Miami Dolphins 2015 NFL Off-Season Preview

Positions of Need

Guard

The Dolphins had one of the worst offensive lines in football in 2013 and their solution was to basically have an all new starting 5 in 2014, with 4 new starters and no one playing at the same spot as they played in 2013. It didn’t really work out as only left tackle Branden Albert graded out above average and he went down for the season with a torn ACL week 10. Rookie 1st first round pick Ja’Waun James struggled at both tackle spots, especially struggling on the blindside with Albert gone, while former center Mike Pouncey struggled mightily in his first season at right guard. At left guard and center respectively, veteran journeymen Daryn Colledge and Samson Satele showed why they were so easily available the previous off-season. The Dolphins expect Albert to make a full recovery at left tackle and they still like James’ long-term upside at right tackle and Pouncey could turn it around in 2015 back at his natural position, but they still have major holes at the guard positions. Their current options at the position are Shelley Smith, who could be a cap casualty after barely playing in the first season of a multi-year deal, Dallas Thomas, a 2013 3rd round pick who was horrible in limited action at both guard and tackle in 2014, after barely playing as a rookie in 2013, and Billy Turner, who played just 17 snaps as a 3rd round rookie in 2014. They need to add talent at the position.

Wide Receiver

The Dolphins signed Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Brandon Gibson to significant contracts to be their top-3 receivers two off-seasons ago, but none of them lived up to it and all 3 are candidates to be cap casualties this off-season. Wallace has been the best of them, but he’s also the highest paid, as he’s owed 9.9 million in 2015, only 3 million of which is guaranteed. He’s had issues with the coaching staff and the Dolphins have publicly talked about cutting him, a move that would save them 2.5 million immediately on the cap and 6.9 million in cash. Brian Hartline has been with the team for 6 years and is trusted by Ryan Tannehill, but he was the worst of the trio last year, grading out 103rd out of 110 eligible wide receivers and the Dolphins can save 5.95 million in cash and 3.15 million immediately on the cap by letting him go. Gibson seems like the most likely to be cut as he’s fallen to 4th at best on the depth chart. He played just 516 snaps in 2014, grading out 100th out of 110 eligible wide receivers, and the Dolphins can save 3.26 million both in cash and immediately on the cap by letting him go. The Dolphins like the long-term potential of 2014 2nd round pick Jarvis Landry, who was their best receiver last season as a rookie, but they need a long-term option opposite him. This is something they could address with the 14th overall pick of the draft. DeVante Parker and Kevin White would both fit the range.

Cornerback

The Dolphins signed Cortland Finnegan to an ill-advised 2-year, 11 million dollar contract last off-season to start opposite Brent Grimes, after a horrendous 2013 season in St. Louis, and he responded by grading out 74th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. He’s expected to be cut this off-season, a move that would save them 5.475 million in cash and immediately on the cap. Meanwhile, slot cornerback Jimmy Wilson is a free agent this off-season and could be moved to safety if he’s re-signed. Their #2 and #3 cornerback positions are wide open right now, while #1 cornerback Brent Grimes is going into his age 32 season and won’t be able to play at a high level much longer. They need a long-term successor for him. The Dolphins have used picks on Jamar Taylor (2nd round in 2013), Will Davis (3rd round in 2013), and Walt Aikens (4th round in 2014) in recent drafts, but none of them have played much so far in their respective careers. Taylor and Davis have played 345 and 200 snaps respectively in 2 seasons in the league combined, while Aikens played 64 snaps as a rookie. Adding a blue chip talent to the mix this off-season could be an option and this is another position they could look at with the 14th overall pick.

Safety

Louis Delmas was the starter next to Reshad Jones at safety last season, but he’s a free agent this off-season. On top of that, he tore his ACL week 14 and his status is very much in doubt for the start of the 2015 season, especially given his history of knee problems. The 2009 2nd round pick has missed 18 games in 6 seasons in the league, been limited in countless others, and only played all 16 games once in a season. The Dolphins could easily be looking at a new starter at the position this off-season. Jimmy Wilson was their in house replacement for him last season, but he’s a free agent as well and the Dolphins also like him as their nickel cornerback.

Running Back

Running back depth is needed with both Knowshon Moreno and Daniel Thomas set to hit free agency. Lamar Miller had a very impressive 5.09 YPC average in 2014, but the Dolphins are hesitant to make him a 250-300 carry back because of his tendency to wear out as the game goes on (he was at 216 carries in 2014). He’s also not great on passing downs. The Dolphins need to add a running back behind him who is capable of both passing down duties and giving Miller regular breathers on running downs.

Tight End

Charles Clay has put up solid numbers as a pass catcher over the past two seasons, going for 69/759/6 in 2013 and then 58/605/3 in 2014 in 14 games. He’s not a great inline blocker, but he can line up all over the formation and the Dolphins don’t have another pass catching tight end on the roster. If they’re unable to re-sign him this off-season, he’ll need to be replaced. Dion Sims is a solid #2 tight end, but not much more.

Defensive Tackle

Things are in flux at the defensive tackle position. Jared Odrick was their best defensive tackle last season, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 19th ranked defensive tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and might sign elsewhere. Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks are their other two defensive tackles, but neither of them was very good in the first season of their new multi-year deals. Mitchell still has guaranteed money left on his deal, and he’s still under 30 and played decently last season, so he’ll be back, but the same might not be true of Starks, who they are rumored to be interested in letting go. Starks graded out slightly below average last season, for the first time since 2007. They may opt to give him another chance because of his history, but he’s going into his age 32 season and owed 5 million non-guaranteed, all of which they can save on the cap immediately by cutting him, so they may just outright cut him instead. Even if they don’t, he’s aging and going into a contract year so a long-term solution at the position is needed.

Outside Linebacker

The Dolphins gave Dannell Ellerbe a 5-year, 34.75 million dollar deal and Philip Wheeler a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal two off-seasons ago. Neither of those deals worked out at all. Both were among the worst in the NFL at their respective positions in 2013 and neither was much of a factor in 2014. Ellerbe was limited to 18 snaps by a season ending injury suffered week 1 and Wheeler played 384 snaps in a situational role. Fortunately, Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi stepped up as starting caliber players this season. They just need one more starter in the linebacking corps, a 3rd linebacker who plays only in base packages. Jason Trusnik and Wheeler had small roles in the linebacking corps last season and did decently, but Trusnik is a free agent going into his age 31 season, while Wheeler could be a cap casualty this off-season. Cutting Wheeler would only save 200K on the cap, but it would get them out of a 3 million dollar salary and get him completely off their cap for 2016.

Center

Mike Pouncey missed the first 4 games of the season with a hip problem and the Dolphins played Samson Satele at center in his absence. Upon his return, they opted to leave Satele at center and move Pouncey to right guard, a move that didn’t work out at all. Satele finished the season as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center out of 41 eligible and Pouncey (Pro Football Focus’ 14th ranked center in 2013), struggled mightily out of position at right guard, grading out 69th out of 78 eligible at his position. Pouncey will be moving back to center for 2015 and could easily bounce back now that he’s fully healthy and at his natural position, but there are no guarantees and he’s going into a contract year anyway.

Key Free Agents

DT Jared Odrick

Odrick was a first round pick in 2010, but it took him a few years to get it together. Odrick was limited to 22 snaps as a rookie in 2010 by injury, struggled in his first year as a starter in 2011 as a 3-4 defensive end, and then struggled even more in 2012 as a 4-3 defensive end, grading out 59th out of 62 eligible at his position that year. However, the Dolphins moved him back to his natural position of 4-3 defensive tackle in 2013 and the results have been great. He was 16th at his position in 2013 and then 19th in 2014. Coming off two straight strong seasons, Odrick will command a lot of money on the open market, especially from 4-3 teams who need someone who can get to the quarterback from the interior like Odrick can. The Dolphins obviously want him back and may consider the franchise tag as an option if they can’t reach a long-term deal ahead of the deadline.

TE Charles Clay

Clay, a 2011 6th round pick, has broken out as a solid pass catching tight end over the past 2 seasons, catching 69 passes for 759 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2013 and 58 passes for 605 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s not much of an inline blocker, but the collegiate fullback can line up all over the formation and create matchup problems. The Dolphins will try to bring him back on a medium sized deal and, if he reaches the open market, he’ll draw a good amount of interest.

S Louis Delmas

Louis Delmas looked like a promising young safety in 2009 and 2010, starting 30 games in his first 2 years in the league after the Lions drafted him in the 2nd round in 2009, grading out above average in both seasons. However, knee problems limited him to 19 games in 2011 and 2012 and he graded out below average in both of those seasons. He seemed to turn his career around in Miami, making 29 straight starts and playing decently as a starting safety, but he tore his ACL week 14 this season, which puts his 2015 in doubt, given his history. He’ll draw interest on the open market, but not a lot of guaranteed money and he might have to wait into the summer to sign.

QB Matt Moore

Moore only attempted 29 passes over the past 3 seasons combined in Miami as Ryan Tannehill has made 48 straight starts to begin his career, but he wasn’t horrible in his last extended playing time in 2011, completing 60.5% of his passes for an average of 7.20 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He graded out 13th among quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus that season. The fact that he hasn’t played much in the last 3 seasons hurts him, but he’s only going into his age 31 season and got 8 million over 2 years on his last deal. He should get a similar deal this off-season from a team with more of a quarterback need than the Dolphins and he could make a few starts somewhere in 2015.

CB Jimmy Wilson

Wilson was just a 7th round pick by the Dolphins in 2011, but he’s played 600+ snaps in each of the last 3 seasons, including a career high 791 snaps in 2014, as he was their primary nickel cornerback and made several starts at safety as well, with Delmas getting hurt to end the season and Jones getting suspended for the start of the season. He graded out below average in 2014, making it twice in three seasons that he’s done that, but the Dolphins like his versatility a lot and will probably extend him a decent sized offer to try to bring him back to a secondary that has a lot of questions outside of Brent Grimes and Reshad Jones. If he’s not back with the Dolphins, he’ll play a similar role elsewhere.

RB Knowshon Moreno

Knowshon Moreno had over 1500 yards from scrimmage in 2013 (1038 rushing and 548 receiving), but was still available about 3 weeks into free agency and was forced to sign a 1-year deal worth 3 million. There were reasons for that. The running back position has been strongly devalued in the NFL. Also, as much production as Moreno had in 2013, much of it was the product of Peyton Manning. Moreno rarely faced stacked boxes and, much more often than not, was running against boxes of 6 or fewer defenders. In spite of that, he actually just rushed for 4.31 yards per carry, which isn’t a spectacular average. He also missed 20 games from 2010-2012 and had just 426 touches over those 3 seasons. In his one year in Miami, he was limited to 31 carries by knee problems and now he’s rehabbing the second torn ACL of his NFL career. He won’t draw a lot of interest on the open market. In 6 years since the Broncos drafted him in the 1st round in 2009, he’s rushed for 3616 yards and 27 touchdowns on 876 carries (4.13 YPC), while catching 158 passes for 1409 yards and another 9 touchdowns, very unspectacular overall numbers.

C Samson Satele

Satele was Pro Football Focus’ 32nd ranked center out of 35 eligible in 2013 with the Colts and had to wait until August to get signed, but the Dolphins started him week 1 at center and left him there even after Mike Pouncey returned from injury after 4 games. As I mentioned earlier, that was a huge mistake and not just because Pouncey mightily struggled at right guard. Satele also struggled, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ 31st ranked center out of 41 eligible. Going into his age 31 season, off of three straight years in which he’s graded out below average, Satele won’t draw a lot of interest on the open market. He’ll have to wait a while to get signed again and might not find starting work.

RB Daniel Thomas

Daniel Thomas was a 2nd round pick by the Dolphins in 2011, but he never turned into the starting running back they wanted him to be. He rushed for 1480 yards and 10 touchdowns on 409 carries (3.62 YPC) in 4 seasons with the Dolphins and didn’t contribute much as a pass catcher, with 55 catches in those 4 seasons. He had a career low 44 carries in 2014 and won’t draw much interest on the open market.

G Daryn Colledge

Like Satele, Colledge was signed late last off-season and ended up playing a significant role, signing in late June and eventually starting 13 starts at left guard. Colledge was horrible though, grading out 74th out of 78 eligible guards. He wasn’t that bad even as recently as 2013 in his last stop in Arizona, but, going into his age 33 season, he could be at the end of the line.

Cap Casualty Candidates

MLB Dannell Ellerbe

Ellerbe was about as bad as a free agent signing can be. Ellerbe signed a 5-year, 34.25 million dollar deal with the Dolphins two off-seasons ago and proceeded to grade out as Pro Football Focus’ 50th ranked middle linebacker out of 55 eligible. He moved to outside linebacker for 2014, but ended up missing all but 18 snaps with a hip injury, which actually probably helped the Dolphins, considering how bad he was in 2013 and how well Jelani Jenkins played in his absence in his first season as a starter. Ellerbe was essentially 14 million guaranteed down the toilet. The deal didn’t make any sense for the start.  Ellerbe, a 2009 undrafted free agent, maxed out at 456 snaps in a season from 2009-2011, but he had a solid 2012 season, grading out 14th among middle linebackers on Pro Football Focus on 667 regular season snaps and then followed that up with a strong post-season, en route to a Super Bowl victory by the Ravens. That’s what got him paid, but he was a one year wonder that wasn’t worth his contract even at his best. Cutting him to save 8.45 million in cash and 5.65 million on the cap is about as much of a no brainer as there is.

CB Cortland Finnegan

Cortland Finnegan was Pro Football Focus’ 109th ranked cornerback out of 110 eligible in 2013 with the Rams, despite being limited to 364 snaps by injuries. No one played fewer snaps at the position and graded out worse. That led to his release from St. Louis, but the Dolphins clearly didn’t watch his 2013 tape as they handed him a 2-year, 11 million dollar deal last off-season. Finnegan proceeded to grade out 74th out of 108 eligible cornerbacks. Cutting him would save the Dolphins 5.475 million on the cap and in cash, so I expect them to do that. Finnegan, going into his age 31 season, seems done as a starting caliber cornerback in the NFL.

WR Brandon Gibson

As I mentioned earlier, Gibson is one of three wide receivers that the Dolphins gave a significant contract to two off-seasons ago and, while all 3 could be cut this off-season, Gibson is the one who is most likely to be gone. Gibson’s deal was worth 9.755 million over 3 years, but he played just 771 snaps combined in 2 seasons and graded out 100th out of 110 eligible wide receivers in 2014. He was limited to 7 games by a torn patellar tendon in 2013 and then fell behind talented rookie Jarvis Landry on the depth chart in 2014. Cutting him would save the Dolphins both 3.26 million in cash and immediately on the salary cap.

OLB Philip Wheeler

Like Dannell Ellerbe’s, Philip Wheeler’s 5-year deal from two off-seasons ago went about as bad as it could have and it was predictable from the start. Wheeler was Pro Football Focus’ worst ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2013 and then was limited to 384 snaps and 4 starts in 2014 after getting benched. Wheeler was Pro Football Focus’ 6th ranked 4-3 outside linebacker in 2012, which got him a 5-year, 26 million dollar deal from the Dolphins, even though, prior to 2012, he had graded out below average in 3 of 4 seasons in the league, since being drafted in the 3rd round in 2008. Also prior to 2012, he never had played more than 537 snaps in a season, so, like Ellerbe, he was the definition of a one year wonder and, over the past 2 seasons, he’s been 13 million guaranteed down the toilet. He’s not as much of a lock to be cut as Ellerbe because he showed enough last season in limited action to suggest that he could be valuable as a 3rd linebacker who only plays in base packages and because the Dolphins would only save 200K by cutting him, as a result of how his contract is structured, but the Dolphins would save 3 million in cash by cutting him now and he’d be completely off their 2016 cap.

WR Brian Hartline

Brian Hartline has been with the Dolphins since they drafted him in the 4th round in 2009, 6 seasons, and he was their leading receiver in both 2012 and 2013, but he’s coming off of an awful 2014 campaign. He caught just 39 passes for 474 yards and 2 touchdowns on 62 attempts (62.9%) and 490 routes run, an average of 0.99 yards per route run. He was Pro Football Focus’ 103rd ranked wide receiver out of 110 eligible and the Dolphins would save 5.95 million in cash and 3.15 million on the cap by letting him go this off-season.

WR Mike Wallace

Wallace is a solid receiver, but his last 1000+ yard year was in 2011 and, in his final year in Pittsburgh, he held out long into the off-season, which caused him to have a horrible season. His 64/836/8 slash line wasn’t terrible, but he caught just 55.2% of his targets and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 91st ranked wide receiver out of 105 eligible. That didn’t stop the Dolphins from giving Wallace a 5-year, 60 million dollar deal and he hasn’t lived up to it, grading out below average in both seasons, putting up slash lines of 73/930/5 and 67/862/10, and reportedly quitting on his team on multiple occasions. Wallace has 3 million guaranteed left on his deal for 2015, but the Dolphins have already publicly said that he might not be back next season. Cutting him would save 6.9 million in cash, 2.5 million on the cap, and get him completely off their cap for 2016.

DT Randy Starks

Randy Starks graded out slightly below average last season, but this was uncharacteristic for him as he had previously graded out above average in every season since 2007. Still, he’s going into his age 32 season so his best days may be behind him and the Dolphins are reportedly considering cutting him, a move that would save 5 million in cash and immediately on the cap. What they decide to do with him may hinge on how confident they feel that they can re-sign Odrick.

G Shelley Smith

The Dolphins signed Shelley Smith to a 2-year, 5.5 million dollar deal last off-season, but he only played 367 snaps, despite terrible play on the Dolphins’ offensive line all season. Smith himself was also terrible, grading out 54th out of 78 eligible despite the limited playing time. The Dolphins can save 2.75 million in cash and cap space by cutting him this off-season and if they don’t feel he can be a starter in 2015, they could easily pull the trigger on that move.

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