Thursday, March 23, 2017

Linebackers Are Still a Work In Progress

The weakest unit on the Dolphins roster last season was by far the linebacker position. So heading into this offseason it was an area that needed to be addressed and wholesale changes were a must. The Dolphins have done a lot to address this position thus far but much more work needs to be done.

The first move of adding Lawrence Timmons was in my opinion a great move to make. A 10 year vet who has only missed 2 games in his life Timmons is someone who brings instant credibility to the unit. Is he the same player he was 7 or 8 years ago, no of course not. Timmons is still an above average linebacker who can stop the run and will not kill you in the passing game. It is expected Miami will put him at the center of their defense at middle linebacker and he will be the leader of the unit.

The Dolphins then went out and signed Kiko Alonso to a 3 year contract extension to make sure his future is stable in Miami. Kiko was great last year and showed he was past his knee injuries. Kiko most likely will slide to outside linebacker which in my opinion is a more natural position for him and with his speed. To have Kiko blitz more I think will make Miami's defense more dynamic in many ways.

Just this week Miami restructured the contract of Koa Misi. When healthy Misi is a good run stopper the problem with Misi over the years is he is never healthy. Now he is coming off major neck surgery and to be honest I am not sure I would have kept Misi around. I know his contract is very low but to me that is a sign that Miami has little faith in him. If Misi is cut in late August do not be surprised people.

For depth this unit currently has very little to none. Neville Hewitt is a nice 4th linebacker who I like a lot but keeping it honest people he is not a starter in the NFL. He isn't that caliber of player at this time. Good special teams player, solid linebacker off the bench who can fill in when needed, but as a full time starter he isn't. Mike Hull in my opinion is someone who wouldn't make most NFL rosters but Miami's linebacker depth is so bad he is someone the Dolphins count on far too often.

So the question is what is next because this unit is far from fixed. Zach Brown is the big name out there and he recently visited with Miami but the Dolphins and Brown are far off on price. From reports it does sound like though Brown won't get the money he is looking for so he will have to bite the bullet and take the best offer out there. Oakland and Miami appears the only two teams left with an offer out there to Brown. IF (big IF here people) Miami were to land Zach Brown their linebackers would be one of the better units in the league and the weakness of the defense just became the strength overnight. With Timmons, Brown, Alonso as starters that is a nice unit right there behind Suh who will get his double teams freeing up space for the linebackers to make plays.

Whether Miami gets Zach Brown or not the Dolphins must be thinking linebacker in rounds 1 or 2 of the draft. With Alonso's injury history and with Brown IF he signs it will most likely only be a 1 year deal the Fins need to have depth on this unit. At pick #22 if Zach Cunningham is there Miami should jump all over him and race that index card up to the commissioner. If  Cunningham is gone at #22 then Miami should next look at Jarrad Davis out of Florida who is a do it all linebacker as well. Oh and there is this Hasson Reddick guy out of Temple who is a physical beast with size, speed, and ability. Honestly any of those three players at pick #22 would bolster this Dolphins defense in a big way and improve the linebackers greatly.

The Dolphins defense was terrible against the run last season and the main reason was the linebackers. The Dolphins front office has done a nice job overhauling this unit but the work is far from done.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

The New Miami? Reflecting on Free Agency so far


#TheNewMiami - a phrase that appears to be doing the rounds on social media, but might this catchy hashtag be more than just something to boost the amount of Retweets or likes on Instagram? From what the Miami Dolphins have done so far in Free Agency, it looks very much like the organisation and franchise is heading into new uncharted water. 
The sign that a franchise is in-decline or dysfunctional is an exodus of own talented in free agency. This is normally guys that have been drafted or traded for/ signed with a long-term view. In 2016, the Dolphins lost RB Lamar Miller, DE Olivier Vernon and WR Rishard Matthews - all starters and productive players for Miami. In 2015 it was TE Charles Clay and DE Jared Odrick. In 2013 it was OT Jake Long and CB Sean Smith. And so on.
A 3rd Round pick in 2012, Vernon stacked up 29.0 sacks in 46 starts. The Dolphins failed to snap Vernon up early before he eventually broke free-agency signing a 5-year deal with the New York Giants worth $85m with $52.5m guaranteed (Mike Dinovo/ USA TODAY Sports)
However, prior to the start of this offseason, the Dolphins front office made it clear that they were placing a priority on retaining their own guys and keeping talent inside the building, before looking to bring it in from elsewhere. So far Miami has been extremely successful in this regard and have also brought in quality pieces to help complement Miami's strengths and address their weaknesses.

The re-signing of Kenny Stills was important for the Miami Dolphins. Since bein taken 8th overall in 2012, QB Ryan Tannehill has struggled to build a connection and trust with his receivers.  Mike Wallace was brought in for big money to be a deep threat, however, he and Tannehill never hit off and the pair routinely struggled to connect on deep balls. This past season was arguably Tannehill's best in terms of down field passing. He often risked Safeties or Corners making a play on the ball, as he trusted his receivers to be in position and make plays. Stills thrived under Adam Gase's first season as Head Coach catching 42 passes for 726 yards and leading the team with 9 TDs. At 24 years old, the Dolphins will get Stills' best years and his skillset is a key component of any Offense - a speedster who forces Safeties to remain deep, thus opening up everything inside and outside the numbers. 4 years, $31.9m with $19.95m guaranteed makes him the 22nd highest paid WR in 2017 (per year). If Stills can develop in his second year under Gase, there is no reason why the Dolphins could not expect 50+ catches, 850+ yards and 7TDs+, while opening up the rest of the field for Miami's other receivers.
5th Round Draft pick by the Saints in 2013, Stills was traded to Miami before the 2015 season for LB Dannell Ellerbe and a 2015 3rd Round Pick (Jim Rogash/ Getty Images)
With Andre Branch, the Dolphins again paid a hefty price to keep their own players in the building. Branch signed a 3 year, $24m deal with $16.8m guaranteed. He had previously signed a 1 year prove it deal with Miami after spending 4 lack luster years in Jacksonville. Branch is the 17th highest paid DE - just behind Cam Wake and Everson Griffen; and ahead of Carlos Dunlap and Mario Addison. Branch struggled against the run in 2016 (which Miami addressed - see later), yet proved himself to be an able pass rusher. Branch was 30th in the NFL with 20 QB hurries (only 4 behind 15th placed Wake) and managed 5.5 sacks in just 11 starts. With better coverage in the back-end, it is easily foreseeable that Branch could put up double digit sack totals for each of the next 3 seasons. 
These first two re-signings are the Dolphins taking a gamble on young talented football players and hoping that they can develop into quality future starters. These next three re-signings represent the Dolphins locking up valuable veterans for the remainder of their careers and rewarding valuable members and leaders of the Miami Dolphins. John Denney is something of a cult hero in Miami, not missing a game in his 12 year career. Denney's brilliance is the fact that you don't notice his presence. Miami kicking late Field Goals with the time expiring late in the 2016 season to get into the Playoffs... All eyes on Kicker Andrew Franks... No-one even contemplated whether the snap would reach him or not... John Denney has been automatic for 12 years in Miami. 
Cameron Wake is one of the greatest Defensive Players in Miami Dolphins history. He defied age and science in 2016, bouncing back from an Achilles injury and forcing his way into the starting line up after initially being deployed as a situational pass rusher.  Wake clocked 11.5 sacks and his first career INT in 2016, and did not look a step slower despite turning 35 in January. Wake signed a 2 year, $16.125m contract with $10.875m guaranteed, keeping the veteran leader in South Beach.
Undrafted before excelling in Canada, Cam Wake's racked up 81.5 sacks in 96 career starts. He has the 2nd most sacks in franchise history - behind Jason Taylor's 131.0 (Tim Fuller/ USA TODAY Sports)
Reshad Jones is one of the best Safeties in football. He's been as productive as any at the position over the past three seasons. Jones was enjoying another Pro-Bowl worthy campaign before tearing his rotary cuff and being placed on IR. The Dolphins signed Jones to a 5 year, $60m contract extension with $35m guaranteed. Jones will be 34 by the time the deal runs out and like Wake and Denney - the Dolphins are rewarding faithful servants with contracts that should run late into their careers. Jones is the best Safety in football in the box and is one of the few existing Dolphins who excels in Run D.  
The Miami Dolphins have also looked to lock up value contributors and productive players through the tender process. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, Safety Michael Thomas and RB Damien Williams have all been tendered as restricted free agents.

New additions
The Dolphins have taken a balanced approach to free agency so far. No big splash signings like we are used to from Miami and from Mike Tannenbaum. Rather, the Dolphins have looked to improve the areas they were successful in, in 2016 - while addressing the apparent needs and concerns that were evident towards the tail end of the season. Like-for-like, this Dolphins roster has improved based on the players coming in, compared to those going out.
38 days after being hired as Executive VP of Football Operations, Mike Tannenbaum signed Ndamukong Suh to a 6-year $114m contract with $60m guaranteed (Patrick Farrell/ Miami Herald)
Julius Thomas enjoyed the best years of his career in Denver under Adam Gase. In Denver he was a reliable check down target over the middle and a Red Zone mismatch who put his 6 foot 5, 256lbs frame to good use. Thomas has struggled with injuries the past two seasons in Jacksonville and noticeably looked a step slower. If Miami can keep him healthy and scheme for him alongside Parker, Stills, Ajayi and Landry - Tannehill might finally get that check down TE the Dolphins have long been looking for. Miami managed to get Thomas in a trade for Albert, an aging veteran who struggling with injuries. Laremy Tunsil will slide to LT and the Dolphins got a playmaker at TE who agreed to take a pay cut to play for Head Coach Adam Gase.
The Dolphins also added another TE, re-signing Anthony Fasano who previously spent 5 seasons with Miami. Fasano signed a 1 year, $2.75m contract. Anthony Fasano was PFF's No.1 run-blocking TE and No.3 pass blocking TE in 2016. This signing gives Adam Gase another gadget on Offense to use and removes the need to bring in an additional OT on obvious running situations. This pick up will help Jay Ajayi and significantly improve Miami's rushing attack. 
Fasano was with the Dolphins from 2008 to 2012. He is an excellent blocking Tight End (Ed Wolfstein/ Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
The signing of Ted Larsen should be viewed as a short-term solution rather than a long-term fix for the problems Miami has at Guard. Larsen is a versatile Offensive Linemen who has experience playing Left Guard and Right Guard, while also taking snaps at Center during his career. He is competent in pass protection and run blocking, and brings a veteran presence on a Dolphins line that should look to get younger in the Draft with Larsen and Jermon Bushrod as stop gap solutions.
Miami's Achilles heel on Defense has repeatedly been its porous run Defense. In terms of rushing yards allowed, this is how the Dolphins have ranked the past four seasons (beginning with 2016): 30th, 19th, 24th, 24th. 2012 was the last time Miami was in the top half of the league in run Defense (13th). The last time Miami had a top-10 Run Defense was 2011 when they ranked 3rd, coincedently it was the last time Miami ran a 3-4...
The signing of ILB, Lawrence Timmons and the bargain pick up of DE, William Hayes should address this need. Timmons is a thumper and a great blitzer from the Inside Linebacker position. He is a force in the run game and should easily have over 100 tackles in 2017 playing behind Wake, Suh, Phillips, Branch and Hayes. Despite his age (will be 31 entering the season), Timmons is exactly what the Dolphins need in the short-term to fix their Defense and although he is a liability in coverage - at $12m over 2 years with $11m guaranteed, Timmons is exactly what this Dolphins Defense has needed the past few seafsons.
2007, 15th overall pick, Timmons has played 10 seasons - starting 126 games amassing 988 tackles and 35.5 sacks (Getty Images)
The trade for William Hayes was a steal by Mike Tannenbaum. In return for getting a proven veteran and run stuffing DE, the Miami Dolphins will move down 17 spots from the 6th to the 7th round in 2017. Hayes himself put on social media that he got traded for 'a stapler and a coffee machine'. The Dolphins inherited Hayes 2 year contract from the Rams, however, Tannenbaum and front office were not finished wheeling and dealing as they sliced the 2nd year off Hayes contract and brought his contract for 2017 down from $5.5m to $4.75m. Hayes was ranked 11th amongst Edge Rushers in Run Defense by PFF in 2016 and 17th overall. The acquisition of Hayes and Timmons beefs up Miami's run Defense.
Finally the Dolphins signed Safety Nate Allen. After the sad news that Miami was releasing Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, the Dolphins wasted little time in signing former Raiders and Eagles Safety Nate Allen to pair next to Reshad Jones. Allen was available on a cheap 1 year, $3.4m deal as he missed all but 5 games in 2015 for the Raiders due to injury and backed up rookie Karl Joseph in 2016. In his limited appearance towards the end of 2016, filling in for the injured Joseph, Allen impressed with 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended in just 4 starts. The Dolphins are hoping they can find a diamond in the rough in Allen, much like they did with Abdul-Quddus who played well in 2016 for Miami.

The Dolphins needed to improve their run Defense - check
The Dolphins needed to improve their options at Tight End - check
The Dolphins needed to retain talent, unlike prior to the 2016 off season - check
Miami needed to address its Linebacking corps - half-check, still the Draft to come
Miami needed to address the Guard position - half check

The Dolphins have done a great job so far addressing clear needs on this roster while retaining quality, productive starters. What is different this year to most is that Dolphins players appear to have left money on the table to remain in Miami. Players appear to be buying into Head Coach Adam Gase's message - an important step for this franchise. The Dolphins have not paid the moon for any one player so far and have left themselves with plenty of room to still be active as they look to continue to improve this promising roster. #TheNewMiami? Not quite yet... but we are getting there. #FinsUp!

Thursday, March 16, 2017 Mock Draft 1.0

Image result for miami dolphins nfl draft

Now that free agency frenzy is winding down, it's time to look at the draft.  We are 6 weeks out but now is the time to get some idea of who the Dolphins will be looking at with their picks.  Here we go!

Round 1 (22)- Hasson Reddick- OLB Temple- In this scenario, Taco Charlton and Zach Cunningham are off the board.  The Nate Allen signing helps at safety, which is why I don't have Peppers here.  Reddick is a do it all OLB.  His stock has risen based on his Senior Bowl performance and his workouts.  He brings a great ability to cover sideline to sideline against the run (huge need for the worst run D in the league).  He squares up well on tackles and is explosive when he hits.  His biggest asset is on 3rd down, where he can disrupt the QB on blitz and is great in zone coverage.  I love this pick if it happens on draft night, and the Dolphins will have their LB corp taken care of in round 1.

Round 2 (22)- Ryan Anderson DE/OLB Alabama- At 6'2, 253lbs, the Dolphins take Ryan Anderson here.  He solves the age problem on the edge and is capable of putting his hand in the ground or standing up and covering someone.  He has good instincts and decent athleticism.  Plays with a never ending motor and comes from a great system.  While he struggles at times against the run, he does well with good leverage and uses his hands well.  His ability to line up in multiple positions gives the Dolphins flexibility and the defense continues to mold with their first 2 picks.

Round 3 (33 Comp)- Nico Siragusa- OG San Diego State-  Miami influxes some youth in front of Ryan Tannehill with this pick.  The 6'4 320lb guard is very good in both run and pass blocking.  He blocks well on trap and pull plays and gets to the second level nicely.  He had a good combine and should be in line to start if drafted here.  Bushrod will also provide to be a great mentor to the young man and should line up year 1 on the left side next to Tunsil.

Round 5 (22)- Montae Nicholson- S Michigan State-  With not going with Peppers in round 1, the Dolphins grab a potential future starting safety in round 5.  Nicholson is a physical presence at 6'3 212lbs.  He is physical at the line of scrimmage at running plays and doesn't shy from contact.  He does need some work with coverage skills but did have 4 INT and 4 PBU in 20 starts.  If he can improve as a deep safety and continue to develop as a solid run defender, the Dolphins may have found someone nice to pair with Reshad Jones

Round 5 (34 Comp)- Nazair Jones- DT North Carolina- With striking out on Dontari Poe and not looking to spend a ton, the Dolphins add depth with Jones.  6'5, 305lbs, he is a great run defender.  He is quick for his size and able to get inside the gap to make tackles.  While he lacks the ability to rush the passer, Suh can give him all the tools he needs to succeed.  He is willing to get dirty and mix it up at times after the whistle.  He also can knock down passes at the line (10 in career at UNC).  A solid pick here.

Round 5 (40 Comp)- Josh Malone- WR Tennessee- With Carroo not being liked by coaches currently due to immaturity, Dolphins bring in Malone to compete.  He is a big bodies flyer, who averaged close to 20 yards per catch in 2016.  He basically has the ability of Kenny Stills and could be a good options as a 4th/5th WR if he makes the roster.  Gase will fall in love with his speed inside against nickel CB and Safeties.

Round 7 (5)- Zane Gonzalez K Arizona State- I am a firm believer you take a kicker in round 7 if one is available.  Gonzalez will provide competition for incumbent Andrew Franks.  He was a perfect 5 for 5 on 30-39 yard field goals (extra points), 6 for 6 on kicks from 40-49 and a whopping 7 for 9 on kicks beyond 50.  If he can make a good impression, Franks will be out and Gase won't be afraid to put Gonzalez on the field for kicks beyond 45 yards.

This could be a decent draft if the later prospects pan out and add depth to the roster.  I may be crucified for taking a kicker but round 7 is a flier pick anyways. 

Don't be afraid to let me know how I did on this first mock of 2017 Dolphins mock draft.  Follow us .  I will be back again next week with another mock. 


Dolphins Re-Sign OG Jermon Bushrod

In a move that was expected the Dolphins today re-signed last years starting right guard Jermon Bushrod. It is expected to be a one year deal but terms of the deal were not disclosed at this time. Bushrod did a serviceable job last season starting at right guard and played well at times. Bushrod will compete to be a starter again this year against the likes of Ted Larsen, Anthony Steen, and Kraig Urbik.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

AUDIO: Mel Kiper and Todd McShay FIRST DRAFT Podcast Cover Miami

This week's ESPN Podcast with Mel Kiper and Todd McShay they cover the Miami Dolphins needs and who they might be looking at with pick #22 at this time.

CLICK HERE to listen. (skip to 37 min mark for Miami Dolphins talk)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Dontari Poe Traveling to Miami to Visit with Dolphins

Free Agent Defensive Tackle Dontari Poe visited with the Atlanta Falcons today and will be traveling tonight to Miami to visit with the Dolphins front office per a report by Josiana Anderson of ESPN. Most likely the official visit will take place tomorrow. Poe has already visited with Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Miami is next. He also has the Raiders on his wish list of places he would like to visit. Poe is looking for a big money multi-year deal or a one year deal so he can then hit the open market again next year and hopefully cash in then.
In my opinion Miami can add all of the linebackers in the world to with help the Dolphins poor run defense but honestly the biggest fix in correcting the run defense is getting a legit defensive tackle to play next to Suh. Jordan Phillips can only go roughly 20-25 snaps a game for Miami so depth at defensive tackle is a must for the Dolphins. Poe is a pure 1st and 2nd down run stuffer who if playing next to Suh will most likely shine and would have an amazing season. There are some drawbacks with Poe besides a hefty price tag it may take to sign him. For one it is a bit of buyer beware as Poe does have a bad back. Second, if a team runs no-huddle against you with Poe on the field he will become gassed and getting him off the field in those situations are almost impossible. With that said Miami needs a player like Poe who can clog up the middle and prevent teams from running at will on the Dolphins defense. If the price is right Miami should look into giving Poe a solid 1 year deal in my opinion. He is the type of run stuffing defensive tackle that are very tough to find and even harder to find a quality one in the draft who can play right away.

The big thing working in Miami's favor is Poe's agent is Jimmy Sexton who represents Adam Gase, Andre Branch, Suh, Laremy Tunsil among others currently on the Dolphins roster. Also, Sexton is very close friends with Mike Tannenbaum as well so Miami does have a bit of an "in" here with Poe's agent. We should know in the coming days where Poe signs but the fact he is visiting Miami in the next 24 hours is a very good thing.

While we do not have exact numbers Miami is roughly $17-$19 million under the salary cap at this time. They would need $5 million for rookies and the team also wants to extend Jarvis Landry and Kiko Alonso. Oh, and don't forget they would like to carry over some of the cap savings into next year. So, what can they realistically offer Poe to make him sign?  That is the big question right now. One thing to remember, Miami can cut Koa Misi and Dion Jordan (which they are expected to do at some point this offseason) at any moment and create $7 million more in cap space. Cut those two, give Poe that $7 mill for one year and Miami stands pat at around $17-$19 million in cap space.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Is the Guard Problem Really a Problem?

Ted Larsen
As Dolphins fans we have been shell shocked into thinking if we do not have elite guards then we have no chance to win or have a capable offense. Speaking to Dolphins fans, reading message boards, twitter, and listening to South Florida sports talk radio I hear you fans and I am here to tell you that the "guard problem" isn't as big a problem as you seem to think it is. In fact I'm not sure its a problem at all honestly.

Let's take a step back and look at our recent history shall we. Yes, Miami's offensive line struggled in recent years because the general manager(s) and head coach refused to give up on two players at our guard position; Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas when they showed time after time they just couldn't play well. Those two  were not NFL caliber players let alone starting guards in this league. Proof of this is that when Adam Gase cut them last year neither really caught on with another team or played for another team.

After Miami cut Dallas Thomas last October no team picked him up and it wasn't until this past January Philadelphia signed him to a futures contract. Meaning his odds of making the roster this season are slim and none. Billy Turner after being cut last October was picked up by the Ravens only to be cut three, yes THREE days later! He was then picked up by the Denver Broncos but never saw the field in significant games.

I get it folks, many of us have been scarred for life by these two lackluster players but I am here to tell you in the NFL you can win without having to break the bank for elite guards on the offensive line. Miami has an elite left tackle in Laremy Tunsil and yes I said elite because he is elite. Juwaun James is a very good to above average right tackle. Yes James got off to a slow start last year but once he became accustomed to the Fins new offense he shined from the middle of October on.  Mike Pouncey while has been injury prone when he does play is an Pro Bowl caliber linemen. Miami has three anchors on this line and it is about just filling in the two guard spots next to them with capable players.

Ted Larsen was the starting guard in Arizona in 2014 when they had an amazing season and went 11-5 and had a very high powered offense. In 2015 he was their starting guard when the Cardinals went all the way to the NFC Championship game. So this notion that Larsen is some how a liability if Miami has to start him is laughable. Larsen didn't derail those two teams with his play and those two teams also ran the ball very very well in those seasons. You plug Larsen next to Tunsil and Pouncey and I don't think there is an issue in fact that that is a solid left side of your offensive line. Could Miami do better than Larsen? Of course, but if Larsen ends up being a starter at guard step off the ledge people it isn't that bad.

I'm not here telling you that Ted Larsen is the second coming of Larry Little but he is a solid pick-up and players along the line of Larsen who are solid NFL veterans who have seen it all, played in big games, and weren't a liability to their former teams when they played are exactly the type of players Miami should be bringing in.

Also, I am hearing and reading a lot of Jermon Bushrod hate. Why? What did he do last year that was so bad? I know Bushrod is a little older and he wasn't perfect last year but he wasn't so bad that if Miami went to him again for a second year at right guard the whole offensive line would collapse. I would have no problem if Miami gave Bushrod another contract and brought him back. At worse he is a capable back-up who if he had to be thrown into the line-up you know won't hurt your team. At best he starts at right guard again and just like last year does a capable job. He wasn't a superstar, he wasn't great, but he was good enough and didn't cause the entire offense to fall apart.

As the 2017 NFL season is all of 4 days old Dolphins fans need to relax regarding the offensive line and specifically the guard position. Ted Larsen was a solid (not flashy) signing and I am sure Miami will have another signing at guard in the coming days or weeks along the lines of a player who is similar to Ted Larsen. Maybe they bring back Jermond Bushrod as well and when you throw in Anthony Steen who is already on the roster and showed some promise last year and can play guard, the Dolphins go into the draft having a capable offensive line already under contract. If they use one of their early picks on a guard then all the better.

Just remember people, not every non-big name offensive linemen is the next Billy Turner or Dallas Thomas. Miami doesn't need to break the bank to bring in big-named guards, they just need capable NFL guards and they will be fine in 2017.