solid tackler, but he's practically allergic to making big plays and has never lived up to his potential. He's also constantly banged up, and hopefully won't be more than a third linebacker in 2010, or at most a one-year stop-gap until someone else is ready to take over.
  • J. D. Folsom (through 2011) — The Dolphins seventh-round pick in 2009, Folsom split his rookie season between the practice squad and active roster, appearing in one game. He's no lock to make the team in 2010, and will have to battle a handful of others on special teams to win a roster spot.
  • Reggie Torbor (through 2011) — An extremely overpaid backup and special-teamer who has struggled when called upon on defense, Torbor seems likely to be released this offseason.

Free Agents
  • The Miami Dolphins do not have any inside linebackers with expiring contracts in the 2010 offseason.

Strengths
  • There isn't much good to say about this unit right now. At best, Ayodele and Crowder are experienced starters and solid tacklers, while Torbor and Folsom are good special-teams players.

Areas of Need
  • Ideally, the Dolphins would replace both Ayodele and Crowder this offseason. At the very least, the Dolphins should replace Ayodele with a free agent. Crowder would be serviceable for another year, but it would be nice if the Dolphins could draft a rookie to take over as soon as this season, and force Crowder into a backup role.

Free Agency Outlook
  • The Dolphins will likely replace at least one of their starting inside linebackers with a free agent, and I expect they'll be willing to go deep into their pockets to do so. The team will likely be in hot pursuit of top free agent Karlos Dansby (Cardinals), who could command $30 million guaranteed.
  • Larry Foote (Lions) would be a less expensive option and would be an upgrade over both of the Dolphins' current starting inside linebackers, though he wouldn't be a long-term fix.
  • Beyond those two, the market is filled with backups and special-teamers (Nick Greisen, Matt Wilhelm) and guys that just don't fit Miami's system, like Gary Brackett and Chris Draft (Bills).

Draft Outlook
  • Regardless of whether or not they land Dansby or another starter in free agency, I expect the Dolphins to strongly consider Rolando McClain (Alabama) with the No. 12 pick. The media has been down on him lately, but I've seen plenty of him from his time in the SEC, and I think he can be an absolute stud. Denver sitting right in front of Miami at No. 11 seems to be the biggest threat to take him, with Kansas City (No. 5) and Buffalo (No. 9) also people possibilities.
  • Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon is the next best prospect, but a trade up or down would probably be necessary, as I expect him to go in the latter third of the first-round.
  • The Dolphins could find a potential steal in Florida's Brandon Spikes—once considered a top-five prospect—in the second round.
  • If they don't address linebacker early (or even if they do), I expect the Dolphins to take at least one linebacker in the middle or late rounds. Sean Lee (Penn State) and Donald Butler (Washington) are candidates in the third or fourth rounds.
  • A few mid-to-late-round prospects I really like are Jamar Chaney (Mississippi State) and Micah Johnson (Kentucky)—both of whom I feel could start as rookies.

Conclusion

Inside linebacker is easily one of the Dolphins' most pressing needs heading into this offseason, as last year's unit was highly ineffective in coverage and stopping the run, essentially wasting a great season by the team's defensive line.

I predict the Dolphins will spend whatever it takes to land Karlos Dansby, and it's a signing I would be absolutely ecstatic about as Dansby is a Pro Bowl-caliber inside linebacker with the versatility play all four of the 3-4 linebacker spots and effectively do whatever is asked of him.

I also want the Dolphins to draft Rolando McClain at No. 12, even if they do land Dansby in free agency. At the very least, I want Ayodele replaced by Dansby, and I also want McClain drafted and started as a rookie in place of Crowder.


How do you feel about the Dolphins' inside linebackers in 2010? Share your thoughts on the forum here!