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I Have a Dream....well, a Daydream Anyway.
The Dolphins' season is over, and it is time to look to the future. What kind of changes will be made? Who is coming in? Who is leaving? To be honest, March and April are some of my favorite football months of the year. Free agency and the draft are a time where you can at least dream that the Dolphins are putting together a Superbowl roster for this fall. (I said dream, so stop snickering.) I like to imagine what I'd do as the GM. What players I'd bring in. Who I'd show the door. And so that is what I want to do here, list the things I'd do as the Dolphins GM.
As it stands, the Dolphins are about $13 million over the salary cap. But reports out of Miami state that players like Jason Taylor, Sam Madison, and Daryl Gardner have stated that they would be open to the idea of restructuring their contracts to help the Dolphins create space. Add in the outright release of a few players, and Miami should have a little breathing room.
First, I identified Miami's problem areas, and then prioritized them. To me, in order of importance, are Miami's weaknesses. 1) Offensive line, 2) Runningback, 3) Quarterback, 4) Defensive line, and finally 5) Depth at linebacker. Having identified and prioritized those areas of need, here is what I would do to try and correct them.
Offensive line - It is my belief that it would be easier to find a decent lineman or two that could come in and compete immediately through free agency than through the draft. (I tend to believe that players like Todd Wade, who came in and made an impact right away, are the exception and not the rule.) So I would look for a left tackle and/or a right guard or two in free agency. If Mark Dixon returns from his injury, I'd consider moving him to the LT position where Smith and Spriggs could battle for the backup position. I'd move Todd Perry over to the LG position, where he is more comfortable. And I'd let the free agent acquisition(s) battle Anthony Cesario and a possible 3rd round draft pick (i.e. a player like OG Antwan Kirk-Hughes out of Texas) for the RG position. I'd leave Tim Ruddy at C, and Wade at the RT position, thought drafting a player like Chester Pitts out of San Diego State as a backup would also be something I'd consider. As for Spencer Folau and Heath Iwrin, they would be thanked for their time and politely shown the exit.
Runningback - Lamar Smith had a very nice season in 2000. But his play was less than stellar this season. Smith is getting older, and his best years are behind him. After two years in Miami, it is time for him to move on. I would also allow JJ Johnson to move on as well. With our first round draft pick, I'd select a power RB like Michigan State's T.J. Duckett. I also like Miami's Najeh Davenport, but his injuries are a big concern for me. Travis Minor would continue to fill in as 3rd down/change of pace back. I would also look for a mid-level RB in free agency to challenge Duckett for the starting job and/or fill in as a backup. James Allen and Skip Hicks are two RBs that could probably be had for a low price. At fullback, I would allow Deon Dyer to start. As for Rob Konrad, I'd look at moving him to possibly a HB position. He isn't a great blocker, but he has decent hands and could possibly be a nice 3rd down/change of pace back. His talents are simply not being utilized as a FB in Miami's offense. (Just an idea to toy with anyway.)
Quarterback - Unlike Wannstedt, my first concern would NOT be trying to resign QB Jay Fiedler. I would first look at bringing in a QB like Trent Dilfer, or possibly Jim Miller. If this season showed anything, it showed that bringing in an over-priced free agent QB is not a wise investment. Both Dilfer and Miller are decent QBs that could be had for a fair price. Gus Frerotte is another QB I'd look at, but he wouldn't be my first choice. And, unlike Wannstedt, I would not declare any QB a lock to be the starter. I'd give Lucas and McNown a fair shot at trying to claim the starting job as well. As for Fiedler, if Chris Mortensen's report is true, and Fiedler wants $5 million a year, I'd be more than happy to allow him to find some other team to pay him what he wants.
Defensive Line - As the season wore on, the Dolphin's defense had trouble stopping the run. The Ravens logged 226 yards on the ground against the Dolphins, yet averaged less than 100 yards per game in the regular season. It was obvious that Miami missed Daryl Gardner, but I can't believe that Earnest Grant and Jermaine Haley are THAT bad. I tend to think that the defensive schemes that Miami ran might have played a role in the inability to stop the run, and so I would not want to shake up this group too much. Both Kenny Mixon and Lorenzo Bromell are free agents, and I for one would not be against re-signing one or both, but only if the price is right. I would scour the "mid-tier" free agents for a decent backup or two, and I might also draft a DL in the latter rounds.
Linebacker - Inexperience and lack of depth hurt the Dolphin linebacker corp. While Zach Thomas is still a stud, he isn't getting any younger. Injuries have plagued Zach for the last two seasons, and a decent backup is needed. Again, a "mid-tier" free agent would be what I'd look for. I'd also look to the middle rounds, like the 4th or 5th rounds, to find some decent depth. Derrick Rogers is not a superstar, but I feel is a decent enough player that I would not look for a replacement. (The Dolphins should preserve their salary-cap money for bigger needs, like QB and RB.) I would also give Morlon Greenwood another year to develop. While he did look lost at times, he seemed to calm down towards the end of the season. I also tend to think that his injuries in training camp might have slowed his development. And considering that we gave away this year's 2nd round pick for him, I would certainly want to give him an opportunity to blossom. (Remember, we gave away a 2nd round pick to move up and draft Patrick Surtain. After struggling his rookie year, he has certainly proved his worth since then.)
Well, that is my plan. Now I know that some of you will be wondering why I would not look to draft a QB in the first round, especially with such a "QB Rich" draft. And should a player like Fresno State's David Carr or Oregon's Joey Harrington miraculously slip down to the Dolphins, then I would certainly consider altering my strategy. However, it is my belief that Miami has the talent on defense to make a Superbowl run. But time is of the essence. Waiting for two or three years for a young QB to develop, the Dolphins would risk losing talent on the defensive side of the ball. And typically, it is rookie runningbacks that can make an immediate impact on offense, not rookie QBs. (The Bear's Anthony Thomas and the Colt's Edgerrin James are two that come to mind.) Hence, my plan would be to go after a "top tier" runningback in the draft, and a decent QB like Dilfer in free agency.
Now, do I think this will happen? No. But it is fun to daydream about being a GM for your favorite NFL team. It also helps to ease the pain of watching your favorite team get destroyed in the playoffs for a 5th straight time.