Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dolphins sign veteran guard Eric Steinbach

With right guard perhaps the most unsettled position on the roster, the Miami Dolphins have opted to bring another body into the competition with the signing of free agent offensive lineman Eric Steinbach to a one-year deal.

A nine-year NFL veteran with 124 starts under his belt, Steinbach spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and the past five with the Cleveland Browns, missing all of the 2011 season with back issues.

The Dolphins would have been able to sign Steinbach withing making a corresponding roster move, but they opted to waive undrafted rookie guard Derek Dennis. That keeps the Dolphins at 89 players on their 90-man training camp roster, leaving an open spot for unsigned first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill.


A Lockport, Ill. native, Steinbach initially committed to the University of Iowa as a tight end but was moved to offensive guard following his redshirt freshman season. He went on to earn All-Big Ten honors each of his final two seasons and was named the conference's offensive lineman of the year as a senior in 2002.

Selected early in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft (33rd overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals, Steinbach stepped in as the starting left guard immediately as a rookie and went on to open 59 games at the position over four seasons. He also opened two contests at left tackle and one at center due to injuries at those positions.

Regarded as one of the top free agent offensive linemen of the 2007 class, Steinbach inked a monster seven-year, $49.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns that included $17 million guaranteed. On the surface, Steinbach came as advertised, starting 62 games during his first four seasons in Cleveland and earning alternate Pro Bowl honors in 2008.

However, his actual production with the Browns might not have been so great, as Pro Football Focus graded him out as one of the worst guards in the league every season from 2007 to 2010, including the overall worst in the NFL in 2009.

Additionally, after missing just three games during his first eight seasons and playing every offensive snap for the Browns in 2009 and 2010, Steinbach missed all of last season with a lingering back injury and is now 32 years old.

Released by the Browns in March, Steinbach's market was slow was practically nonexistent before signing with the Dolphins. The Browns failed to show interest in bringing him back at a lower rate, while Steinbach's agent said three teams were interested in June. He worked out for the Ravens on July 23 but was not signed.


In the positives department, Steinbach brings a wealth of experience to the Dolphins' offensive line with 124 starts over nine pro seasons. He's smart and in the past has been a quality interior lineman. He also spent four seasons working under Dolphins' head coach Joe Philbin, who was his offensive line coach at Iowa.

On the downside, Steinbach is 32 years of age and hasn't played football in over a year thanks to back issues. Even before the 2011 seasons, he graded out as an extremely sub-par guard and it seems unlikely he'll suddenly turn things back around given the circumstances of age and durability.

With Steinbach added to the mix at guard, it's looking more and more likely that disappointing 2010 third-rounder John Jerry will not make this team. His size and conditioning has been an issue of late and it's clear the new staff and it's different blocking scheme doesn't see much them like in him.

That being said, Jerry remains on the roster and should compete with Steinbach and fellow free agent acquisition Artis Hicks for the starting right guard job. Although Hicks is more of the journeyman type and didn't have the peak Steinbach had, I'd say he has as good or equal a chance to earn the starting job with Jerry on the outs.

If Steinbach doesn't win a starting job, it's possible he doesn't make the team at all. One thing that could help his chances is showing that he could fill in at center, which would save the Dolphins money by allowing them to cut backup Ryan Cook and his $1 million salary.

Although Steinbach's signing seems likely to shake up the right guard competition if anything, it's important to note that he's primarily been a left guard during his career, with 121 of his 124 starts coming at the position. One would imagine, however, that it wouldn't be hard for an established veteran to switch sides and Steinbach will certainly be motivated as he clings to his pro career at age 32.

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