Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My 2011 Miami Dolphins Offseason Plan

We should be thick in the middle of the NFL offseason right about now, but with the lockout and thus no free agency or trades going on, all we're left to do is talk about the NFL Draft ad nauseam.

Hopefully we will have free agency and all the other offseason stuff at some point in 2011, and when that does happen, I want you to come back to this article and remember all the ridiculous things I predicted.

It's certainly not an exact science projecting a team's entire offseason from start to finish, and it's often a fairly futile exercise that guarantees you're going to get more wrong than right.

Of course, it is useful to highlight some of the positions and players the Dolphins might target in free agency and the draft, and in my previous two years of doing this article I've actually had my share of bullseyes.

In my inaugural 2009 offseason article,  I had players like Sean Smith and Patrick Turner landing in Miami, with the likes of John Beck and Samson Satele being traded. In my 2010 piece, I accurately predicted the release of four veterans, the signing of Karlos Dansby, the drafting of John Jerry, and the addition of undrafted rookie Travis Ivey.

While I don't know exactly when we'll see the Dolphins get to shape their team for the 2011 season aside from the draft in late April, hopefully I'll be able to peg some more roster moves here and there.

Now, on to the madness. We begin with 56 players currently under contract...


Place on waivers...
  • OT James Marten — A former third-round pick of the Cowboys, Marten has appeared in just one game in four seasons and has yet to show he has the ability to play in the NFL. He doesn't project very well anywhere but right tackle, so it'll be time to move on with the new depth I'm bring in below.
  • ILB Mike Rivera — Plucked off the Dolphins' practice squad, Rivera offers little upside and is ousted after the healthy return of A. J. Edds and the addition of a special-teamer in the draft below.
  • New player total = 54

Re-sign...
  • OL Nate Garner (RFA) — While he missed all off last season with a foot injury, Garner flashed starting ability at guard in 2009 and has the versatility too play all over the line. He could push for a starting job if healthy and at worst is a valuable sixth man off the bench.
  • RB Lex Hilliard (ERFA) — Hilliard hasn't done much of anything on offense in three seasons since being chosen in the sixth round, and failed to register a carry last season with the return of a healthy Patrick Cobbs. However, he's an obvious choice to re-sign given his special teams ability and the fact that the Dolphins have zero running backs under contract.
  • OT Lydon Murtha (ERFA) — Murtha contributed to a loss to the Patriots last season by allowing a blocked field goal, and he wasn't all that impressive starting in place of Vernon Carey at right tackle in December. That being said, he can be re-signed for next to nothing and was the Dolphins' top backup tackle last year, so he should be back.
  • RB Kory Sheets (ERFA) — Sheets was plucked off the 49ers' practice squad in 2009, but a torn Achilles' tendon wiped out his 2010 season. He'll be cheap to re-sign and could contend for a roster spot with his dynamic speed if healthy.
  • New player total = 58

Don't re-sign...
  • RB Ronnie Brown (UFA) —  Brown has been a strong back for the Dolphins since being taken second overall in 2005, but he's had trouble staying healthy and is rapidly approaching the dreaded age of 30. Brown would probably like a fresh start elsewhere, and the Dolphins will probably go in another direction.
  • RB Patrick Cobbs (UFA) — I'd like to re-sign Cobbs if at all possible, as he excels on special teams and is a leader in the locker room. But the fact that the team didn't tender him as a potential restricted free agent (even if he's unlikely to be one) says the Dolphins aren't all that interested in retaining him.
  • TE Joey Haynos (RFA) — Haynos is a better prospect than the Dolphins' current backup tight ends, but he doesn't offer much upside himself and missed all of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon. He wasn't tendered as a restricted free agent, so the team isn't planning on re-signing him for now.
  • DE Tony McDaniel (UFA) — McDaniel really erupted last season due to injuries on the Dolphins' line, and he has the versatility to play anywhere in any scheme. He'd be nice to have back, but I expect him to earn more money and a starting gig elsewhere.
  • OLB Quentin Moses (UFA) — Moses has inconceivably remained on the Dolphins roster despite not doing well on special teams and totaling 3.5 sacks in four seasons. His contract is up and it's time to move on to someone with upside.
  • QB Chad Pennington (UFA) — Pennington was on my "Re-sign" list until he tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game last week. His complete lack of durability means you cannot trust him in the regular season, and it might be time for him to call it quits altogether.
  • OL Cory Procter (UFA) — Procter served as a reserve center and guard last season before tearing his ACL midway through. He doesn't offer any real upside and won't be brought back until healthy, if he ever is brought back at all.
  • QB Tyler Thigpen (UFA) — Thigpen never got a real chance to start even when Chad Henne struggled and Chad Pennington went down. He wants that opportunity somewhere, but he'll probably have to leave Miami to get it.
  • RB Ricky Williams (UFA) — I would have considered Williams a potential re-signing, as he'd be an ideal candidate for a short-term contract while the Dolphins find a long-term running back. But that was before Williams ripped Tony Sparano and the organization publicly, and it appears like the split may be permanent.

Sign free agents...
  • OG Justin Blalock (Atlanta Falcons) — A second-round pick by the Falcons in 2007, Blalock is just what the Dolphins' interior offensive line needs. A mauling run-blocker at 6-foot-4 and 330 pounds, Blalock has started all but two games in his first four seasons and has helped pave the way for Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. He has the ability to play right tackle as well, but he'd be an ideal fit as the starting left guard in Miami.
  • NT Ronald Fields (Denver Broncos) — The Dolphins re-signed Paul Soliai to a massive one-year deal, but his long-term future is still undecided and the team needs depth behind him that isn't in the form of Randy Starks, who has returned to defensive end. Fields is a borderline starting talent, but he's an ideal backup who has played for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in both San Francisco and Denver.
  • OLB Manny Lawson (San Francisco 49ers) — The 22nd overall pick in 2006, Lawson has failed to translate a stellar career at NC State into much of anything in the NFL. He has just 14.5 sacks in 4+ pro seasons, but he's familiar with Mike Nolan and could be a late bloomer as a situation pass rusher if groomed right.
  • RB Darren Sproles (San Diego Chargers) — The Dolphins need to add at least two new running backs this season, and one player that could be of great value is Sproles. While he's certainly not a feature back at 5-foot-6 and 181 pounds, he's a good receiver and third-down back with dynamic speed. He'd be a nice complementary back paired with someone else and could also provide a boost to the return game.
  • New player total = 62

    Trade...
    • The 15th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft for a team's first-, second-, and sixth-round picks. The Dolphins are without a second-round pick due to the Brandon Marshall deal, and will surely be looking to move down in the first to reacquire a second-rounder. Teams could be looking to move up for a offensive tackle (Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo, Nate Solder) or defensive lineman (Ryan Kerrigan, Aldon Smith, Cameron Jordan, J. J. Watt, Da'Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn).

    Draft...
    • Round 1 (via trade) — QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas — A lot of controversy has followed Mallett this offseason involving his character and rumored drug abuse, but much of that is overblown and/or without merit. The simple fact is that Mallett is the best pure passer in this draft and has the best chance of anyone in the class to develop into an elite signal-caller. The Dolphins should realize that and target him in the first round as potential competition for Henne.
    • Round 2 (via trade) — G/T Marcus Cannon, Texas Christian — Even with the signing of Blalock in free agency, guard is still a need as rookie John Jerry really struggled in 2010. Cannon (6-5, 358) is an absolute beast that could start for the Dolphins as a rookie at right guard and potentially even replace Vernon Carey at right tackle down the line.
    • Round 3 — TE Virgil Green, Nevada — The Dolphins' offensive significantly missed a second tight end presence in 2010, and it's time to remedy that. Anthony Fasano is a solid all-around starter and excellent blocker, which is why it makes sense to take a complementary guy that can stretch the field. Green (6-3, 249) has 4.5 speed and would be a nice seam threat for the Dolphins' quarterback.
    • Round 4 — WR Denarius Moore, TennesseeBrian Hartline had a rough sophomore campaign with a hand injury and some drops in 2010, so the Dolphins are still looking for a true No. 2 receiver to join Brandon Marshall and slot receiver Davone Bess. Moore is an underrated prospect who has the speed and size you look for and does everything well.
    • Round 5 — RB Roy Helu, Jr., Nebraska — The Dolphins wisely pass on an early-round back, instead getting a very nice prospect here in Round 5 with Helu. He's got all the bulk and athleticism you look for in an NFL starter, and should excel when teamed with Sproles if the Dolphins fix their offensive line issues.
    • Round 6a — OLB Ricky Elmore, Arizona — The Dolphins still need some depth at outside linebacker despite Cameron Wake's emergence, so Elmore (6-5, 255) comes from an Arizona program the Dolphins have pulled from in the past to replace Quentin Moses.
    • Round 6b (via trade) — CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, Miami (Fla.) — The Dolphins are set at starting cornerback, but the later rounds are for depth and this local prospect would be a great addition. Van Dyke posted a 4.25 forty time this offseason and could be groomed as a cornerback while contributing on special teams.
    • Round 7a — OT Derek Newton, Arkansas State — A small-school prospect with who dominated the Sun Belt and is still getting better, Newton provides depth at tackle and possibly guard while competing for a roster spot.
    • Round 7b (from Jaguars) — C Ryan Bartholomew, Syracuse — The Dolphins re-signed Richie Incognito to start at center, but he's still not entrenched. Bartholomew has a nice blend of strength and athleticism, and could replace Joe Berger as a backup on the roster if he impresses.
    • Round 7c (compensatory) — ILB Alex Wujciak, Mayland — A two-time All-ACC selection, Wujciak is a pretty average linebacker but has the skills to develop inside in the 3-4 scheme and could compete for a role on special teams.
    • New player total = 72

    Sign undrafted free agents...
    • RB Evan Royster, Penn State — A pretty solid running back at Penn State, it may surprise some to see Royster here. But realistically, only 15 or so backs will probably be drafted, which could leave him on the outside looking in. He has some talent though and could very well compete for a reserve role behind Helu and Sproles.
    • FB Anthony Sherman, Connecticut — The Dolphins will need someone to give Lousaka Polite breathers in camp, and Sherman fits the bill as your standard as a strong, mauling fullback.
    • WR Courtney Smith, South Alabama — This year's Roberto Wallace, the 6-foot-4, 223-pound Smith isn't going to burn anyone deep, but is a solid developmental receiver that could compete on special teams.
    • DE Lazarius "Pep" Levingston, LSU — The Dolphins remain pretty deep at defensive end, but camp depth is always needed. Levingston (6-4, 292) brings pretty of experience from LSU and has good athleticism for a 3-4 end.
    • NT Harold Ayodele, Emporia State — A small-school prospect with a massive frame, Ayodele (6-1, 338) fits the 3-4 nose tackle profile and could push the Baker twins (Chris and Ryan) for a practice squad spot.
    • OLB Keith Darbut, Baldwin-Wallace — The Division III standout is pretty well off the NFL Draft radar, but Darbut (6-4, 230) has 4.4 speed and the room to pack on some more bulk for a role as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
    • OLB Gabe Miller, Oregon State — Durability was a concern early in Miller's collegiate career, but he rebounded during his final two seasons to total eight sacks. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end has the speed to be a 3-4 outside linebacker and could be worth a look.
    • CB Darrin Walls, Notre Dame — A high school All-American, Walls left Notre Dame in 2008 due to "personal reasons" but returned to start for the team in 2009 and 2010. He needs a lot of development in his technique, but has good size and speed and is a worthy camp body.
    • New player total = 80

    Summary

    The Dolphins head into the offseason with needs at running back and offensive line, huge question marks at quarterback, tight end, and outside linebacker, and depth issues at various spots.

    I think I've addressed these issues fairly well here, retaining key depth among the team's own free agents while letting the injured, washed-up, or likely over-priced players walk. I also expect that I didn't spend too much money in free agency, as only Blalock among my four free agent signings should command a monster deal. (And he's worth it.)

    The draft wound up very offense-heavy, with players at five different positions on offense taken in the first five rounds and not one defender chosen until Elmore in Round 6. I don't believe this to be detrimental, however, as the Dolphins' defense excelled in 2010 and has a full slate of starters under contract, even if some (ex. free safety Chris Clemons) could use competition.

    As you can see with a projected 80-man training camp depth chart including all the above transactions here, the Dolphins' offense has the potential to be much better with a retooled offensive line, a second quality tight end, and fresh legs in the back field. (I added projected jersey numbers for the aesthetics.)

    Of course, things are unlikely to mirror what I've outlined, and I'll probably only get a few players correct out of the whole thing, if that. But while the specific players might not always line up, the positions targeted in different areas should be fairly accurate, and I hope to have given you a good idea of how the Dolphins might proceed this offseason.

    Regardless of how the Dolphins build up their roster, so much of the franchise's success is tied to the quarterback, and I truly believe Mallett has the potential to be an elite passer in the NFL if given the opportunity. I wouldn't count Henne out from developing either, but one thing that's certain is the team needs someone to step up and lead the Dolphins from the quarterback spot if they want to be a real contender.

    Feel free to leave your comments on this article below or discuss this article on the forum here!