Thursday, December 29, 2011

Miami Dolphins 2012 Free Agents Preview

Regardless of whether or not the Dolphins win or lose against the New York Jets Week 17, their 2011 season will come to and end with a losing record and no playoff run to show for Tony Sparano's fourth and final season as head coach.

As we ahead to the 2012 offseason, we'll be waiting to find out who the Dolphins will hire as Sparano's replace at head coach, and we'll be waiting to see if the team finally lands an elite quarterback prospect in April's 2012 NFL Draft.

But in addition to all that, there is also the matter of free agency. From re-signing key players to parting ways with inflated contracts to adding new pieces to the puzzle, free agency will be a huge part of the Dolphins' offseason. (And fortunately, it's going to happen on time this year!)

Take a look at the glossary below to familiarize or refresh yourself on how free agency works, and continue on to see a full breakdown of all the Dolphins' impending free agents and where they might fit into the team's 2012 plans!

Glossary:
  • Accrued season — a season during which a player has been on full pay status (Active, Inactive or Injured Reserve List) for six (6) or more regular season games. (source: NFLPA)
  • Exclusive-rights free agent — player with an expiring contract with zero to two accrued seasons. If tendered a contract offer by the original club, player may either sign the contract or not play football. He has no rights to negotiate with other clubs.
  • Restricted free agent —  player with an expiring contract with three accrued seasons. If tendered a contract offer by the original club, player may negotiate with other clubs in free agency. However, should the player sign an offer sheet with another club, the original club will have seven days to match the offer or receiver draft-pick compensation based on the level of the tender.
  • Unrestricted free agent — player with an expiring with four or more accrued seasons. Players are free to negotiate and sign with other clubs at their discretion. However, they are eligible for the transition tag or franchise tag.
  • Transition tag — guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may make with another team. The transition tag can be used once a year by each club unless they elect to use a franchise tag instead.
  • Franchise tag —  a designation a team may apply to a player scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. The tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met. Each team has access each year to only one franchise tag (of either the exclusive or non-exclusive forms) and one transition tag. As a result, each team may only designate one player each year as that team's franchise player.
    • An "exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position as of a date in April of the current year in which the tag will apply, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. Exclusive franchise players cannot negotiate with other teams.
    • A "non-exclusive" franchise player must be offered a one-year contract for an amount no less than the average of the top 10 salaries at the player's position in the previous year, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. A non-exclusive franchise player may negotiate with other NFL teams, but if he signs an offer sheet from another team, the original team has a right to match the terms of that offer, or if it does not match the offer and thus loses the player, is entitled to receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

Unrestricted Free Agents

OLB Ikaika Alama-Francis

A disappointing second-round pick by the Lions in 2007, Alama Francis originally joined the Dolphins during the 2009 season but did not appear in a game. He was converted to outside linebacker in 2010 and showed promise during the offseason before an illness disrupted his progression. He was liability as a defensive reserve that season and has hardly seen the field in 2011 as the team's fifth outside linebacker, playing only four defensive snaps to date and recording one special teams tackle.

"IAF" looked like a promising run-stopping linebacker upon his conversion in the 2010 offseason, but in two seasons he has failed to progress into a viable option on defense. He's unlikely to garner much attention on the open market and thus could be back on a cheap one-year deal, but his upside is certainly in doubt and I suspect the team may decide to move on.


CB Will Allen

Allen was an underrated but top-10 cornerback in the NFL in 2008 and was productive again in 2009 before a knee injury wiped out the remainder of his season as well as the entire 2010 season. He was released during final cuts in 2011 but brought back on a one-year deal amid secondary struggles. Although he has totaled 40 tackles and three pass deflections in 14 games this season, he has struggled in pass coverage with opposing quarterbacks notching a 90.1 passer rating when throwing his way. He'll be 34 by the time the 2012 season begins.

Allen is an extremely likeable player and was at one time a great corner for the Dolphins, but at his age and with his injury history, it's fair to wonder how much he has left. Allen has shown this season that he's little more than a veteran backup and the team likely would have moved on for good if not for the struggles of Benny Sapp (since released) and Nolan Carroll, as well as Vontae Davis' hamstring injury.

I personally believe Allen will have a hard time finding a job in 2012 and may be nearing the end of the line. I suspect the Dolphins will look at other options as their young starters continue to progress. Rookie seventh-rounder Jimmy Wilson has shown promise and the team would probably prefer to stay younger at the position, making Allen little more than an in-season injury replacement.


OG Vernon Carey

As recently as 2009, Carey was one of the better right tackles in football. However, age and wear have caught up with him, and he has struggled quite a bit this season despite his lack of ability somewhat masked by a move inside to guard. Carey has started all 14 games at right guard this season but has struggled as a run blocker and lacks the athleticism to be a reliable blocker in space.

There is a reason Carey took a significant pay cut in the offseason and allowed the team to void the final three years of the six-year, $42 million contract he received in 2009, and it's because he knew he wouldn't be able to find another starting job on the open market. By making 2011 the final one of Carey's contract, the Dolphins were saying they did not believe he could be a long-term starter for them. Rather, he was simply a one-year fill-in until a replacement is found.

While he's only 30, it's fair to wonder if Carey's days as an NFL starter are pretty much over. The Dolphins actually got an impressive performance from 2010 third-rounder John Jerry at right guard in Week 14 and thus might be more inclined to move on. Carey remains an option as a short-term fix, but the former first-round pick is a mediocre talent at this point and the Dolphins will probably look for a cheaper and younger alternative.


OT Marc Colombo

A first-round pick by the Bears in 2002, Colombo spent six seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before joining the Dolphins in 2011. The staff's familiarity with Colombo from their time in Dallas clearly facilitated the move and the team thought it could get by in 2011 with a veteran right side of the line in Carey and Colombo, but this proved to be quite possibly their biggest mistake of the year.

The 33-year-old Colombo has been downright abysmal in 2011, allowing 40 pressures, nine sacks, and ranking as the 70th-best tackle in the NFL (out of 76 total) according to Pro Football Focus. He's a better run blocker than he is a pass protector, but he doesn't do anything well and honestly should probably focus on his music career going forward.

If I had to put money on the one Dolphins free agent that is least likely to be re-signed, it'd be Colombo. Of any player that has graced the team's 53-man roster this season, I'd give Colombo the worst grade of anyone and I would say without a doubt he has been the team's worst player. The Dolphins will obviously need to find a starting right tackle for the future and that's no easy task, but they would truly be hard-pressed to do worse than Colombo.


S Tyrone Culver

Since being signed during the 2008 season, Culver has been a fairly reliable and versatile backup safety and dime back. He's averaged about 25 tackles a year over four seasons, and while he doesn't grade out as a quality defender in coverage, he's a nice backup to have at both safety spots and he's been excellent on special teams, notching five tackles and two forced fumbles on the season.

I'm a bit on the fence about Culver's chances of being back. On one hand, I think Yeremiah Bell could end up being a cap casualty, in which case you might want to keep Culver around. I also don't think he's going to be in that much demand on the open market. On the other hand, he doesn't really have any upside at 28 and made $1.25 million this season, which is a lot for a guy that's never going to start. I think Culver could end up being back, but the Dolphins could move on if they found a younger, cheaper option.


QB Chad Henne

A second-round pick and the anointed "quarterback of the future" that ultimately may have done in Tony Sparano's tenure in Miami, Henne had a rocky four seasons in Miami and never really develped into the starter the team had hoped as fan backlash mounted. I think he was a bit handcuffed by Dan Henning's conservative offense and the staff's lack of trust in him, and it was unfortunate to see a shoulder injury prematurely end his 2011 season as he was showing promise in Brian Daboll's scheme. Through four seasons, Henne has totaled a pedestrian 7,114 yards and 31 touchdowns with 37 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.7.

I've always liked Henne more than most and I think he can be a quality backup in the NFL, or even a good starter in the right situation. He's got all the tools and really showed impressive strides in the season opener against the Patriots this year. However, I'd bank on Henne having played his last game with the Dolphins.

On the surface, Henne seems like a viable short-term option until the Dolphins find a franchise quarterback. However, Matt Moore is signed through 2012 and has run the offense fairly well, so that role seems to be taken. Despite his comments, I suspect Henne has no desire to return to that situation or the fans that piled on him for so long. Like with Ted Ginn, Jr., I suspect Henne's best bet is a change of scenery and a departure makes sense for all parties involved.


DE Kendall Langford

Despite being the second defensive end taken by the Dolphins in 2008, Langford separated himself from Phillip Merling and has become one of the Dolphins' best and underrated starters. The former third-round pick out of Hampton has never missed a game in four seasons and has consistently been one of the better 3-4 defensive ends in football, stout against the run and able to generate good pressure from inside. At his position, Pro Football Focus has ranked 12th in 2008, eighth in 2009, fifth in 2010, and 17th in 2011.

It's a bit surprising the Dolphins haven't worked out a long-term contract with Langford yet, but his salary did bump up to $1.4 million in 2011 and the team probably wanted to see its defensive line situation sort itself out this season. Langford continues to be a reliable starter and is an excellent pairing with Randy Starks. If I'm the Dolphins, I let Phillip Merling walk in free agency, release Tony McDaniel (due $3 million in 2012) to save money, and give Langford a four- or five-year deal so he can team with Starks and Jared Odrick in the years to come.


QB J. P. Losman

A former first-round pick by the Bills in 2004, Losman was signed after veteran backup Sage Rosenfels went down with an illness. He's appeared in two games, including significant time in relief of Matt Moore (concussion) against the Eagles in which the offensive line let him get obliterated. On the season, he's 6-of-10 for 60 yards with five sacks and a fumble.

Losman was signed to be an experienced backup behind Moore the rest of the season, as there was no way the team thought Pat Devlin was ready to be the No. 2 guy. That being said, the Dolphins have no real use for Losman long-term and his NFL future is cloudy at best. There is a chance the team signs him in the offseason to wait and see what they do in the draft, but Losman has no future in Miami with Matt Moore at the helm and a rookie backup likely on the way.


DE Phillip Merling

While I wouldn't say Merling has been terrible for the Dolphins, it's safe to say he's been disappointing with only five stats in four seasons since being taken in the second round in 2008. He has 66 tackles and 3.5 sacks for his career but has not been anything more than a backup type. Added to that, he suffered a torn Achilles' tendon in the 2010 offseason and also had a run-in with the law in a domestic incident.

Merling certainly has value in a depth role, but he hasn't shown he can be an NFL starter and he's actually becoming a bit big for a 3-4 defensive end, so he may be better suited for an inside role and eventually as a nose tackle. I think the Dolphins should make re-signing Langford a priority while moving on from Merling and finding younger depth elsewhere.


ILB Marvin Mitchell

A four-year veteran with the Saints, Mitchell was added by the Dolphins in mid-August to serve as a primary backup at inside linebacker behind Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. He's played 124 defensive snaps thus far on the season and has totaled 25 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.

Mitchell is making only $685,000 this season and I think he could be had in 2012 for somewhere between that number and $1 million. Personally, I'd like to see him return as the top backup next season, although such a position is always very fluid and Mitchell won't be safe even if he does return.


RB Steve Slaton

It's been a downward spiral for Slaton ever since he rushed for over 1,200 yards with the Texans as a rookie in 2008. Slaton totaled 437 yards the season after and just 93 yards in 2010 as he completely fell out of favor in Houston. The Dolphins picked him up on waived a few weeks into the season, but he has just six carries for nine yards (1.5 avg) and hasn't played since Daniel Thomas got over his early-season hamstring injury.

I've always liked Slaton, not necessarily as a feature back but certainly as role player or as part of a tandem. He has good athleticism and natural ability. That being said, there's obviously something wrong if two teams refuse to give him any opportunities. Regardless, I'm sure Slaton still has visions of being a starter in the NFL, and I don't see that happening in Miami. I expect both parties to move on in 2012.


NT Paul Soliai

Soliai is a very interesting character, as he was labeled a major disappointment early in his career with maturity issues and lack of production landing him on the doghouse on a routine basis. Something clicked in 2010, however, as he transformed into an elite 3-4 nose tackle. Signed to a one-year contract worth more than $12 million under the franchise tag, Soliai hasn't been quite as good this season as he was last year, but is still one of the better nose tackles in the game.

As Ben Volin recently said, "350-pound nose tackles don't grow on trees." It may seem daunting for the Dolphins to extend both Langford and Soliai in the coming offseason, but it's something they need to do. He will not be easy to replace unless the team spends big money on another free agent, in which case it'd be best to just retain Soliai. I'd say a three- or four-year deal worth between $8 million a year sounds right.


OLB Jason Taylor

Taylor returned for his third stint with the Dolphins in 2011, and while the season likely hasn't gone like he had hoped, he's been a welcome addition to the team once again. The six-time Pro Bowler's value to the younger players on the defense cannot be understand, and he's shown he can still be effective even at 37 with quality run defense and seven sacks despite playing only half as many snaps as most starter.

As I'm sure everyone knows by now, Taylor make it clear this week that he'd be retiring at season's end while indicating he has no plans to "pull a Favre" and come back some point down the road. I'm sure someone like Bill Belichick will try to lure him for a title run, but I expect Taylor to remain committed to his retirement while heading to the broadcast booth and eventually to Canton.



Restricted Free Agents

RB/FB Lex Hilliard

A sixth-round pick back in 2008, Hilliard spent his rookie season on the practice squad. He saw action due to injuries in 2009 with 23 carries for 89 yards, but failed to record a touch the following year once the team's other backs came back healthy. This season, Hilliard has taken on more of a fullback role, rushing for just 41 yards and a touchdown on a 2.6 average while struggling as a blocker. He remains one of the team's better special-teams players, however.

I expect Hilliard to be back for camp next year one way or another. However, the team might feel a restricted free agent tender is a little high, so they could opt to non-tender him and re-sign him for less money. If he does return, he won't be guaranteed a roster spot depending on what the Dolphins do in the draft to back up Bush and Thomas and his role is unlikely to increase in 2012 if he does make the team.


OT Lydon Murtha

A seventh-round pick by the Lions in 2009, Murtha was plucked off the practice squad by the Dolphins and appeared in one game as a rookie. He served as Vernon Carey's primary backup at right tackle in 2010, starting four games with shaky results. Expected to remain one of the backup tackles in 2011, Murtha surprisingly landed on injured reserve with a toe injury before the season began.

Like with Hilliard, Murtha may not be worth the salary an RFA tender would bring and thus could be non-tendered and brought back for cheaper. Given the Dolphins' depth issues and the disastrous results from Marc Colombo in 2011, I suspect the team would like to retain Murtha if he's healthy. While he may never develop into a starter, I actually think a healthy Murtha could have done a better job than Colombo did in 2011 and I see continued use for him off the bench.


Exclusive-Rights Free Agents

DL Ryan Baker

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2009, Baker spent much of his early career on the Dolphins' practice squad before a late-season promotion as a rookie. He lost practice-squad eligibility permanently in 2010 when he appeared in nine games for the Dolphins. Baker was released early during the 2011 season but re-signed in November when the team released Igor Olshansky. For his career, Baker has appeared in 16 games (no starts) and recorded seven tackles, half a sack, and a pass deflection.

Baker has been a coach's favorite due to his work ethic and ability to play both nose tackle and defensive end, but the upside really isn't there. It wouldn't surprise me to see him brought back for cheap, especially if Merling walks and/or Tony McDaniel is released. However, he'll again be a long shot to be real contributor on defense.


OL Will Barker

Undrafted out of Virginia in 2010, Barker spent his rookie season between the Buccaneers' practice squad and active roster, appearing in three games. He began the 2011 season on the Buccaneers' practice squad again before being added to the Dolphins' active roster in early November. He has been inactive for every game with the team.

Barker is your typical long-time college starter that just doesn't have the physical tools to be an NFL starter. He's lack of elite athleticism or strength limits him to right tackle and potentially guard. I would imagine he'll be brought back to compete in training camp, but I'd consider him a long shot to make the team again in 2012.


OL Ray Feinga

After joining the Rams as an undrafted free agent out of BYU in 2009, Feinga spent a brief time with the San Diego Chargers before joining the Dolphins' practice squad in late December. Over the past two seasons, Feinga has bounced between the practice squad, Miami's active roster, and a few extended stints in free agency, including a four-game suspension in 2010. He has appeared in three regular season games, all coming last season.

Feinga hasn't gotten on the field much, but he's stuck around this long so there must be something the coaching staff likes about the guy. He has the bulk and body size to be a mauling guard, and even worked at tackle some in the preseason. If he can offer enough versatility he could stick around as a backup in 2012, although he won't be without competition.


TE Jeron Mastrud

Undrafted out of Kansas State in 2010, Mastrud joined the Dolphins at the beginning of the 2010 season after spending camp with the Buccaneers. He appeared in eight games as a rookie but did not catch a pass, and is the only backup tight end from that season to remain on the team. He has started three of 14 games played this season and has one catch for eight yards.

Mastrud has earned positive grades both as a pass protector and run blocker this season, although he offers little in the passing game and didn't do anything in Week 16 when Anthony Fasano was out with a concussion. He'll almost certainly be brought back in 2012 to compete with Will Yeatman and others, but this remains an area where the Dolphins could use an upgrade.


ILB Austin Spitler

A seventh-round pick by the Dolphins out of Ohio State in 2010, Spitler appeared in 12 games as a rookie and totaled four tackles. While he remained the team's fourth inside linebacker in 2011, he's stepped up his special-teams game with nine tackles (second on the team) through 12 games.

Spitler is easily one of the best special-teamers on the Dolphins and that alone should get him a new contract and an invite back to camp. However, he's yet to serious challenge for the top backup job at inside linebacker, and if he truly possesses no upside on defense, he'll probably only hang around a few years at moment before he's replaced by someone younger.


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Dolphins sign RB Ian Johnson to practice squad

You may remember him from his All-American days at Boise State and the time he proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend after the Broncos' win over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Now, you know him as the newest member of the Miami Dolphins' practice squad.

The Dolphins signed running back Ian Johnson to the practice squad Wednesday—the same day the team promoted running back Richard Medlin to the active roster to take the roster spot of Jake Long (IR/triceps). The team also worked out free agent running back P. J. Hill, but he was not signed.


Background

A San Dimas, Calif. native, Johnson rushed for 663 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman at Boise State before experiencing a breakout sophomore season in 2006. That year, Johnson totaled 1,714 yards and 25 touchdowns to earn numerous awards and accolades, including first-team All-WAC honors and third-team AP All-American honors.

Johnson rushed for 1,041 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior and just 766 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior as the running game took a back seat to the Broncos' powerful aerial attack. At the conclusion of his collegiate career, Johnson was a three-time All-WAC selection and broke Marshall Faulk's conference record for career rushing touchdowns.

Meausring in at just under six feet and 212 pounds, Johnson ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, benched 225 pounds 26 times and scored a 26 on the Wonderlic. However, he went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft and signed with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent.

Averaging 3.5 yards per carry and scoring two touchdowns in the preseason, Johnson was waived during final cuts and re-signed to the team's practice squad. After rushing for just 38 yards on 15 carries (2.5 avg) during the 2010 preseason, Johnson was again waived by the Vikings.

Johnson split the 2010 regular season between the practice squads of the Arizona Cardinals and Detroit Lions. He attended training camp with the Lions in 2011 and averaged 3.6 yards on 22 carries before being waived. Prior to signing with the Dolphins, Johnson had spent much of the season on the 49ers' practice squad before being released on Dec. 14.

As a member of the Dolphins' practice squad, Johnson will receive a salary of $5,700 for the final week of the season. He is eligible to be signed to another team's active roster and will become a free agent at season's end.


Analysis

With Reggie Bush nursing a knee injury and Daniel Thomas also missing time in Week 16, the Dolphins obviously felt they could use some more practice depth at running back during the final week of the season. You also have to consider the Dolphins having one less running back than they do given how much time Lex Hilliard spends at fullback these days.

As a prospect, Johnson is your solid all-around back that doesn't stand out in one area but does a lot of things well. He has pretty good vision and balance to go along with decent size and a strong build. He doesn't play nearly as fast as he times, however, and isn't all that much of a receiver.

Johnson had a nice career at Boise State, but he doesn't profile as that great of a pro prospect as you can imagine having not played in a regular season game in three years since going undrafted. He's actually going to be out of practice-squad eligibility soon, which could kill his chances of ever having a pro career if he doesn't establish himself somewhere soon.

Realistically, all Johnson can hope for is an offseason contract and the chance to prove himself in training camp in 2012, be it in Miami or elsewhere. His best bet is to make his mark on special teams and maybe work his way into the offense down the line due to injuries, but he should be considered a long shot to ever stick on a roster.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pro Bowler Jake Long lands on IR with torn triceps

A mainstay at left tackle for the Miami Dolphins ever since he was taken first overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, Jake Long landed on injured reserve for the first time in his career Wednesday after suffering a torn triceps muscle in the team's loss to the New England Patriots in Week 16.

Long, who started the first 61 games of his career at left tackle for the Dolphins, missed his first game ever in Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills with a back injury suffered the week before. He was back in the starting lineup last week before suffering the triceps injury early against the Patriots.

The news of Long's move to injured reserve comes just a day after he was selected to his fourth Pro Bowl in as many seasons. He will not participate in the all-star event in Honolulu and likely would not have done so even if he hadn't suffered this most recent injury.

Long suffered a torn labrum midway through the 2010 season and managed to play through it. He has also been bothered by injuries to both knees over the past year. Despite all that, Long has performed at a level better than most other tackles in the NFL.

Arguably the best blind side blocker when healthy, Long still ranked as the 20th-best tackle in the NFL in 2011 according to Pro Football Focus, having been responsible for five sacks and 18 quarterback pressures during the season.

Long will enter the final season of his rookie contract in 2012 after the final year of the deal voided due to playing time incentives. Additionally, his base salary has also jumped from its original $6.75 million to $11.2 million because of Long's accomplishments.

Second-year man John Jerry, who has primarily worked at guard during his Dolphins career, will likely start in Long's place against the Jets in Week 17. Running back Richard Medlin was promoted from the practice squad to fill Long's roster spot.


Analysis

It's a sad ending to Long's season, and I personally think the Dolphins should have kept him out after the back injury suffered in Week 13. The season was already lost and there was no reason to keep Long out there, but I'm sure he's a competitor and would always want to be out there when healthy.

Hopefully, Long can rehab all of his injuries during the offseason and finally be back to 100% in 2012, which he hasn't been for a long time. At his best, Long is the best left tackle in the game and is on his way to the Hall of Fame if he can string together 12-15 years of this kind of play and consistent Pro Bowl selections.

What I think is really interesting to think about here is what will happen with Long's contract as he enters its final year. I for one think it's absurd for anyone to suggest the team could trade Long, as it makes no sense to part ways with a franchise left tackle, especially when the rest of your line isn't set anyway. Ditching Long now would be a monumental mistake.

That being said, the Dolphins will certainly have to wonder if its best to hold off on handing Long a new big contract, similar to the seven-year, $84 million deal Joe Thomas signed with the Browns before the season. Long's recent injury history is certainly concerning and the Dolphins understandably don't want to put themselves in a financial bind.

Because of the risk you have to associate with Long right now, I'm wondering if the team declines to extend him before the 2012 season ends. It makes sense to see if he can get healthy and perform next season before re-upping with him, and even if you can't reach a long-term extension with him quickly, there's always the franchise tag in 2013.

Hopefully Long will get back to full health next season and continue to play at a high level, because he's a fantastic player and it would be a shame to see his Dolphins' career end well before it rightly should.

As for Medlin, don't expect him to be participating much or at all in the season finale this weekend. Like Pat Devlin last week, this move was merely made to secure a practice squad player for the 2012 offseason a little early.

An undrafted rookie from Fayetteville State, Medline spent the preseason with the New England Patriots before being waived during final cuts. He had been on the Dolphins' practice squad since September.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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Dolphins sign WR Chris Hogan to practice squad

The Miami Dolphins made a couple practice squad transactions Tuesday, releasing wide receiver Patrick Carter and signing rookie wide receiver Chris Hogan.

Carter, who spent some of last season on the Dolphins' practice squad as well as training camp with the team in 2011, was waived during final cuts after catching one pass during the preseason. He was re-signed to the practice squad on Oct. 25.

Hogan will spend the final week of the Dolphins' season on the team's practice squad before becoming a free agent. He will then be eligible to sign a future contract with the Dolphins or any other NFL team in 2012.


Background

A multi-sport star at Ramapo High School in New Jersey, Hogan received football scholarship offers from Rutgers, Connecticut, Kansas, Temple and Western Michigan, but instead chose to play lacrosse at Penn State. He led the Nittany Lions with 29 goals in 2009 and was an all-conference selection.

Despite his success on the lacrosse field, Hogan regretted the decision to not continue to play football in college. He transferred to Division I-FCS Monmouth in 2010, where he caught 12 passes for 147 yards and three touchdowns as a wide receiver while also spending significant time at cornerback due to injuries and intercepting three passes.

Despite his limited experience on the gridiron, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hogan impressed scouts with his 4.47 speed and 28 bench reps Fordham University's pro day in March. He also trained with current NFL players such as Brian Cushing and Sinorice Moss, while modeling his game after former Monmouth receiver Miles Austin of the Dallas Cowboys.

Signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent, Hogan caught one pass for no gain in the preseason while being limited with ankle injury. He was waived during final cuts and signed to the New York Giants' practice squad in September before being waived later that month.

Hogan will receive a salary of $5,700 for his week on the Dolphins' practice squad. He is eligible to be signed to another team's active roster and will become a free agent at season's end should he remain with the Dolphins.


Analysis

It's no loss to see Carter go, as he'd been with the Dolphins on a few occasions dating back to last season and hadn't seen the active roster. He was valuable as a practice body at wide receiver as someone that knew the system after Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace were lost for the season, but there was no upside to be had.


Tony Sparano may be gone, but the Dolphins' connection to Monmouth continues. General manager Jeff Ireland was a member of the Cowboys' front office in 2006 when the team signed eventual Pro Bowl receiver Miles Austin as an undrafted free agent, and the Dolphins used a fifth-round pick on tight end John Nalbone in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Hogan is likely a very raw prospect coming out of college with such little experience, but you have to admire him for making it this far considering how little football he's actually played since high school. He's obviously a terrific all-around athlete and clearly has an impressive work ethic.

The question with Hogan is upside, and he has to be considered a long shot to have any kind of substantial pro career at this point. He obviously impressed the Dolphins enough in a recent workout to earn a practice squad spot, and he'll use his brief time in Miami the rest of the season to try and earn a spot on the offseason roster.

The odds are good Hogan will be re-signed sometime in January so the team can get a longer look at him and potentially bring him to camp, but he'll have a massive uphill battle to make the team and even be on the roster by the preseason.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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Jake Long, Brandon Marshall selected to Pro Bowl

Last week, I looked at players on the Dolphins' roster that could or should be in the discussion for a Pro Bowl selection. Two of players mentioned—offensive tackle Jake Long and wide receiver Brandon Marshall—were indeed honored with selections in the NFL's official announcement Tuesday.

Long earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection (and third as a starter) in as many pro seasons since being taken by the Dolphins first overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. His consecutive starts streak was snapped at 62 in Week 15 due to a back injury.

Meanwhile, Marshall receives a Pro Bowl invite for the second time in his career and first with the Dolphins. Despite a high number of drops and missed opportunities during the 2010 season, Marshall currently ranks second among AFC wide receivers in receptions (77), third in yards (1,177), and ninth in touchdowns (six).

Acquired from the Denver Broncos in exchange for two second-round picks in April 2010, Marshall has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons in Miami. He also teamed with running back Reggie Bush for the first time in franchise history the Dolphins have had a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver.


Worthy selections?

Most fans don't pay attention to offensive line play when they watch NFL games, and that's understandable. Thus, when a lineman is a high-profile name (such as a first overall pick like Long) he typically gets voted to the Pro Bowl based more on reputation than actual play. That is indeed the case when Long in 2011.

I give Long a ton of credit for playing through numerous injuries (knees, shoulder, back) and for playing fairly well through all of it. That being said, there is simply no way you can say Long was one of the three best offensive tackles in the AFC this season.

For the season, Long grades out as a positive pass protector and slightly sub-par run blocker. He's blamed for five sacks on the season, which is down from last year's six allowed by would be the second-highest total in his four-year career. He also ranked 20th out of 76 tackles in the NFL in quarterback pressured allowed with 15.

Bottom line: Long is having another good season and is performing incredibly well given that he hasn't been near 100% healthy at any point this season. That being said, Long is not Pro Bowl worthy in 2011.

As for Marshall, he certainly has the numbers to rank near the top of the AFC's receivers and thus in Pro Bowl consideration. It's actually crazy to imagine what his numbers would be if he didn't have all his drops—many of them that would have been touchdowns.

Personally, my four Pro Bowl receivers would have been Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, A. J. Green and Vincent Jackson. I think Green's numbers are astounding for a rookie, while both he and Jackson have stretched the field better than Marshall with fewer drops.

That being said, Marshall has elite numbers despite his drops and at worst was a deserving Pro Bowl reserve, but I really have no complaints about him being selected outright.


Anyone snubbed?

I'm actually a little surprised the Dolphins landed two Pro Bowlers from the voting, as the 5-10 team has very few stars and has hardly been in the national spotlight much at all this season. That being said, were there any players that didn't earn selections that maybe should have?

I'd say the honestly player that was possibly snubbed was outside linebacker Cameron Wake. His sack total (8.5, down from 14 in 2010) is probably the reason for his exclusion, but in reality Wake has had a huge impact. According to Pro Football Focus, Wake leads his position in total NFL pressures and thus is having a much bigger impact rushing the passer than his sack total indicates.

Aside from that, I'd say the Dolphins don't really have any snubs. Anthony Fasano is an underrated complete tight end, but he's not going to get to Hawaii without elite receiving numbers. Defenders like Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Vontae Davis have all come on strong in the second half, but they don't have the bodies of work over the entire season to warrant selections.

Reggie Bush has actually been one of the biggest surprises for the Dolphins this season, proving to everyone he can be a feature back by amassing 1,086 yards on the ground. He's currently the fifth-leading rusher in the AFC, while his 5.0 yards per carry bests the four guys above him. That being said, I can't put him in the Pro Bowl over Ray Rice, Arian Foster or Maurice Jones-Drew and Bush should really only go to Hawaii as an injury replacement.

Many fans will say punter Brandon Fields is a snub, but the reality is he just isn't. Fields is arguably the second-best punter in the NFL, but he happens to play in the same conference as the best punter in the NFL—Oakland's Shane Lechler. As long as Lechler deserves to be in (and he does), you just can't say Fields is a snub.


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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012 NFL Draft Watch: Week 17

The Miami Dolphins lost a heartbreaker to the New England Patriots in Week 16, failing to protect a 17-point lead and eventually falling at the hands of Tom Brady's second-half surge.

There was a ray of sunshine to the defeat, however, as the Dolphins' improved their draft position from ninth to eighth. Unfortunately, they were only able to move up one spot (leapfrogging the Panthers) thanks to the rest of the teams directly ahead of them losing as well. But I'll always take a higher pick.

As it stands right now, the draft order looks like this (first tiebreaker of strength of schedule in parentheses, courtesy of Ben Volin):
1. Colts 2-13 (.552)
2. Rams 2-13 (.571)
3. Minnesota 3-12 (.565)
4. Cleveland 4-11 (.516)
5. Jacksonville 4-11 (.529)
6. Tampa Bay 4-11 (.545)
7. Washington 5-10 (.476)
8. Miami 5-10 (.511)
9. Carolina 6-9 (.482)
10. Buffalo 6-9 (.498)
11. Kansas City 6-9 (.516)


After an 0-13 start, the Colts are in danger of losing the first overall pick with their two straight wins. A victory over the Jaguars in the season finale, coupled with a Rams loss to the 49ers, would give St. Louis the first overall pick. Minnesota at 3-12 is out of the running thanks to their win over the Redskins in Week 16.

According to Volin, the Dolphins can pick no lower than 10th in the 2012 NFL Draft and no higher than fifth. For them to end up with the fifth overall pick, the Dolphins would need to lose to the Jets and have Cleveland (vs. Steelers), Jacksonville (vs. Colts), Tampa Bay (at Falcons), and Washington (at Eagles) all win in Week 17.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, their options at quarterback regardless of where they end up picking will be limited by the absence of potential top-five selection Matt Barkley, who decided to stay for his senior season at USC.


As a result, the top quarterback prospects will be Stanford's Andrew Luck, who is likely to go first overall, Baylor's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III, and Oklahoma's Landry Jones—should they choose to enter the draft.

Barkley staying at USC increases Griffin's draft value and the chances he will declare, and his parents have reportedly already started talking to agents. Jones, meanwhile, is a much bigger question mark, as he's coming off a bit of a disappointing junior season and could boost his stock if he stays with the Sooners in 2012 and performs well as a senior.

Second-tier guys like Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State), Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M), and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) could see a bump in value as well and sneak into the first round. We saw a handful of quarterbacks go in the first round last year (some arguably reaches) and if enough teams again feel like they need to take a quarterback early, we could see the same occurrence.

If I had to mock the first 11 picks (all teams with six wins or fewer) based on the current draft order, I'd do it like this:
1. Colts (2-13) — QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
2. Rams (2-13) — CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
3. Minnesota (3-12) — OT Matt Kalil, USC
4. Cleveland (4-11) — QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
5. Jacksonville (4-11 — WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
6. Tampa Bay (4-11) — CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
7. Washington (5-10) — QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
8. Miami (5-10) — QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
9. Carolina (6-9) — WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
10. Buffalo (6-9) — LB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
11. Kansas City (6-9) — OT Riley Reiff, Iowa


As you can see, with Barkley out of the picture and Cleveland and Washington sitting ahead of the Dolphins, Miami could potentially be left with the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the draft as their only option. Their options would be limited even more if Griffin and/or Jones stay in school.

Obviously, the Dolphins could go another direction, bringing in a pass rusher like Mercilus or a starting lineman like Reiff or Stanford's David DeCastro, but the team needs to find a franchise quarterback above all else and I expect them to do everything they can to accomplish that in this draft.

As a result, the Dolphins' only option may still be to trade up, in which case they would need to target the No. 2 or No. 3 pick to jump ahead of Cleveland and secure Griffin. Obviously, St. Louis with Sam Bradford and Minnesota with Christian Ponder will give the Dolphins the best options to trade up, assuming they land the second and third picks. St. Louis makes a lot of sense, as they could trade down with Miami and receive a nice haul in picks, including an elite corner prospect with Miami's first-round selection.

The Dolphins have secured a top-10 pick in 2012, but this thing is far from over and we may not even know where the Dolphins are picking until after the draft begins on Apr. 26. However, a higher pick means more options both in players on the board and in trading up, so this weekend I suggest we all become Browns, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Redskins, and yes—Jets—fans if we want to see the Dolphins land an elite quarterback prospect in the upcoming draft.



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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dolphins vs. Patriots - Live Chat

Week 16 NFL Game Predictions

I hope everyone is having a great holiday season and is ready for some football! Like a lot of people I'm 0-1 this week and I'm coming off a pretty lame 9-7 performance in Week 15, but I'm feeling good this week and expect great things, Tim Tebow willing.

Last week's record: 9-7
2011 season record: 149-76 (66.2%)


Bills over Broncos — The Bills are underdogs on their home turf to the Tebows, but I think Denver's offense sputters in the cold and Buffalo secures the "upset."

Bengals over Cardinals — Arizona is winners of four straight including victories over good times like the Cowboys and Niners, but there's something about them I just can't buy into yet. I think they finally drop one here in the Ohio cold.

Titans over Jaguars — Maurice Jones-Drew is carrying this team when no one else is, but it's so hard to pick them with as bad as Blaine Gabbert looks. I have to go with the Titans and their veteran quarterback.

Chiefs over Raiders — It's possible the Chiefs could drop this one while riding the high of upsetting the Packers, but this team really seems to like playing for Romeo Crennel and the Raiders are playing really poorly right now.

Patriots over Dolphins — These defense are really heading in opposite directions with Miami's playing great football and the Patriots' maybe the worst in the league, but I still think New England wins this one on the back of Tom Brady.

Jets over Giants — I think you have to give this one to the Jets because of the home field advantage. In all seriousness, this is an extremely tough game to pick between two very up-and-down squads, but I'll take the Jets for some reason.

Steelers over Rams — Even if Charlie Batch is starting this game, the Steelers have no excuse for losing to a helpless and beat-up Rams team right now.

Redskins over Vikings — Washington is coming off a nice upset over the Giants in Week 15 and their passing game should have no problems against the Vikings' secondary. I'll take the Redskins to lose draft pick ground and win this one.

Panthers over Buccaneers — Josh Freeman is having quite a down year, while the Panthers had a really nice showing last week. I think Cam Newton leads Carolina to a divisional win here.

Ravens over Browns — Baltimore has been one of the most two-faced teams this season, but there is no reason they should lose to the Seneca Wallace-led Browns here.

Lions over Chargers — This one has all the makings of a shootout, but I'll take Calvin Johnson and the Lions at home over the Chargers, who could be without Vincent Jackson.

Cowboys over Eagles — This is a great NFC East battle and the Eagles won their first meeting of the season big in October, but I think the blazing Cowboys pull this one out at home.

49ers over Seahawks — This will be a great meeting between the Niners' elite run defense and the Seahawks' powerful ground game, but I'll take San Francisco on the road.

Packers over Bears — Chicago is an absolute mess with Josh McCown starting at quarterback. I don't see any way they upset the Packers here.

Saints over Falcons — This NFC South rivalry always produces a great game, but you can't bet against the Saints at home with as hot as their offense is right now.


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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do the Dolphins have a worthy Pro Bowler on the roster?

Fan voting for the 2012 Pro Bowl came to an end last night and NFL.com has the leading vote-getters by position up Wednesday. The fans' vote makes up one-third of the overall voting process, with the players and coaches each contributing a third as well.

Completely absent from the AFC list of positional vote-getters is any Miami Dolphins representation. The New England Patriots have five players on the list, while the Baltimore Ravens lead the pack with seven total players.

We'll find out soon enough the full list of players to be selected to the Pro Bowl after the players and coaches fill out their ballots over the next few days, but in the meantime I'll pose this question:

Do the Dolphins—with a record of 5-9 and losers of their first seven games—have a single player on the roster that has earned a Pro Bowl selection in 2011?

What follows is a list of any Dolphins player I think will either be in the Pro Bowl discussion (deservedly or not) as well as an analysis of whether or not that player is actually worthy compared to his NFL peers.

If I don't cover anyone you think is worth discussing, feel free to discuss it on the comments or let me know!


QB Matt Moore

Taking over for Chad Henne after a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 4, Moore has shown steady improvement over the course of the season. He is 4-2 in his last six games (with one loss coming when he suffered a concussion and missed much of the game) and earned AFC Player of the Week honors with a three-touchdown performance in a 31-3 rout of the Chiefs in Week 9.

That being said, it might seem strange to to talk about Moore as a Pro Bowl candidate. He's actually not too far from the top in a thin AFC quarterback herd, however. Although he hasn't started all season, Moore currently ranked fifth in the NFL in passer rating, and one of the players ahead of him—Houston's Matt Schaub—is out for the season.

Realistically, Moore is not deserving of a Pro Bowl selection with Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and a surging Philip Rivers. You also have to factor in that Tim Tebow is going to make his way there as a fan favorite regardless of performance. However, if a few of the quarterbacks decide to drop out, Moore is clearly a worthy alternate.


RB Reggie Bush

You can count me among the people that have long doubted Bush's ability to hold up as a feature back and between-the-tackles runner in the NFL, but the first-year Dolphin and reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week is proving many wrong with a highly productive season on the ground.

Coming off his 203-yard performance against the Bills in Week 15, Bush now has 973 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the season to go along with 41 catches for 270 yards. His rushing total puts him at sixth in the AFC and his five yards per carry is a better mark than anyone in front of him.

Realistically, I don't think you can put Bush in the Pro Bowl ahead of the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice, and Arian Foster. However, Bush is certainly one of the more productive backs in the conference and could be a worthy alternate.


WR Brandon Marshall

The argument for Marshall is certainly a divisive one. On one hand, he's a psycho wife-beater and has one of the highest drop rates over the past two seasons. On the other hand, he certainly has Pro Bowl numbers, ranking second among receivers in the AFC in receptions (70) and fourth in yards (1,021).

Marshall is certainly on the cusp of being Pro Bowl worthy, but objectively I wouldn't put him on the top four. I think you have to include Wes Welker, Mike Wallace, and Vincent Jackson over Marshall, and there are arguments to be made for guys like A. J. Green, Dwayne Bowe, and Antonio Brown as well. Green in particular is having a phenomenal rookie season and has out-gained Marshall per catch with two more touchdowns on the year.

I certainly couldn't argue if Marshall were selected to the Pro Bowl, as he's put up top numbers for his position despite missing out on a handful of big opportunities with costly drops.



TE Anthony Fasano

Let's just be realistic—Fasano has no chance of being selected to the Pro Bowls. His numbers don't jump out at anyone, as he ranks 15th among AFC tight ends in receptions (28), 10th in yards (440), and sixth in touchdowns (six).

That being said, I would argue Fasano is one of the Dolphins most worthy of Pro Bowl consideration. While his receiving numbers are solid yet unspectacular, he is easily one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the NFL. Fasano ranks first among full-time tight ends in the AFC in yards per catch (15.7) and Pro Football Focus has him as the NFL's fifth-best run-blocking tight end.

It's hard to argue against guys like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez that are lighting up the stat sheets, but I would contend that Fasano is worth being considered just behind him—even ahead of some players with more receptions or total yards—based on his overall contributions to his offense.


OT Jake Long

When you're the No. 1 overall pick and you're an elite left tackle, you're going to be one of the biggest names fans know among offensive linemen and secure Pro Bowl selections with relative ease. Long has earned three straight selections to begin his career and there is always a chance he'll get a fourth this season solely based on reputation.

As far as Long deserving a Pro Bowl selection this season, I'd have to say he's not quite there. While it's true Long probably hasn't been close 100% healthy at any point this season, the reality is he's struggled at times more than I've ever seen and hasn't been as dominant as in the past. Pro Football Focus blames him for five sacks on the season and ranks him as the 17th-best pass-protecting tackle and 23rd overall tackle.

Long may get in on reputation and his dip in production can certainly be attributed to lingering injuries, but I don't see him truly deserving it no matter what the excuse. There's also virtually no chance Long would participate in the Pro Bowl even if he makes it, given how dinged up he's been for over a year now.


OT Marc Colombo

Just kidding. He's awful.


DE Randy Starks

One of the Dolphins' current regime's earliest and finest signings, Starks has been one of the league's best 3-4 defensive ends since he arrived in Miami and even performed well at nose tackle in 2010 before Paul Soliai's emergence. A stellar season in 2009 earned him a Pro Bowl alternate spot the following season to replace the Steelers' Brett Keisel who was in the Super Bowl.

While 3-4 defensive lineman often go unnoticed in their work and Starks has largely been one of those guys over the past three seasons, Starks' recognition by the league as a Pro Bowl alternate makes him a viable candidate once again in 2011.

Starks has amassed a steady 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks thus far in 2011, practically matching his 2010 output in two fewer games. Beyond that, he's been a key component of the Dolphins' No. 3 run defense both in rushing yards and rushing average and rates as PFF's eighth-best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL and fourth-bet in the AFC behind Keisel and Houston's J. J. Watt and Antonio Smith.

Clearly worthy of a Pro Bowl selection yet again in 2011 and at the very least a nod as an injury replacement, Starks will likely have to wait and see if he's recognized by the AFC coach like he was in 2010.


NT Paul Soliai

A pretty regular disappointment during his first few years with the Dolphins, Soliai really emerged last season as one of the better 3-4 nose tackles in the game. He earned the Dolphins' franchise tag and is making over $12 million this season before becoming a free agent next year.

In my opinion, Soliai isn't quite having the same impact as he did in 2010. He's still be an excellent run defender for the most part but he doesn't have nearly as many tackles as he did last season. He's been solid, but probably isn't worth Pro Bowl consideration in the same conference as Haloti Ngata, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, Kelly Gregg, and others.


OLB Cameron Wake

On the surface, Cameron Wake is having a down season in 2011 after a 14-sack Pro Bowl campaign last year. Wake has 39 tackles and 7.5 sacks on the season but is still looking for his first forced fumble of the year after notching three a season ago.

However, football metrics indicate Wake is having a bigger season than his sack total indicates. Ranked as PFF's No. 1 run-stopping 3-4 outside linebacker and overall 3-4 outside linebacker, Wake grades out with extremely high marks in every area except coverage. While he may only have 7.5 sacks, he is second in the NFL and first in the AFC in quarterback hits (17) and third in the NFL in pressures (43). His pressures total is also first among all 3-4 outside linebackers, as the two people ahead of him are 4-3 defensive ends.

It may be hard to Wake to garner a Pro Bowl selection over bigger names like Brian Orakpo, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but Wake is clearly one of the best in the game at his position and worthy of another selection. I'd give him a strong chance of being named an alternate at the very least, and deservedly so.


ILBs Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett

I'm including Dansby and Burnett in one section because I feel they've had such parallel seasons at the same position. Dansby has done well in his second season with the Dolphins, totaling 88 tackles and two sacks through 14 games. Burnett has also really come on of late and sits with 82 tackles and 2.5 sacks. It's safe to say he's a clear upgrade over the released and retired Channing Crowder.

Of the two, Dansby is the most worthy as PFF's 10th-best inside linebacker in the NFL with high marks in pass coverage and run defense. After showing up to camp at 270 pounds and getting off to a slow start to begin the season, Dansby has been playing great football lately. If he'd been playing like this all season, it'd easily be one of the best seasons of any linebacker in the league.


But is either one Pro Bowl worthy? I'd have to say no. While both are playing great football in the second half, they really struggled at the beginning of the season and thus have not had the consistency to garner real Pro Bowl consideration over guys that have been playing at a high level all year. Dansby could receive alternate consideration, but that's the extent of it.


CB Vontae Davis

The Dolphins' No. 1 corner and a promising player, Davis has certainly had a roller coaster season. He began the year with some struggled and missed a combined four games due to a hamstring injury and a suspension for violating a team rule.

That being said, Davis has really come on in the second half and may just be Pro Bowl worthy. He's already matched his career high with four interceptions on the year and has been strong against the run as well. In coverage, he's holding opposing quarterbacks to a 59.1 passer rating, which ranks seventh in the AFC.

I wouldn't say Davis should be in the Pro Bowl over guys like Darrelle Revis and Ike Taylor, but he should be on speed dial of guys start dropping out due to injury.


P Brandon Fields

Quite possibly the Dolphins' MVP in a sad season otherwise, Fields is far and away one of the best punters in the NFL. When you watch him kick and then see some of the guys other teams have around the league, it's just amazing how much better Fields' leg is than most. He may rank ninth in punting average and nowhere near the top in net average thanks to poor coverage, but he's easily one of the most effective punters in the game and ranks second in the NFL in punts inside the opponent's 20 with 30 of his 70 kicks landing in that area.

Despite all that, Field is not worthy of the AFC's Pro Bowl punter job. That honor should again go to Oakland's Shane Lechler, who already has six Pro Bowls under his belt and may just be the best punter in NFL history. If Lechler drops out, Fields is at worst the second replacement option, but could win a tiebeaker with the Broncos' Britton Colquitt due to the Broncos' mile high air.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dolphins place Koa Misi on injured reserve, promote Pat Devlin from practice squad

The Miami Dolphins placed linebacker Koa Misi on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday, two days after his missed the team's 30-23 victory over the Buffalo Bills with a shoulder injury.

The Dolphins' second-round pick in 2010, Misi had started nine of 12 games played this season but had totaled just 34 tackles and a sack while splitting time with veteran Jason Taylor. Misi recorded 4.5 sacks in 16 games as a rookie last season, but has just two in his last 22 games.

To take Misi's spot on the active roster, the Dolphins promoted rookie third-string quarterback Pat Devlin, who has spent the entire season on the team's practice squad after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Delaware in July. He will sit behind starter Matt Moore and veteran backup J. P. Losman for the team's two remaining games, barring injury.

Interestingly, the Dolphins also brought another arm into practice by signing free agent quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson to the practice squad to fill Devlin's spot. The Dolphins now have four quarterbacks between the active roster and practice squad, which is unusual considering the team has had only two active and three total up to this week.


McLeod Bethel-Thompson

A California native, Bethel-Thompson originally attended UCLA before transferring and playing three seasons at Sacramento State. During his collegiate career with the Bruins and Hornets, he appeared in 14 games and threw for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns with seven interceptions.

Bethel-Thompson went undrafted in 2010 and played for the San Jose SaberCats of the Arena Football League in 2011, throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He spent training camp with the San Francisco 49ers in later that year, throwing one pass in the preseason before being waived during final cuts.

Following his release, Bethel-Thompson to the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League. Although season statistics from 2011 appear impossible to find even on the league's official website, Bethel-Thompson was named the UFL Player of the Week in Week 5 after going 25-for-46 for 260 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. (If anyone can provide more details on Bethel-Thompson's UFL stint, please drop me a line.)

This actually isn't the first time I've written about Bethel-Thompson, who originally worked out for the Dolphins in early November. As a practice squad player, he will participate in team practices and meetings but will not be able to play in games. He will earn roughly $5,700 a week, is eligible to be signed to another NFL team's active roster, and becomes a free agent at season's end.


Analysis

The Dolphins only have one really productive pass rusher in Cameron Wake, but losing Misi isn't going to hurt. Misi has been good against the run this season but that's about it, as he's struggled in both pass coverage and in his primary obligation of getting to the quarterback.

Jason Taylor will take over as the full-time strong-side linebacker, and you'll probably see more Jason Trusnik (14 tackles) and maybe even Ikaika Alama-Francis (one tackle) on defense over the next few weeks. Taylor isn't the player he once was at 37, but he's a serviceable starter and could even be an upgrade over Misi.

Don't get excited about Devlin's promotion—it's merely a procedural move to ensure he's around for training camp in 2012. The Dolphins won't play him this season unless both of their other quarterbacks get hurt, but signing him to a two-year deal now ensures he'll be on next year's roster and won't be poached by another team between now and the offseason.

With the promotion, Devlin will receive just over $22,000 per week on a prorated contract for the rookie minimum of $375,000. It's a healthy increase from the $5,700 he was earning weekly on the practice squad. Devlin's contract also called for a base salary of $460,000 in 2012 should be make the final roster.

I'm a bit surprised the Dolphins filled Devlin's practice squad spot with another quarterback, as the team has carried just three all season and four seems like a bit of overkill. Perhaps the Dolphins don't want to overwork Moore, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago, and Losman this late in the season while taking a look at a project quarterback in Bethel-Thompson.

As a prospect, Bethel-Thompson doesn't really jump out as someone that's an NFL talent. He was a two-star prep recruit by both Scout.com and Rivals.com, has an underwhelming collegiate career marred by injuries, and has failed to earn starting jobs in both the AFL and UFL since going undrafted in 2010.

Bethel-Thompson has NFL quarterback size at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and reportedly has a decent arm, but he seems a long shot to ever make an NFL impact and may not be long for the Dolphins' roster. He'll be lucky if he can even earn a contract in the offseason.

As always, check out the updated projected depth chart reflecting these transactions here.


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

2012 NFL Draft Watch: Pre-Week 16

Well, it seems Miami Dolphins interim head coach Todd Bowles is more concerning with winning games and building his own résumé than he is making me happy with a higher draft pick in 2012 that he won't be around for anyway. (Such selfishness...)

As I've been doing over the past month,  I am again looking at the Dolphins' current projected draft spot in 2012. This is particularly important as it is widely believed the Dolphins will be looking for a franchise quarterback early in the draft, despite Matt Moore's solid showing in 2011.

With the win over the Bills in Week 15 and the rest of the league's games going like they did, the Dolphins fell from seventh to ninth in the 2012 NFL Draft order. Specifically, the Browns jumped ahead of Miami from eighth to fifth from their loss to the Cardinals, while the Buccaneers jump from ninth to sixth after falling to the Cowboys.

Entering Week 16, here is the currently top 12 draft order:
  1. Indianapolis (1-13)
  2. Minnesota (2-12)
  3. St. Louis (2-12)
  4. Jacksonville (4-10)
  5. Cleveland (4-10)
  6. Tampa Bay (4-10)
  7. Washington (5-9)
  8. Carolina (5-9)
  9. Miami (5-9)
  10. Buffalo (5-9)
  11. Philadelphia (6-8)
  12. Kansas City (6-8) 
 The Colts' win over Tennessee in Week 15 at least puts them in danger of losing the No. 1 pick, as both Minnesota (at Washington) and St. Louis (vs. Steelers) are likely to lose this week. Indianapolis hosts the Texans coming off a bad loss to the Panthers. Both the Vikings and Rams aren't in the market for a No. 1 quarterback, however, so they'll either go elsewhere or trade out for someone that wants one.

Beyond the top three, Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert looked terrible once again and the Browns know Colt McCoy isn't a franchise quarterback, so they have to be considered possibilities to take a signal-caller. Tampa Bay is committed to Josh Freeman, but Washington right behind them at No. 7 is squarely in the market for a quarterback as well.

Carolina at No. 8 is set with Cam Newton and the Eagles at No. 11 won't move on so quickly from Michael Vick. Kansas City, however, could look to trade up as well and Buffalo's contract with Ryan Fitzpatrick has an easy out, so they can't be ruled out either.

If I had to mock the top of the draft right now without any trades, this is how I'd do it:
  1. Indianapolis (1-13) — QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
  2. Minnesota (2-12) — OT Matt Kalil, USC
  3. St. Louis (2-12) — CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
  4. Jacksonville (4-10) — WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
  5. Cleveland (4-10) — QB Matt Barkley, USC
  6. Tampa Bay (4-10) — CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama
  7. Washington (5-9) — QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
  8. Carolina (5-9) — WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
  9. Miami (5-9) — QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
  10. Buffalo (5-9) — LB Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
  11. Philadelphia (6-8) — LB Zach Brown, North Carolina
  12. Kansas City (6-8) — OT Riley Reiff, Iowa
As you can see, the Dolphins at No. 9 may very well miss out on a top-three quarterback. If Landry Jones, who is coming off a down junior season at OU, doesn't declare because he think he can improve his stock and be a higher pick in 2013, the Dolphins may be stuck with Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill as the only real quarterback option available.

At this point, the Dolphins' only real option would be to trade up ahead of Cleveland (No. 5) and Washington (No. 7) to ensure they can land either Barkley or Griffin. Minnesota (No. 2) and/or St. Louis (No. 3) could potentially move down and hold picks where the Dolphins will have to be to get their man.

In terms of a trade, moving up from ninth to second or third is likely going to require first-round picks this year and next, as well as another high-to-mid-round pick in 2012. It's a steep price, but the Dolphins will have to do it if they want a franchise quarterback prospect they covet.


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A condensed Dolphins-Bills observations


It's Tuesday and we're ready to move on to Week 16, so let's get some quick observations from the Dolphins' victory over the Bills out of the way:

  • I thought Matt Moore rebounded nicely from his mild concussion in Week 14. He only completed 50 percent of his passes, but Brandon Marshall dropped three (including two touchdowns) and Moore threw some very nice balls.
  • You've got to hand it to Reggie Bush, don't you? He's really proving he can be a feature back this year and is running as well as I've ever seen him. I still question how long he can hold up, but he'll be great of Daniel Thomas can be a reliable partner.
  • Brandon Marshall has dropped so many passes this season it's ridiculous. He's still got good numbers on the season, but he'd have great numbers if he'd hauled in the touchdowns he should have. On the other side of the coin, Brian Hartline has been making incredible catches all season and had another one here just before he got drilled by a defender. He's impressing me more and more all the time and I'd love to see what he'd do in a great offense.
  • John Jerry held up fairly well in place of Jake Long (back) at left tackle, though it's hard to entirely judge his play when the Bills don't have a pass rusher on the roster. The unit as a hole was iffy at first but really got going and opened up holes for Bush in the second half.
  • I thought the tackling on defense was pretty weak at first, which I would mostly attribute to the cold conditions. Everyone looked like they were going half-speed early on and too cold to really hit somebody, which inflated C. J. Spiller's numbers.
  • Jared Odrick and Randy Starks got nice pressure from the inside, disrupting Ryan Fitzpatrick on multiple occasions and each notching a sack. Cameron Wake was the biggest beast of the day, drawing multiple penalties while recording six tackles and a sack.
  • Reshad Jones lucked into a pick, but Vontae Davis made two great plays on interceptions. He's really having a nice second half after being hampered by a hamstring injury and temporarily in the dog house.
  • Dan Carpenter and Brandon Fields are great at their jobs. What else is there to say?
  • Davone Bess averaged a healthy 16 yards on six punt returns, but his performance also signified just how weak of a returner he is. Watching the game, Buffalo's coverage was weak and there were at least two times where a great returner would have broken it all the way. The slow-footed Bess was caught easily from behind.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dolphins work out three CFL players Thursday

As many NFL teams do during the week, the Miami Dolphins worked out three free agents Thursday. A trait all three have in common is that they are currently members the Canadian Football League, which just saw its season end in November.

Nose tackle Khalif Mitchell, offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye and running back Marcus Thigpen were not immediately signed due to CFL rules restricting migration until Jan. 2, but the Dolphins organization that has a history of bringing in CFL players will keep them under consideration for practice squad spots and/or a potential offseason roster signing.


Khalif Mitchell

The 6-foot-4, 316-pound Mitchell contributed 15 tackles as a true freshman at North Carolina in 2005 before transferring to East Carolina and sitting out the following season per NCAA regulations.

Mitchell made an immediate impact for the Pirates in 2007, earning an All-Conference USA honorable mention with 19 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and two sacks. As a senior in 2008, Mitchell appeared in seven tackles and totaled 16 sacks (three for a loss) and a sack.

Undrafted in 2009, Mitchell signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a rookie free agent and spent most of his rookie season on the team's practice squad. He attended training camp with the Niners in 2010 but was once again waived during final cuts.

Shortly after his release, Mitchell joined the BC Lions of the CFL and went on to appear in eight games, totaling six tackles. He experienced a breakout season in 2011, recording 33 tackles and six sacks (third on the team) while helping the Lions win the 99th Grey Cup.


Jovan Olafioye

Olafioye originally attended Grand Rapids Community College before transferring to North Carolina Central and helping the Eagles to a CIAA championship in 2007. The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder received little interest from the NFL, however, and went undrafted in 2010.

After signing with the CFL's BC Lions in 2010, Olafioye quickly established himself as one of the best offensive lineman in the league. He started all 18 games for the Lions at right guard and left tackle as a rookie, earning CFL West All-Star honors.

The success continued into 2011, as Olafioye served as the Lions' starting right tackle on their way a Grey Cup victory. Olafioye was again named a CFL All-Star and was runner-up for the league's offensive lineman of the year award.

According to recent reports, Olafioye is training in Los Angeles as he prepares for NFL auditions. He has worked out for the Vikings and Dolphins thus far and also has auditions scheduled with the Browns, Jets and Steelers.


Marcus Thigpen

Thigpen attended Indiana University, where he played football and ran track. For the Hoosiers' football team, he left he school ranked second all-time in return yardage and also became the first player in team history with over 1,000 rushing yards (1,621), receiving yards (1,028) and kickoff return yards (2,009).

After going undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft, Thigpen (5-9, 190) signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent but was waived on Aug. 4. He spent part of the preseason with the Denver Broncos but was again waived.

From there, Thigpen headed north and signed to the practice roster of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders. He attended training camp with the Roughriders in 2010 but was released and moved on to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

As a rookie for the Tiger-Cats, Thigpen returned the season's opening kickoff for a touchdown and totaled 234 rushing yards and two scores and 20 catches for 234 yards and and a touchdown on the season. He was the team's nominee for the league's most outstanding rookie after ranking second in the CFL with 1,722 combined return yards.

In 2011, Thigpen rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, caught 28 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns, and served as the Tiger-Cats' primary returner with 1,522 combined return yards (with one touchdown) to rank fourth in the CFL.


Analysis

These guys are far from household names in the states and the Dolphins haven't signed any of them yet, but they are worth keeping in mind because of the Dolphins regime's persistent exploration of CFL talent.

In four years since Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland took over in Miami, the Dolphins have brought in numerous players with CFL experience, including wide receiver Todd Lowber in 2008; linebacker Tearrius George, wide receiver James Robinson, and linebacker Cameron Wake in 2009; fullback Rolly Lumbala, wide receiver Ryan Grice-Mullen, and guard Dimitri Tsoumpas in 2010; and safety Mark Restelli in 2011. The team also had interest in current Vikings wideout Emmanuel Arceneaux this past offseason.

Mitchell has your prototypical 3-4 nose tackle size and appealed to the 49ers a few years back, so he'd have a chance to compete for a backup or practice squad spot if he was brought to camp in 2012. He's coming off a good year in the CFL, but he'd have to be considered a long shot to ever make it with the Dolphins.

Thigpen is listed as a running back, but I don't really think the Dolphins' interest lies with him in the running game. He's primarily a pass catcher with his good hands and diminutive size, and where he's made the most impact thus far in the CFL is in the return game. At best he profiles as a third-down back and return man, but his problem will be separating himself enough on special teams to make a final roster when he's unlikely to contribute in other areas.

Of the three, I think Olafioye has the most upside and the most chance to be brought in by the Dolphins and legitimately push for a roster spot. He just turned 24 and already has two outstanding CFL years under his belt. He also possesses the size and strength to play in the NFL, profiling more as a guard despite playing most of his time in the CFL at tackle. Olafioye also seems to be generating the most NFL interest of the three discussed here and is someone the Dolphins could definitely look to sign once their offseason begins.

While only Pro Bowl linebacker Cameron Wake has even made the Dolphins' roster of the CFL players the Dolphins have signed in recent years, the team continues to mine for talent in the Great White North and these three players are worth keeping an eye on for next year's training camp.


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Week 15 NFL Game Predictions

I went a pretty average 11-5 this week, but I'm 2-0 so far this week thanks to the Falcons and Cowboys (okay, those were easy picks) and hope to continue that success into Sunday.

Last week's record: 11-5 
2011 season record: 142-68 (67.6%)


Bills over Dolphins — The Dolphins obliterated the Bills at home about a month ago, but they may be in disarray after the firing of Tony Sparano and I like Buffalo to even the season series at home.

Bears over Seahawks — Chicago is favored at home, but this could easily be considered an upset. I think a good Bears defense plays angry after last week's loss to the Broncos and shuts down Seattle enough to win this one.

Titans over Colts — This could easily be the game the Colts win this season at home against a mediocre Titans squad, but how can you ever justify picking an 0-13 team?

Packers over Chiefs — It doesn't matter who starts for the Chiefs—the Packers are going to win this one by 30 even if they sit their starters at halftime.

Bengals over Rams — Injuries are killing the Rams this year, and I don't see any way week-old signing Kellen Clemens leads them to victory in place of Sam Bradford.

Saints over Vikings — Even if Adrian Peterson plays, I don't see the Vikings being able to keep up with the Saints offensively and winning this one.

Giants over Redskins — The Giants are down a few pass rushers, but Jason Pierre-Paul is active and the Redskins are starting some seriously lacking tackles. It could get ugly for Rex Grossman and the Redskins in this one.

Texans over Panthers — I had been downgrading the Texans in recent weeks due to being down to rookie fifth-rounder T. J. Yates at quarterback, but they are still playing well and I'll take them at home here.

Lions over Raiders — In what could amount to the most penalized game of all time, I'm going against my usual method of picking the west coast team at home. Carson Palmer is trying to force too many things right now and may continue to do so if the Lions build a good lead.

Patriots over Broncos — I don't care how bad the Patriots' defense is—there is no excuse for losing to Tim Tebow here. I will go into media blackout for the next month if they do.

Eagles over Jets — Philadelphia has always been better than their record and they showed it last week. This is a tough game to pick, but I'll take the Eagles at home.

Cardinals over Browns — You can't justify picking the Seneca Wallace-led Browns with no running game. Arizona has pulled out some good wins lately and should win again here.

Chargers over Ravens — San Diego has probably disappointed me more times than anyone over the past few seasons, but I like them this week. I don't know if Baltimore can win a shootout in a cross-country game.

Steelers over 49ers* — For now, I'm picking the Steelers. If I find out Ben Roethlisberger isn't starting Monday, however, then I'm probably switching to San Francisco.


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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2012 NFL Draft Watch: Week 15

For those of us that have been on the "Suck for any quarterback, not necessarily Andrew Luck" bandwagon since about mid-October, the Miami Dolphins' loss to the Eagles in Week 14 was a welcome sight.

With the loss dropping the Dolphins to 4-9 on the season, the team improved their first-round selection in the 2012 NFL Draft from eighth to seventh. The team has three divisional games left on its docket, including road games to Buffalo and New England followed by the Jets at home in Week 17.

As I did two weeks ago, I'll take this time to analyze the Dolphins' current draft slot and how things might fall at the top of next year's draft in the team's search for a franchise quarterback, since Matt Moore and J. P. Losman don't seem to be the answer.



Here is the current top-12 draft order for the 2012 NFL Draft:
  1. Indianapolis (0-13)
  2. Minnesota (2-11)
  3. St. Louis (2-11)
  4. Washington (4-9)
  5. Jacksonville (4-9)
  6. Carolina (4-9)
  7. Miami (4-9)
  8. Cleveland (4-9)
  9. Tampa Bay (4-9)
  10. Philadelphia (5-8)
  11. Buffalo (5-8)
  12. Kansas City (5-8)
 I would say Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck remains the most likely option for the Colts with the first overall pick. Minnesota is likely to continue to groom Christian Ponder and it's too early for the Rams to give up on Sam Bradford in an injury-plagued sophomore season.

Washington at No. 4 is flat-out going to take a quarterback, and the most likely options are either USC's Matt Barkley or Baylor's Robert Griffin III, assuming at least one declares. My guess is that Barkley will viewed as the consensus No. 2 prospect the position behind Luck, although the athletic, Heisman-winning Griffin has a chance to overtake Barkley.

You can consider Carolina at No. 6 out of the running with Cam Newton in-house, but Jacksonville is interesting. They have a new owner and will have a new head coach, but they'll still have the same GM that drafted Blaine Gabbert 10th overall last year. It seems unlikely the Jaguars will take a first-round quarterback in back-to-back years, but the rookie contracts are more manageable now and Gabbert has looked downright horrible this season while other rookies like Newton and Andy Dalton have held up well. I've even seen more in two games from Texans' fifth-rounder T. J. Yates than I have from Gabbert in 12 contests.

If I had to mock the first six picks, I think it'd go something like this:
  1. Indianapolis (0-13) — QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
  2. Minnesota (2-11) — OT Matt Kalil, USC
  3. St. Louis (2-11) — CB Morris Claiborne, LSU
  4. Washington (4-9) — QB Matt Barkley, USC
  5. Jacksonville (4-9) — WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
  6. Carolina (4-9) — DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina
Not all of these guys might declare for the 2012 NFL Draft, but a basic outcome like the one above would give the Dolphins at least a few quarterback options at the No. 7 spot. On the board here are still Heisman winner Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma's Landry Jones, and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, and any one of them could be chosen by the Dolphins if the team deems them worthy enough.

The biggest problem here is a potential trade up past the Dolphins. If the Dolphins covet Griffin, for example, then they'll have to worry about teams after them like Cleveland (No. 8) and Kansas City (No. 12) leapfrogging them.

There is no way the Browns' front office views Colt McCoy as a franchise quarterback, and as a team picking just behind the Dolphins they are the prime candidate to trade up. They certainly have the ammo to trade up as well, as they hold the Atlanta Falcons' first-round pick (currently projected at No. 21) from last April's Julio Jones deal.

That being said, the Dolphins are probably at a good enough position at No. 7 to land a top-three or -four quarterback in the draft. I'd say at least two will go before their current spot and they do have to be worried about trade-ups, but the Dolphins can trade up too if they covet a guy enough and they will still have a shot at a few other nice prospects if they stay put.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the Dolphins respond in Buffalo in Week 15 coming off a pretty bad loss, potentially missing Jake Long at left tackle, and playing for an interim head coach with no prior experience at the position.

Here's hoping the Dolphins finish the remaining three games of the season on a down note and ensure that they can land a franchise quarterback next April so that we don't have to hope for any more losses any time soon.


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