Spring is a time of revival. The snow melts away. The unrelenting cold and grey gives way to warmer, brighter days. The trees bud and the grass springs back to life. Birds make their way back and everything has a fresh, new look. Spring is, at heart, a new beginning.
That sense of revival and a new beginning is especially true in the NFL world. The previous season has ended. Fans have recovered from the post-Super Bowl hangover, and fans of every team have begun to forget about the trials and tribulations that last season brought them, and instead are looking towards the new season with a renewed sense of hope and excitement.
Spring brings to the NFL the start of a new year, which begins with the annual free agency period. With the idea of revival and hope in mind, I would like to give you my top-5 targets for the Miami Dolphins during the 2016 free agent frenzy:
5.) George Iloka – Safety, Cincinnati Bengals
Anyone who watched the Miami Dolphins in the 2015 season could see that the defense was full of holes. Our secondary couldn’t cover to save their lives. With the exception of Reshad Jones, there wasn’t a bright spot to be had in the secondary.
George Iloka, a Safety formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, would fit in nicely as a complement to Reshad Jones to help out the struggling corners. Jones, though he may try, can’t do it all himself. Iloka is only 25 years old, and he is already one of the best safeties in the NFL, and one of the best options this free agent class has to offer in the secondary. Pairing him with Reshad Jones would give opposing offensive coordinators nightmares, and would do nicely to take a lot of pressure off of the linebackers, who struggled mightily in both run and pass protection last season.
Iloka should be able to be had in the free agency period, as it looks like he won’t be returning to the Bengals. Word around the NFL is that the Bengals top priorities are to lock down CB Adam “Pacman” Jones, and WR Marvin Jones. They are expected to move youngster Reggie Nelson into the starting line-up, so by all measure, it looks like they’ve prepared for life without Iloka, so the only hurdle should be convincing him to choose the Dolphins.
4.) Danny Trevathan – Linebacker, Denver Broncos
For a franchise with such a storied history at the linebacker position, watching the struggles the Dolphins had last season was just painful. The entire year was bereft with missed tackles and missed assignments. Whether it was in the run game or the pass, the 2015 linebacker squad was one of the worst in the NFL. For a team like the Miami Dolphins, that is completely unacceptable and needs to be fixed in a hurry.
Enter Danny Trevathan, linebacker formerly of the Denver Broncos. Trevathan is coming off of a Super Bowl victory and will be looking to get paid for his success. The Broncos aren’t likely to keep him in the fold, so much like Iloka, he should be able to be had, for the right price.
Trevathan, like Iloka, is only 25 years old and is the best that this free agent class has to offer at the linebacker position. There is a section of fans that would rather see the Dolphins take Myles Jack with the 8th pick in the upcoming draft to address our problems at the position, but until I see a completely clean bill of health on Jack, I would feel a lot better about shelling out the money for Trevathan.
Trevathan would come in and contribute immediately and would be an instant upgrade over any other linebacker currently on our roster, something I’m not prepared to say about the immensely talented, but unproven, Jack.
3.) Sean Smith – Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
The next name on my list should be one that’s familiar to most Dolphins fans. Sean Smith, a cornerback formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, spent his first four years in a Dolphins uniform. Smith then wasn’t nearly the cornerback that he is now. At the time that we let him go, I was one of many fans who was happy to see him go and didn’t think he would make anything of himself in his new home with the Chiefs.
I will be the first to admit, I was wrong. What Smith has done instead is quietly turn himself into a complete corner who has the ability to hang with just about any receiver in the NFL. In his three years with Kansas City, Smith drastically improved his footwork and technique over his time with the Dolphins, and was able to amass 51 passes defended and 5 INT’s, including one for a touchdown.
What makes Smith so coveted isn’t necessarily his skills as a cover corner, though that absolutely plays a role. The biggest thing working in Smith’s favor is the combination of those skills with his size. The NFL has seen a recent shift towards larger corners, and at 6’3” and 216 pounds, Smith is the prototypical size of the “new-age NFL Cornerback.” A return to the Dolphins would take some of the pressure off Brent Grimes, and would give them two corners with shut-down potential.
2. ) Geoff Schwartz – Guard, Cleveland Browns
If the Miami Dolphins have any hopes of once again becoming a successful franchise, we’re going to need to figure out how to re-establish the running game. Watching the team run the ball last season was infuriating, and is a large part of the reason that Lamar Miller will most likely not be returning to the team. Even when the run game was working for us, we seemed to just abandon it for no reason at all.
If Miami is going to re-establish themselves as a potent run team, bringing in Geoff Schwartz will go a long way towards achieving that. Schwartz has been one of the most successful run-blocking guards in recent memory. He was on the offensive line that paved the way for Adrian Peterson to come within a few yards of setting a new rushing record.
He was also on the Carolina Panthers offensive line that paved the way for a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in the same season, a feat that has only been accomplished six times in the history of the NFL. When Schwartz is healthy, he is a devastating run blocker, and an almost equally skilled pass blocker, rating 11th among guards in pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus in his last full season.
That caveat of “when healthy”, however, is what makes signing Schwartz such a risk. Schwartz missed the entirety of the 2011 season due to a bone spur in his femur that tore cartilage in his hip. He also missed almost all of the 2014 season with a broken toe and later a broken ankle, and was placed on injured reserve after week 12 of the 2015 season with a broken leg. If Schwartz can stay healthy and avoid the injury bug, he’s easily one of the top linemen in this free-agent class. That is a big “if”, though.
1.) Kelechi Osemele – Guard, Baltimore Ravens
If you’ve watched the Miami Dolphins since Dan Marino’s retirement, you are well aware of the struggles that this franchise has had on the offensive side of the ball. There has been a lot of instability at the QB position since Marino left, but the front office believes they have found their guy in Ryan Tannehill.
Since Tannehill debuted with the Dolphins, he has been the most sacked quarterback in the league. As I’ve said, and written, numerous times, a lot of the sacks are on him and a severe lack of pocket awareness. That being said, the line that we have put in front of him has been absolutely atrocious, particularly at the guard position.
Osemele, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens and the Iowa State Cyclones during his college days, is the best player available on the offensive line this free agent cycle. He is a tough, gritty lineman who has won a Super Bowl with the Ravens and would bring some much-needed toughness and leadership to a locker room that has been a rather toxic environment for a number of years.
The biggest hurdle in signing Osemele will be convincing him to leave the Ravens to join a clearly inferior team in the Dolphins. The Ravens surely won’t want to lose Osemele’s services and will most likely pay handsomely to keep him in purple for many years to come. Will the Dolphins be willing to make Osemele an offer that far exceeds what the Ravens give him and convince him to take his talents to South Beach? We shall see when the free agency period opens up later this week.
It is worth mentioning that my plans for the 2016 Miami Dolphins do not include either Olivier Vernon or Lamar Miller. Though both of these players have been exceptional during their time in Miami, I don’t think their price tag is worth it. Miller has been severely misused in his time here, and he’s looking to be paid like one of the top running backs in the league, which he deserves. If we aren’t going to use him properly, I would rather us let him walk than to tie that money up.
As for Vernon, it’s hard for me to let a premium pass-rusher walk away in free agency. If this past season has taught us anything, it’s that if you have an elite pass rush, you can go places in this league. That being said, I think that Vernon’s price tag, much like Miller’s, is just too much. Vernon is likely to command upwards of $15 million per year on the open market, and with as many other holes as Miami has, I would rather see them take that money and put it to use on multiple players.
If this is the direction that the franchise chooses to go in, it is crucial that they address at least one of these positions early on in the draft. Luckily for us, we have the 8th pick and there should be some elite talent at both positions available to us. If we choose to address the void left in Miller’s absence, we should be in a position to draft Ezekiel Elliot, the hands-down top running back available.
Should the Dolphins decide that a pass-rushing defensive end is the higher priority, the choice that makes the most sense to me would be Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky. There are some character issues with Spence that make me wary of bringing him to a place like Miami, but if those issues are behind him, I have him as the best pass rusher in this draft (ahead of likely top-5 pick Joey Bosa). Plugging Spence into the hole left by Vernon, at a much lower price, would give the Dolphins much-needed flexibility in free agency while minimizing the loss of one of their own.
It remains to be seen what Miami chooses to do with their cap space and potential free agents, but one thing is certain…with a new year comes new hope. This Dolphins fan knows better than to get his hopes up, but between the talent available in both the draft and free agency, I just can’t help it. Spring has renewed my sense of hope once again.
Welcome! My name is Chris Spooner. I am an overly-passionate Dolphins fan who has many opinions about his team, and the sports landscape as a whole. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy voicing them.