By: Justin Porreca
Miami has their tackles and center of the future locked up in 2014 first-round draft choice, Ja’Wuan James, 2014 splash free agent signing, Branden Albert and perennial Pro Bowler, Mike Pouncey. However, their offensive line is still far from perfect, or even above average.
The Dolphins have lacked solidarity at the guard position since 1996. The last great guard to play for the Dolphins was Keith Sims, who played with the organization from the early-to-mid 1990s, blocking side-by-side All-Pro tackle, Richmond Webb. Since the 96' season, the guard position has been a revolving door, plagued by inconsistent play, injuries and free agency departures.
Currently, Miami has four guards on the roster: Jamil Douglas, Dallas Thomas, Billy Turner, and Jeff Linkenbach. Thomas and Turner will take first-team repetitions versus the Chicago Bears Thursday night. Despite encouraging development, neither of these two players is ready for a starting role. Both of them have yet to truly shine in training camp and have been manhandled by All-Pro defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. A great learning experience in the process, especially going against that level of talent day in and out, it’s still a major eyesore for the organization.
The lone-standout for the Dolphins at guard has been Douglas. The fourth-round draft choice out of Arizona State has shined brightly through camp so far and has really taken command of the positional battle at guard. Despite being relegated to playing with the second-team on Thursday, Douglas will most-likely see first-team repetitions against the Carolina Panthers. If Douglas can show the Dolphins coaching staff that he’s progressing nicely and working on his weaknesses, inconsistency at finishing blocks and redirecting blockers, versus the Bears, he will be a sure-fire starter at right guard.
With that being said, there still leaves a major hole at the left guard position. With Turner, Thomas and Linkenbach not really showing any serious flashes of starting potential during camp so far, it leaves Miami in the position to push the panic button. That means the entrance of the Evan Mathis, the man that has been rumored to become the Dolphins left guard since April.
Mathis, 33, turns 34 during the 2015 season and has a bunch of question marks swirling around his name despite his play being at an elite level. Can Mathis stay healthy? Is he commanding too much for his age? Is he worth a big contract at 33? Is he a one-year rental? If signed, could he stunt the progression of [Dallas] Thomas and [Billy] Turner? These are the questions running through the minds of general manager, Dennis Hickey and executive vice president of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum.
A two-time Pro Bowler (2013 & 2014) and a one-time All-Pro (2013), Mathis is that elite guard Miami has been searching for. Despite missing seven games last season with an MCL sprain, he ranked out as the second-best guard in the league behind Marshal Yanda of the Baltimore Ravens. In 2013, Mathis was ranked number one, only allowed two sacks and was only physically beaten off the ball by the opposing defensive lineman once.
Tannenbaum, who was spotted with Mathis’ agent Drew Rosenhaus last week, has teased Miami fans with the idea of a Mathis trade or signing for five months now. The aurora around Mathis died down around June and July, but has now picked up with the season around the corner and guard needy teams scrambling to bolster and solidify their offensive line. Other guard-needy organizations, like the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams have also been inquiring into the services of Mathis. This puts pressure on the Dolphins to address the need and to block Mathis from signing with a division-rival, or accept what they have and see where it takes them this season.
Behind Douglas, who’s the leader in the clubhouse at right guard, Miami has three guards who still need another year to fully develop and Mathis could be a filler at the position for one season, but at what price?
Miami has $10 million in salary cap space and they’re only willing to offer Mathis a one-year, $5.5 million contract. However, he would like a multi-year contract that is a little north of $5 million. This is where the situation gets murky for the Dolphins. If they sign Mathis, they get an elite guard, but if it’s for more than a season it could potentially hinder all development for Turner, Thomas and even Douglas. However, Miami doesn’t know if they have anyone that can potentially pan out to be better than Mathis.
For the past two seasons Miami has been plagued by blocking issues, mainly keeping Tannehill up right and not eating the turf. If the Dolphins want to be taken seriously as a contender and prove many of their naysayers wrong, Hickey and Tannenbaum would be wise to strongly consider signing Mathis. There’s a mutual interest for both parties in the signing; he needs a job and Miami desperately needs a guard to anchor the interior of the offensive line. What he can bring to the table, especially to a potentially potent and explosive offense, is something the Dolphins can’t turn down. Lamar Miller, and particularly, Ryan Tannehill would be the primary beneficiaries of a Mathis signing.
If Miami decides to balk on signing Mathis and go into the season with the starting combinations of either Turner-Douglas, Thomas-Douglas or Thomas-Turner and it doesn’t work, they will need to go back to the drawing board at the guard position.
Only one name stands out in the 2016 free agency class at the guard position, Marshal Yanda. It’s likely the Ravens will resign him, but if he leaves, Miami needs to find a way to acquire his services. The Dolphins have other offseason needs to address next year, linebacker, and players to resign, Olivier Vernon, but if they can find a way to make a splash signing with Yanda, it would all but eliminate any questions that surround their offensive line.
Regardless, if Miami wants to be taken seriously and move out of 8-8 purgatory, they need to sign Mathis. The Dolphins have too much talent to miss the playoffs and the excuse well has all but run dry. If they want to clear up any questions regarding the offensive line, they need to sign the elite Mathis to a two-year contract and avoid playing musical chairs with the guards they currently have on the roster.